When Liberty Women’s Ice Hockey Coach Chris Lowes arrived as a student in 1998, the Lynchburg campus would have been unrecognizable to his current players. There was no LaHaye Ice Center, and no Women’s Ice Hockey team either. Coach Lowes came to Liberty to be a part of the Flames’ Men’s Ice Hockey program, and join his brother Jeff who was already a key part of the team. However, it wasn’t just hockey that drew Chris to LU. “I followed my older brother Jeff’s lead who came to Liberty a year before me and also played hockey. Growing up in Ontario there were limited opportunities to continue my hockey career while also pursuing my education. Having the opportunity to combine academics and athletics in a place that would encourage me in my walk with Christ was such a blessing and changed my life.” Lowes had a great playing career at Liberty, contributing immediately, and becoming one of the Flames’ best Defensemen over his time on the ice. Chris also played alongside several other Liberty Hockey legends such as current Men’s Head Coach Kirk Handy and his older brother Jeff Lowes.
Despite a stellar playing career, Lowes’ still young coaching career has been even more successful. Chris began as an Assistant Coach to Kirk Handy, eventually taking over as the Men’s ACHA Division 2 Head Coach. With the Division 2 program, Lowes appeared in two National Championship Finals, and several other ACHA Regionals. In 2017, Lowes had a new opportunity presented to him; taking over the Women’s Division 1 program from former Head Coach Paul Bloomfield, who was retiring from coaching.
The job was hardly a rebuilding project, as the Lady Flames had won their first National Championship in 2015 and were National Runner-Up the season prior to Lowes taking over. “Coach Bloomfield had built a great team prior to me taking over on the women’s side so we were blessed with a group of talented young women,” said Coach Lowes of the program he was inheriting. Nevertheless, Lowes has taken the program to another level. The Lady Flames have become the gold standard program in all of Women’s ACHA Hockey, winning back to back National Championships. Still, Lowes credits the environment and people he works with for much of the team’s success. “There are a lot of people involved in the success of our program. From the administration to our academic support team, our athletic trainers and strength coaches, and our hockey coaches – all provide an incredible experience for our student-athletes which allows us to attract top end talent and build teams that can compete with the top teams in the country.”
Still, for a new Head Coach to come in and have such immediate success requires a lot of player buy in, and a strong team culture. Coach Lowes instantly knew the importance of establishing a positive culture for the program under his watch. “The biggest challenge was taking an entire team and establishing the culture we as a staff envisioned over the first couple of seasons. We were fortunate to find success on the ice right away and I am excited as we now have a core of players that understand what our vision is for this team.” A program with that much success can also quickly fall into complacency. Motivation can be difficult for a team as dominant as the Lady Flames. Lowes has seen this as a challenge, but he believes his players and coaches are up to the task. “Our challenge as coaches is the length of the season as opposed to the success we have had. It is important we listen to our players and team leaders to make sure we balance skill development and practice while not burning out too early. I also value the feedback of our strength and conditioning team who spend a lot of time monitoring players energy levels and recovery. Our coaches have done a good job finding ways to create competition in practices and implementing new drills to keep things fresh.”
The upcoming season will be challenging, but the Lady Flames should again be in the hunt for a National Championship, and only the second three-peat in Women’s ACHA history. Women’s hockey in the US is still very much in the growth stage, so new competition is always popping up. Lowes pointed out, “The women’s game is growing and we are seeing the participation and popularity at all levels increasing. The ACHA is seeing the addition of new teams every year and this year we have two very strong programs jumping to the Division 1 level which will increase the competition level.”
Liberty is also looking to replace several players from last season’s championship squad. However, Lowes is confident that he and the staff have brought in the right mix of new players to blend in with his veteran skaters. “We graduated some talented players this year and are replacing four skaters. We have an incoming class of six that I am very excited about. Our goal every year is to improve as a team in all areas: academically, spiritually, athletically – and I think this new group will allow us to do that.” The Lady Flames open their 2019-20 season with a trio of non-ACHA match ups August 31, and September 7-8, before opening their intercollegiate schedule on the road against Lindenwood September 27. Coach Lowes will have his team ready to play. “Our staff is still very active recruiting and planning for the coming season. We have some exciting changes coming for this season that will make the experience for our players even better.” We now know that LU Women’s Hockey will be joining a conference for the first time this season, the WMCH (Women’s Midwest College Hockey). The conference includes Minnesota, Lindenwood-Belleville (National Runner-ups), Minot State, McKendree, and Midland. The conference schedule should add strength to the Lady Flames slate for 2019-20.
The unprecedented level of success that Lowes has brought to the program naturally leads to opportunity. While he shys away from conversation about any interest he may have received, it’s reasonable to believe there have been inquiries. Despite any looks from other programs, Lowes remains committed to Liberty, and his team. “I believe that God has me where he wants me and I have a great peace about that. My coaching career has been very rewarding and we are just getting started – I am excited to see what we can do as a program over the coming years.” It should be another great season for the Lady Flames as they attempt to three-peat as ACHA Division 1 National Champions. With Head Coach Chris Lowes at the helm, the program will only continue to grow and prosper. Be sure to get out to LaHaye Ice Center and check out all of the Liberty Flames hockey programs this season.