As the Lehigh men’s ice hockey team continues its up-and-down season, it will journey to Allentown to play against a big rival in an even bigger venue.
The team will face off against rival Lafayette College at the PPL Center on Saturday at 2 p.m.
The team has faced tough competition throughout the season, but it has put together a string of good performances. In the last three games, the Hawks have won two and lost one in overtime while scoring an impressive 22 goals. Still, they hope to improve their 6-8-1 record.
“Every game we have improved,” coach Tom Laessig said. “We have six wins already this year where we only had four all of last season. Even our losses are in close games. This team has a lot of heart, and the young guys are bringing a renewed enthusiasm to the program.”
Sophomore Kevin McGee also believes that the team is trending upward. The team has focused on a few areas such as defense recently in order to improve for the matchup with Lafayette.
“We’ve been stressing cutting down on giving up goals against,” McGee said. “The focus going into this game is going to be limiting their scoring opportunities and winning battles in our defensive zone.”
One challenge that this game does pose is its timing. It comes after a long Thanksgiving break where the team was not able to practice and is followed by a full slate of finals for students.
“We have practices during the week leading up to the game, and the big message there will be to refocus after the break, and to work on getting our legs back after being off the ice for a while,” McGee said. “Our last two games were both hard-fought and went into overtime so I think the time off was pretty helpful to rest up.”
A game against Lafayette for any sport at Lehigh is always anticipated, but this game has a bit more significance for the team. They will be playing at the brand-new PPL Center in Allentown. The Philadelphia Flyers minor league affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, call the PPL Center home. Laessig expressed a lot of excitement to play at the arena.
“The PPL Arena will be the nicest rink we play in and also the largest,” Laessig said. “We have played in small college arenas like Syracuse and Navy. Lebanon Valley plays in the Hershey Arena. Nothing will compare to the size and scope of this venue.”
Lehigh and Lafayette actually play on different NCAA levels with Lehigh being in the Division I ACHA and Lafayette being in Division II. This doesn’t mean that Lehigh can take Lafayette lightly at all, though, according to Laessig.
“Our guys get very excited to play this rivalry game,” he said. “That excitement needs to be tempered, especially this year playing in the big arena and against a much better-prepared Lafayette team. In the past, I think our team has taken them for granted. That can’t be the case this year.”
There is also an emphasis on playing together as a team against Lafayette. Senior Ryan Lexa said that people can’t be caught up trying to be the star and making individual plays against Lafayette. A rivalry game at a special venue like the PPL Center can bring a lot of excitement, but remaining focused is a point of emphasis.
Laessig and the team are hoping for a big crowd to be on hand at the game to support the team. Tickets are currently still available and can be purchased through Laessig.