When autocomplete options are available, use up and down arrows to review and enter to select.
Apply Give

Five Liberty Hockey teams set for puck drops at national championships

Flames alternate captain Brett Gammer, one of eight senior forwards on the team along with graduate goalie Hunter Virostek, will be making his fourth consecutive trip to the ACHA National Championships. (Photo by Jacob Summersgill)

For the first time in program history, Liberty University will send all five of its men’s and women’s hockey teams to their respective national championships this week. The ACHA Division I and II men’s and women’s teams will compete at the Centene Community Ice Center near St. Louis, Mo., March 9-17, and the DIII men play in the AAU National Championships March 8-13 in West Chester, Pa.

“There’s lots of energy out here, which is good,” Flames DI Head Coach Kirk Handy said as Monday afternoon’s practice at the LaHaye Ice Center wound down. “Once we get there and the excitement’s around us, it’s going to be great. Our guys will be ready to go.”

Seeded No. 7 in the final regular-season ACHA national rankings, the Division I Flames (20-9-1) will receive a first-round bye at nationals and await the winner between No. 10 University of Mary (N.D.) and No. 23 West Chester (Pa.) in the second round on Saturday at 5:45 p.m. EST.

With a win, Liberty would advance to play the winner between No. 2 Adrian (Mich.) College and the winner between No. 11 Purdue Northwest and No. 22 Indiana University Pennsylvania in Sunday’s quarterfinals. The Flames split two series with the 2021 national champion Bulldogs this season, at home and away.

The team is making its eighth consecutive trip to the national tournament, its 16th trip in 18 seasons of ACHA Division I competition. The Flames made it to the Final Four in 2007, 2021, and 2023.

For nine Flames players — eight forwards and graduate goalie Hunter Virostek — the national tournament will be their final time sporting Liberty’s colors. They are eager to go out as the first men’s hockey national champions in program history.

“I think we have a really solid chance and a really solid team to go all the way this year,” said junior forward Jacob Kalandyk, the Flames’ leading scorer with 19 goals, including five game winners, and 22 assists. “Everyone’s just getting healthy here, so we’ll have a full team here to do something special. We’re all just really excited to get there. Everyone on the team has that brotherly love where they play for each other and they’re playing for this university and playing to glorify God.”

Handy said the opportunity to be ambassadors for Christ wherever they go, from Finland (where they led a sports outreach for the second time in four years in early January) to St. Louis is the team’s top priority.

“It’s the way that we treat people, it’s our attitude, it’s our actions, all the things we’re going to do … are we going to be representatives of what Liberty’s all about? That’s our goal every time.”

Overcoming adversity is a trademark of the Flames, and they may have to stage a few upsets along the way to complete their journey to a first Murdoch Cup.

“There’s always going to be some ups and downs, but … we always just bounce back, come together as a team, and we always grow and learn from our mistakes,” he said. “We’ve had one of the hardest schedules this whole year, so we’re going to be really battle-tested to give it our best. We just battle with everyone, and that’s what we’ll have to take into nationals.”

Kalandyk said the team has remained fully focused on refining its game on the ice as well as developing team chemistry and growing spiritually throughout the season and is now prepared to complete its season-long journey by faith after traveling by bus to St. Louis on Wednesday.

“Our intensity’s been really good these last few weeks,” he said. “We’ve been putting in a lot of work, and now we’ve just got to go execute and show everyone what we can do. Physically, we’ll be really ready to go and mentally, we’ll have some time there to get settled in and just get focused in on games. Everyone, every shift, has to know that this could be our last game. So I think if we play with that edge … we’re going to do something special out there.”

Lady Flames freshman forward Ellie Sarauer slaps the puck between two Adrian College players during a game at the LaHaye Ice Center on Feb. 10. (Photo by Brooke McDuffee)

The top-ranked Lady Flames are five-time-defending ACHA DI women’s hockey national champions. They claimed their first title in 2015.

The team carries momentum into nationals after winning its fourth WMCH Tournament title in five years at the LaHaye Ice Center on Feb. 24.

“We had a good conference tournament, which was big for us to start the postseason on a high note,” Head Coach Chris Lowes said. “Our best prep for nationals was playing in the WMCH. That’s the benefit of being a part of the toughest conference in the country; every game has a national-level feel to it.”

Both Liberty and No. 2-seeded Midland will receive byes through the first two rounds next week before playing in the quarterfinals on March 15, with the Lady Flames facing the lowest remaining seed from the 10-team tournament at 8 p.m. EST.

“Every tournament’s a bit of an unknown, and since we won’t know who we play, we get the benefit of waiting and seeing,” Lowes said. “We are not worried too early about our Game 1 opponent. We are just focused on ourselves, trying to dial in and be ready to play our best hockey.”

He said he has witnessed the fruit of the team’s labor throughout the season in recent workouts leading up to nationals.

“The energy and the compete level has been really good in practice, and I’ve liked our attention to detail,” said Lowes, who has challenged his veteran players to set a high standard for the underclassmen. “We get to push each other every day, and make sure we’re ready to fire on all cylinders when we need to. When we get ready for game time, we should be buzzing.”

Lowes expects all three rounds to be tightly contested, and if the Lady Flames are able to advance to the March 17 championship game, he likes their chances of defending their national crown.

“Our talent is super balanced, and we’ve got good depth, so I like how we stack up,” he said. “It is a matter of putting nine good periods together. We are excited to get there, excited to finish hard in this last week of practice, and then go out and do our thing.”

For the fifth season in a row, Liberty’s ACHA Division II men advanced to nationals with an autobid (rather than having to qualify by winning two games at the Southeast Regional tournament) after finishing in the top two in the final Southeast Region rankings. The Flames will have to win their pool, with games against Providence on March 11, Army on March 12, and top-seeded Lindenwood on March 13, to advance to the March 14 semifinals, with the championship game set for March 15.

Meanwhile, the Lady Flames’ DII squad qualified for nationals for the first time in four seasons. As the No. 4 seed out of the Southeast Region, Liberty (11-7-2) may have to stage three upsets to advance out of its pool, competing against Providence (R.I., 17-1-2, No. 1 in the Northeast Region) on March 12 at 11 a.m. EST at Maryville University Hockey Center in Chesterfield, Mo.; Delaware (16-4-1, No. 2 in Southeast) on March 13 at 4 p.m. EST at Maryville; and St. Thomas (Minn., 13-0, No. 3 in the West) on March 14 at 4:15 p.m. at the Centene Center’s Plager Arena.

All games at the ACHA National Championships will be streamed live on FloHockey.TV. View all of the ACHA National Championships brackets online.

Liberty’s DIII men’s team, which was knocked out by High Point in the first round of the ACCHL Tournament in Winston-Salem, N.C., last Friday night, are seeded sixth out of 20 teams in the AAU Division II National Championships. The Flames will have to defeat No. 5 Bishop’s University, a team from Quebec, Canada, as well as No. 11 Clemson and No. 16 Vanderbilt to get out of their pool and reach the March 11-13 Final Four.

Follow all Liberty Hockey teams on the Club Sports website. Watch the most recent Rock the Rink podcast previewing the national championships.

Chat Live Chat Live Request Info Request Info Apply Now Apply Now Visit Liberty Visit Liberty