Liberty University Becomes First To Offer All Five ACHA Divisions
A packed LaHaye Ice Center has helped Liberty University grow its hockey program within the ACHA.
Booming growth at Liberty since 2006.
Kirk Handy, head coach of ACHA’s Division I perennial contender Liberty University, hasn’t been around for all of Liberty’s hockey history but he’s presided over virtually all of its growth. A former LU player and 1999 graduate of the school, Handy has guided the school’s hockey program through a period of unprecedented expansion within the ACHA.
The 2010-11 season will feature Liberty University as the first and only school to offer ACHA hockey in all five divisions.
The Liberty men’s program has been on the upswing since 2006 when it made the move from ACHA Division II to Division I.
Solidifying the transition was the January 2006 opening on campus of the LaHaye Ice Center. No longer were the LU players subject to two-hour round trip van rides to Roanoke for practice and games. Literally overnight the LU program went from “road warrior” status to having its own rink, a dedicated locker room and seemingly unlimited ice time.
The infrastructure improvements showed up immediately in the rankings as LU has become a mainstay in the ACHA Men’s Division I top 10 and an annual threat at the national championships.
The program success – along with the addition of the on-campus facility -- snowballed in all directions and fed on itself. Suddenly Handy and his staff had a nice problem – too many players wanting to don the red, white and blue uniforms. “What happened was that our tryouts in the fall started to get popular,” said Handy. “We started to get more and more players showing up. When we had to cut 20-25 players we realized there was a need for a Division II team. “
“A couple years later here comes another 25 guys we had to cut, who didn’t have an opportunity to play, so we identified the need for a Division III team.”
On the women’s side, Liberty had a program in the early 2000s but it disbanded quickly. According to Handy, the challenge of traveling an hour to Roanoke for practices, in addition to the challenge of trying to find ice to schedule games, were key problems.
“I think the school really wanted to provide the opportunity for the women to participate in hockey,” said Handy. “But that didn’t really happen until the rink was built on campus. The addition of the women’s Division II team is a result of trickle down, just like the men’s program.” Instead of cutting large numbers of players LU opted for more opportunity for players.
From the school’s standpoint the growth of the hockey program has obviously led to an increase in enrollment, but more importantly it is about providing a chance for hockey to fit into the student lifestyle. “The school is excited that there are opportunities for students to play at different levels,” said Handy. “We have a place to play for a lot of different skill levels and commitment levels.”
Much of the LU hockey coaching staff comes from within. Besides Handy, the men’s Division II team is coached by former LU player Chris Lowes; the men’s Division III team is coached by LU grad Rett McGibbon; the women’s Division II team is coached by former LU Division I standout Zac Bauman.
Timeline of Liberty University Hockey
1985 Men’s club hockey team started at Liberty
2006 Men’s club hockey team moved from Division II to Division I
2006 LaHaye Ice Center opened on campus Jan. 2006
2006 Men’s Division II club team started
2006 Women’s Division I club team started
2009 Men’s Division III club team started
2010 Women’s Division II club team started