Senior forward Chris Ramondelli prepares to shoot at the Lehigh-Lafayette ice hockey match on Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014. Lehigh starts its 2016-17 season against William Patterson University on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016, at Ice Vault Arena. (Chris Barry/B&W Staff)

Lehigh ice hockey looks to build on last season’s success

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The Lehigh ice hockey team has higher expectations this season than it has faced in recent years.

In the past, it has entered the season hoping to win as many games as it could with the goal of qualifying for the playoffs. This year, the team is focusing on winning the Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association and going to nationals.

Last season, Lehigh won its first ever ECHA playoff game against Towson University. The Mountain Hawks were given a bye in the first round in order to face Towson in the semifinals, winning the game 3-2. Lehigh later lost in the finals to Navy.

After its success in last year’s playoffs, the team comes into this season trying to carry over that momentum from its playoff win. Coach Tom Laessig said it’s the first time in his five years as coach the team is coming into a season with a strategy.

“Every year, we went into the season really with no plan, we were just going to go and play hockey and try to win as many games as we can,” Laessig said. “Now, we have expectations of going further — of winning the league, of going to nationals, of winning a lot of games against tough competition.”

Senior Kevin McGee agreed with his coach, saying the team definitely has high expectation of itself this season, and it knows it’s capable of winning the league and going to nationals.

“I don’t think (expectations) put any more stress on it,” McGee said. “I think we are all really excited about it, we know we have a great opportunity, and I think we are all really looking forward to this season getting started.”

McGee said the team isn’t really feeling any pressure or stress for the upcoming season, but more excitement to see what they can do together.

Lehigh lost five seniors over the offseason, and while losing senior skill and leadership is hard for any team, sophomore goalie Andrew Carlin said he isn’t worried it will hurt the Mountain Hawks.

“Most of the holes that we lost from the five guys we were able to fill with the freshmen that are equally as good if not better,” Carlin said. “So I don’t think it is going to hurt us too much and especially that our first line, who last year were three juniors, they’re all returning and they’re all seniors, they’re older and more experienced.”

Lehigh’s top line — which consists of seniors McGee, Chris Ramondelli and Henry Brooks — led the team in goals last season. Ramondelli finished the season first in the league for points, followed by McGee who finished second, with Brooks coming in seventh.

“I think last year they were probably the best line in the league,” Carlin said. “It is going to be great having them as the first line for us this year. I am definitely expecting big things out of them, and I’m sure they are going to produce.”

Laessig put together the line in the middle of last season, and Ramondelli said they gelled together immediately. Ramondelli said the line just has really good chemistry out on the ice and their different styles of playing mesh together really well.

Carlin had a breakout year last season as well, ending with him being named MVP of the ECHA playoffs, even as freshman goalie from the losing team. Ramondelli said having Carlin behind them in the net for the Mountain Hawks relaxes everyone on the ice.

“He can really steal a game,” Ramondelli said. “Just having him back there kind of relaxes everybody and you know that, if we make a mistake, he will be there to help us out when we need him.”

Looking to the upcoming season, McGee said the game against Navy is one that always stands out on the schedule. Last year, the Mountain Hawks beat the Midshipmen 6-4 in the first of three matchups during the season for the first time in a number of years. Laessig said Lehigh has formed a kind of rivalry against Navy and views this as a key matchup during the season.

Lehigh will face William Patterson University for the first game of the season on Sept. 23 at the Ice Vault Arena in Wayne, New Jersey.

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