No. 5 Flames set for Tuesday’s national tournament tune-up at No. 14 Maryville near St. Louis
Members of Liberty University’s No. 5-ranked ACHA Division I men’s hockey team are scheduled to arrive in St. Louis on Monday night in time for a practice skate at the Maryville University Hockey Center in Chesterfield, Mo., site of last spring’s ACHA DI National Championships.
After eliminating them in the first round of last year’s national tournament, the Flames will use Tuesday morning’s regular-season finale against the Saints as a tune-up for this year’s event at the Centene Community Ice Arena in Maryland Heights, Mo., which serves as the practice facility for the NHL’s St. Louis Blues.
“We’re excited just to get playing again and test some things out and get ready to go for nationals,” Liberty senior defenseman and head captain Colin Baird said. “It’s a great opponent and we’re excited to play a high-quality team before we get into the tournament.”
He said the Flames are a passionate bunch eager to make another run at their first national title after advancing to the “Frozen Four” for the first time since 2008 last spring, after routing Maryville, 9-0, and Ohio, 10-2, in the second and third rounds, respectively, before being knocked out by Minot State.
“It’s actually been really fun (gearing up for the tournament),” Baird said. “I’m just excited to go out there and get it started. Everybody’s all smiles all the time. They know what the opportunity is before them and they’re excited to do it as a team. Our leaders know what’s coming, so we’ve just got to make sure we’re ready as a whole team. The (newcomers) all seem to be really excited about the tournament and they’re asking good questions and trying to get prepared mentally and physically for it.”
“We’ve seen (Illinois) before and we can watch game film and kind of analyze what we need to do differently,” Baird said. “It always helps playing a familiar face because you know it’s nothing you’ve got to worry about. It’s something you’ve handled before, so you’ve just got to go take care of business.”
He said the week in St. Louis will be a business trip as the Flames seek to stay alive well into Liberty’s March 13-18 Spring Break. Liberty will have practices Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to prepare for Saturday’s second-round contest, with the potential for four games in four days including the March 15 championship game.
“It’s a tough schedule, but it’s nothing we’re afraid of,” Baird said. “We know we’ve worked hard all year and we’re in good shape and prepared for anything. We obviously want another chance to get to that championship game and we think we’ve got the team to do it. We’ve just got to come out and prove it.”
Scouting Preview for Game 30: No. 5 Liberty (20-8-1) at No. 14 Maryville (22-7-1), Tuesday at noon (EST) at the Marysville University Hockey Center.
All-Time Series: Liberty leads 1-0 after winning last season’s national tournament opener.
Liberty Scouting Report: The Flames’ offense is fueled by sophomore forward Jason Foltz (14 goals, 27 assists) and senior forward and alternate captain Matt Bartel (14G, including a team-high 9 on the power play and 4 game winners, 20A). Senior forward Josh Fricks (11G, 21A), and freshmen forwards Jacob Kalandyk (14G, 13A) and Jackson Vercellono (10G, 16A) follow close behind along with Baird (4G, 20A) while sophomore forwards DJ Schwenke (11G, 11A) and Kam Ottenbreit (11G, 10A), graduate defenseman and alternate captain Chaydan Lauber (8G, 12A), and junior forward Brett Gammer (9G, 10A) have provided plenty of secondary scoring.
Special teams have been strengths for Liberty this season, with its penalty kill unit shutting out opponents’ power plays nearly 90 percent of the time, and its power play converting approximately 27 percent of its chances.
In goal, the Flames have leaned on Hunter Virostek (16-7-1, 2.35 goals-against average, 92.6 save percentage, 1 shutout) with backup from fellow junior Cédric Le Sieur (3-1, 2.05 GAA, 93.6 SP, 2 SO) and senior Tyler Myers (1-0, 2.66 GAA, 84.2 SP, 1 SO).
Maryville Scouting Report: Three of the Saints’ seven losses this season came against Lindenwood, the No. 1-ranked team in ACHA Division I, with one loss and its only tie against No. 3-ranked Iowa State. Leading the offensive charge are forwards Anthony Stavrou (19G, including 3 game-winners, 18A), Bradley Boudreau (12G, 22A), and Lucas Adams (11G, 15A).
Edward Coffey (11-6, 2.03 GAA, 92.4 SP, 2 SO) has played the majority of minutes between the pipes with support from Johnny Massara (8-0, 2.30 GAA, 92.1 SP, 1 SO).
Maryville will face No. 19 John Carroll in Thursday’s first round of nationals play.
Coaches: Kirk Handy is in his 22nd season at the helm of the Flames with a career record of 497-198-30. John Hogan is in his fourth season behind the Saints’ bench after being named the program’s first coach prior to the 2018-19 campaign.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer