ACHA's Toughest Barns: Liberty's LaHaye Ice Center
ONE OF THE MOST HOSTILE ENVIRONMENTS IN THE ACHA HAS SERVED AS A SPRING BOARD FOR THE LIBERTY PROGRAM.
Toughest Barn submission from Patrick Strawn and Rett McGibbon
You’ve just stepped off the bus from your fourteen hour-long bus ride into Lynchburg, Virginia. You head into the arena through the side entrance and you step into the rink. You look around and at first glance, it looks like every other rink you’ve been to. Not overly large, the same smells of battle tested hockey equipment, and as always never enough room for the whole team in one change room. You begin to think to yourself, if the rumors of this being a tough place to play.
Slowly but surely a feeling of familiarity covers your body and you begin working on your trade. Getting the sticks tapes, blades sharpened, and your body loosened for the evening’s affair. You’ve noticed that it is about 20 minutes until warm ups and nobody is in the seats yet. This leads to an assumption that this place is overly hyped. Once out on the ice for warm ups everything seems normal, there is a few people in the stands watching, you go through your typical routine, and head off for the final flood before the game starts.
The coach gives his final instructions and the weathered veterans of your team voice their words of wisdom before you take the ice. You line up and the door opens to a barely visible atmosphere. The lights are now off in the rink as you walk out to the bench for the start of the game. As the starting 6 takes the ice for your club, your attention is quickly ripped away from your team to an inflated Liberty Flames logo on the ice that is illuminated by a spotlight from the rafters. A voice that is reminiscent of your favorite NHL PA announcer introduces the home team with passion and vigor. Now facing you on the opposing blue line are the members of the home team highlighted by a piercing white light. Without warning a blinding white light reveals the now capacity filled arena. There must be over a couple of thousand people here, at least. There is a buzz in the air and you noticed that your stomach has a nervously excited feeling and a thought creeps into your mind, “maybe this place is legit.”
The pucks drops and quickly the opposition dump the puck in and start the foreheck. Their centreman delivers a big hit in the corner and the crowd erupts, a quick centering pass finds the tape of one the leading point scorers in the ACHA, and with a flick of the wrist the puck is in the back of your net. Your eardrums are then filled with the sound of a fog horn that obnoxiously reminds you the home team has already taken the lead. To top it off, a group of 20 future pastors leaning of the glass 10 feet above you are giving you a sermon on why you are doomed.
The Lahaye Ice Center (LIC) is home ice to the Liberty University Hockey Programs and since its opening in 2006, it has sky rocketed the Flames Hockey program to new heights.
From the outside, the arena appears small and like any other rink. Once inside however, the game experience is unparralled in the league. The flames brand of fast paced and physical hockey creates fits to the opposition. Add that to thousands of screaming fans, creates an atmosphere that makes a feat that is hard to come out on top in.
“Whenever you can make a team nervous to play here, it just gives you that extra advantage” said Joe Smith, former captain of Liberty flames. “I love when I see media releases that say how a team is coming to Lynchburg, Virginia to play in one of the most ruckus arenas and play against one of the most physical teams in all of the ACHA.”
Since 2006, Liberty's Division 1 team has a 131-40 record at home, giving them a 77% win percentage. The rink has helped prompt the team to qualifying for six of the last seven national tournaments and finish ranked in the top 20 for seven straight years, including five top ten finishes.
The LIC has not only benefited the Men’s Division 1 team, but has also helped with LU to add other ACHA teams as well. Helping Liberty to become the first school to have a team at all 5 levels of the ACHA. Not only to have a team at each level, but be competitive as well, as each team has had success at their levels.
The LIC has also helped Liberty move players to the next level as the flames have seen five players over the last four seasons move up to play minor league hockey not only in the U.S. but playing in different minor leagues across Europe as well. “It’s definitely help me take my game to the next level. I wouldn’t be the same player if it wasn’t here. It allows those players that need and want to take that extra time to get better and play at a higher level” Jackson Kuhn, current assistant captain of the Division 1 Men’s team.
With all of the features that LaHaye Ice Center provides, it is an obvious choice to be considered one of the tops, if not the top, in the league as the toughest place to play.