Lehigh men’s club ice hockey team hits the road on Saturday to take on Villanova University in its first game of the season. The Mountain Hawks hope to begin their season with a win against their Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association opponent. The team will then move on to its first home game against Temple University on Oct. 3 at the Steel Ice Arena.
Coach Tom Laessig leads the Mountain Hawks in his third season with the team. Laessig shares a special bond with senior goalie Paul Sjostrom.
After Sjostrom’s first season on the team, there was a vacancy for a new coach, so Sjostrom decided to make a call to his youth league club coach. Laessig, a Lehigh alumnus, won an 18-and-under club national championship with Sjostrom manning the goal.
In his first season of coaching the Mountain Hawks, Laessig was running the helm by himself. However, times have changed as Laessig prepares for his third season, with the program now boasting a staff of three assistant coaches and two managers.
With the departure of three seniors last year, Laessig brings in six first-year players that he hopes can quickly acclimate to the team’s style of play. Some of them will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact. Laessig said he believes that first-years Matt Blakely and Steve Flego are two that are expected to make a difference on the ice.
“Lehigh’s admissions are so competitive that sometimes it’s tough to recruit,” Laessig said. “But we have found our team is filled with bright and talented kids.”
Sjostrom echoed his coach’s message and said that the team was a balance of experienced and new players.
“Our freshmen can definitely be assets, but the core of experienced upperclassmen will be looked on to lead the way,” he said.
Midway through last season, Laessig thought that the team needed a change. He named junior defenseman Adam Goldstein as a team captain. This year, Goldstein is joined by sophomore forward Evan Goldstein, who will serve as a new captain and club president.
After posting a 4-22-2 record for the 2013-2014 season, the two captains took notice of how the team’s fitness and conditioning lacked, especially in its second loss to Navy.
“In our first game against Navy, we had competed but lost a pretty close game towards the end,” Adam said. “In the second game they showed us up on their home ice. You could see how much more in shape they were than us.”
This led to the implementation of a new fitness program over the summer months, which requires the team members to work out three to four times per week and pass fitness testing when they arrived back at Lehigh in the fall.
The team’s 26-game season features two match-ups against each of the other five members of the ECHA. Those include Villanova, Towson University, Penn State Berks, Navy and Drexel University. Lehigh hopes to win the ECHA league tournament and advance to the national tournament.
The team looks forward to its game against rival Lafayette on Dec. 6, when the teams will face off at the new state-of-the-art PPL Center in Allentown. Fans can buy tickets to the game and stay after to watch the Lehigh Valley Phantoms play.