Saturday, May 25, 2013

Give him Liberty, and give him hockey

Brandon Mistal finished this season as the captain of the BCHL's
Salmon Arm SilverBacks.

(Salmon Arm SilverBacks photo)
Daily News Sports Editor

Brandon Mistal just wants to play hockey.
So he’s prepared to travel 4,338 kilometres from his hometown for ice time.
After three-plus seasons in the BCHL, Mistal, a 21-year-old forward from Kamloops, is headed to Liberty University in the fall.
The school, a private Christian university, is located in Lynchburg, Va. The Flames are a Division I hockey team, playing in the 54-team American Collegiate Hockey Association. The ACHA, which has been around since 1991, governs non-varsity hockey in the U.S.
“That would be awesome,” Mistal, 21, said of the opportunity to play four seasons at Liberty U. “As long as the money all works out and I can keep going down there, I will definitely play four years.”
Mistal played in the BCHL with the Penticton Vees, Cowichan Valley Capitals and Salmon Arm SilverBacks. He concluded this season as the SilverBacks’ captain, putting up 36 points, including 13 goals, in 56 games.
“He’s an outstanding young man,” Troy Mick, the SilverBacks’ general manager and head coach, said. “His dedication, his character, his work ethic . . . were so emblematic of being a captain that it was a real no-brainer for us.”
Like a large number of BCHL players, Mistal had his hopes up for an offer from an NCAA Division I school. But as this season wore on it became evident that wasn’t going to happen. All the while, he kept hearing from Liberty.
“It was in the back of my mind,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was hoping for Division I . . . I was keeping all my options open.
“But they were the only ones who were talking to me through the whole season. Then, after the season was over, they really wanted me to come for a visit.”
Mistal traveled to Lynchburg in mid-April, saw the campus, skated with some of the Flames and “stayed with couple guys off-campus.”
“It was a pretty good experience,” he said.
These days, he can hardly wait to get back there and get started.
“It’s not the biggest rink,” he said of the 3,000-seat LaHaye Ice Center that is located on the university campus, “and there’s not that many seats, but they love hockey down there and they pack the barn. They support the team so well.”
Mistal grew up in a Christian home – his family is Pentecostal – and his faith is important to him, so Liberty should be a good fit. It was founded in 1971 by evangelical fundamentalist Jerry Falwell, whose roots were Southern Baptist. Falwell died in 2007.
“It’ll be a bit of a change to have that different environment,” said Mistal, who will set out in pursuit of a business degree, “but it’ll be cool to experience that.”
His connection to Liberty came through the Silverbacks’ chapel program. Kenny Toews, the Silverbacks’ chaplain, reached out to Flames assistant coach Dave Semenyna. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Flames are losing two of their offensive leaders, so Mistal is hoping to make an immediate impact.
“I think I’m an all-around player . . . a pretty smart player,” he said. “I like to get in the corners and cycle and work on the boards and create offence out of that. I’m hoping to go in and contribute offensively right away.
“I think I’m one of those versatile guys who can do everything pretty solidly, hopefully with a decent knack for scoring, too.”
Head coach Kirk Handy also is hoping that Mistal is able to contribute right away.
“He’s someone who can definitely make an impact right away, who can play in a lot of different situations,” Handy said in a news release. “He’s a class act with strong leadership abilities. He’s a very well spoken guy who, just in the time we’ve gotten to know him, I’ve been really impressed with his character and his demeanour.
“On the ice, he’s going to be a guy we can count on on both sides of the rink, a two-way hockey player who has a good scoring knack.”
Mistal also will get to see some new country, as the Flames’ 39-game schedule includes stops in such places as Charleston, W.Va.; Athens, Ohio; Blacksburg, Va.; and Tucson, Ariz.
“I’ll gain experience and exposure so I jumped at the opportunity, for sure,” he said.

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