Club hockey to host National Tournament

Jeff Russ

The ninth-ranked hockey club begins the National Tournament tonight when they play eighth-ranked Liberty at the Ice Zone in Boardman.

The team will host the single-elimination, 16-team tournament today through Sunday at the Ice Zone.

“Obviously, hosting the tournament, there was pressure to qualify legitimately,” head hockey coach Jarret Whidden said. “But it is still a sheet of ice; the game is not going to change.”

Six teams from Kent State’s league, the Central States Collegiate Hockey League, qualified for the tournament. The remaining 10 teams are unfamiliar to Kent State.

Whidden said Kent State forces opponents to adapt to their high-scoring style of play.

“We’re going to score a lot of goals,” Whidden said.

Liberty, tonight’s opponent, is 28-5 on the season. They are an independent team, and the only CSCHL team Liberty played was Robert Morris, whom they defeated twice. Dave Semenyna is leading Liberty with 67 points this season.

Whidden, who has confidence in his team’s offense, said his main concern against Liberty, and other unfamiliar teams the Flashes will face in the tournament, is whether to pick up a line or an individual player defensively.

In order to win, Whidden says the team needs to avoid making mistakes that have cost them at times.

“We struggle along the boards and give the puck away,” Whidden said. “But when we’re winning, we do well on the boards.”

Whidden said Kent State is a good skating team, but when they turn the puck over, the transition hurts and costs them goals.

But the coach and his players have noticed a different feeling in practice this week.

“Last week was our best practice since our week before (winter) break,” Whidden said. “Sprits are high. We’re working hard and having fun. I can’t explain what it is, but the practices were special.”

League M.V.P. Jason O’Bannon also thought the team had a great week of practice.

“The last couple practices, everyone seemed to do their best,” O’Bannon said. “We had our best practices of the year the last few days.”

Whidden said the team is in a great position to win.

“We beat (No. 2 -ranked) Ohio and (No. 3- ranked) Illinois,” Whidden said. “We have as good a shot as any team.”

Contact sports reporter Jeff Russ at [email protected].