Flames hockey fans flood LaHaye for unveiling of renovated arena
The grand re-opening of the LaHaye Ice Center attracted a crowd that filled the newly expanded arena to its capacity of 4,000 on Friday night. Long lines formed at ticket windows for the game as fans waited to celebrate the 2015-16 home debut of the Flames’ ACHA Division I men’s hockey team and the completion of the eight-month expansion and renovation project — one of many highlights of Liberty University’s Homecoming Weekend.
President Jerry Falwell, an ardent supporter of Liberty’s Club Sports program, was on hand for the ceremonial puck drop before the 7 p.m. faceoff between the sixth-ranked Flames and fifth-ranked Davenport University in the first game of the fourth annual, best-of-three Blue & Gray Cup series.
On the historic night, spectators were treated to a stirring rendition of the National Anthem by 2014 graduate and 2015 Miss America first runner-up Courtney Garrett as well as special features and player introductions on the new four-sided video board mounted above center ice.
“I thought the atmosphere was fantastic, and we’re real excited to move forward with this new arena,” Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “It’s a world-class facility that President Falwell and Senior Vice President (for Planning and Construction) Charles Spence and Senior Vice President (for Auxiliary Services) Lee Beaumont have built, and we’re real proud of this facility. We’re going to work hard to keep it one of the best facilities to play in.”
The festive fans, many decked out in red, helped Liberty #RocktheRink, as its Twitter hashtag reads, boosting the spirits of the Flames. The team gave their fans something to get excited about in return, with high-energy action on the ice despite the final outcome, a 4-1 setback. Flames freshman defenseman Zane Schartz scored a five-on-three power play goal early in the third period. (Read full game coverage.)
In the arena, which was expanded from 59,000 to 89,000 square feet, spectators filled the 10 new suites around the concourse level and all available seats, with crowds also peering from the standing-only areas around the concourse and behind the glass.
Between periods, fans visited one of the two new second-floor concession stands or enjoyed watching festivities that included a five-on-five game of bubble soccer on ice officiated by Sparky, the Flames’ mascot, and video highlights from Liberty Flames Sports Network (LFSN) on the new video board.
Fans can come back for more action when the Flames meet the Panthers again on Saturday at 3 p.m. The men’s program will also host its annual alumni game on Saturday, starting at 11 a.m., with approximately 30 players reuniting for a friendly Homecoming match as Liberty celebrates 30 years of hockey.
Following the men’s game on Friday night, the defending ACHA Division I national champion Lady Flames took the ice against Vermont. The women follow the men’s game again on Saturday at 5:45 p.m., after being honored at the first intermission of the men's game with a national championship ring presentation. (Read full game coverage.)