The Liberty Flames, ousted from the ACHA DI National Tournament last March in the opening round, will play more than one-fourth of their 2012-13 schedule against teams that easily could be ranked in the top five to start the new season.
The Flames will meet national champion Delaware and runner-up Oakland each four times. They will also host Ohio University, No. 5 in last season’s final ranking, for two games and hit the road for a game with Arizona State, No. 9 last year, and two with Arizona.
“Arizona State will probably be a top three team,” said Liberty head coach Kirk Handy. “Night in and night out, you want to play high-level games to keep your team revved up.”
Last season, Liberty lost all three of its contests with Delaware but took three of four from Oakland.
In 2012-13, the Flames will play 23 games at home and 15 on the road, with 17 during the first semester at home so the players will be able to participate in campus open houses, attend football games and join their families for parents weekend.
January will bring the first games between Liberty and regional rival West Virginia in years. The Mountaineers will host the Flames for games on the 18th and 19th and travel to Lynchburg, Va., for a pair on Feb. 15 and 16 to close out the Flames’ regular-season schedule.
With so many games with top DI teams on the schedule, the Flames, who closed out last season with a 23-10-0-3 record and the No. 10 ranking, will have plenty of opportunities to secure a top seed at the 2013 ACHA DI National Tournament, on the Robert Morris campus in Bensenville, Ill.
The Flames return 20 of 27 players from last season’s squad, including their top three scorers, three defensemen and both goalies.
Among the skaters who have departed is forward Joe Smith, the team’s captain, who signed to play with a pro team in Sweden.
Back are snipers Brent Boschman (photo), Rick Turner and Andrew McCombe (team captain in 2012-13). Boschman scored 25 goals and assisted on 40 others en route to DI All-American First Team honors.
Cam Bakker, Jackson Kuhn and Matt Sherry will again man the Flames’ blue line, but Handy expects newcomers Steven Bellew and B.J. Pirus to challenge for spots on the top-two defensive pairings.
In net will be Blair Bennett and Clayton Brown. Bennett played in 24 games and finished the season with a 3.18 goals against average, two shutouts and a 0.900 save percentage.
Brown put up even better numbers, winning 10 of 13 starts, surrendering 2.33 goals a game and stopping 0.910 of the opposition’s shots.
All told, Handy is confident of six new players joining the Flames, with the possibility of one or two others turning out for tryouts.
“We’ve got guys whose skill level will push the guys above them,” he said.
2012-13 Liberty DI Schedule
Sept. 7, Hampton Roads Jr. Whalers
Sept. 8, Hampton Roads Jr. Whalers
Sept. 14, Atlanta Jr. Knights
Sept. 15, Atlanta Jr. Knights
Sept. 21, Mercyhurst
Sept. 22, Mercyhurst
Sept. 28, Robert Morris
Sept. 29, Robert Morris
Oct. 5, ACHA Showcase (Springfield, Ill.)
Oct. 6, ACHA Showcase
Oct. 7, ACHA Showcase
Oct. 19, Davenport
Oct. 20, Davenport
Oct. 26, Ohio
Oct. 27, Ohio
Nov. 2, Stony Brook
Nov. 3, Stony Brook
Nov. 9, Delaware
Nov. 10, Delaware
Nov. 16, at Stony Brook
Nov. 17, at Stony Brook
Nov. 29, at Davenport
Nov. 30, at Oakland
Dec. 1, at Oakland
Dec. 8, Virginia Tech
Jan. 10, at Arizona State
Jan. 11, at Arizona
Jan. 12, at Arizona
Jan. 18, at West Virginia
Jan. 19, at West Virginia
Jan. 25, Arizona
Jan. 26, Arizona
Feb. 1, at Delaware
Feb. 2, at Delaware
Feb. 8, Oakland
Feb. 9, Oakland
Feb. 15, West Virginia
Feb. 16, West Virginia