A lack of players and a combined 10-34-1 record from 2017-19 almost led to the Lehigh ice hockey team ceasing to exist.
Now, however, the addition of head coach Joshua Hand in the summer of 2018 has revitalized the team’s spirit and commitment, improving to a 10-13 record this year en route to their first playoff appearance in three years.
After a 3-2 win against nationally-ranked Navy on Feb. 9, the Mountain Hawks clinched their ticket to the ECHA playoffs.
Despite the team’s 2019 6-15 finish, Hand believes it was the commitment of last year’s group that kept the program going.
Hand recruited members of this year’s incoming class based on key personal attributes, including intellectual ability on the ice. He said he believes this year’s group has turned the program around, filling the locker room with the right people.
Hand has also increased the commitment level of the team, institutionalizing two practices and two lifts a week to prepare his players for games on the weekends.
“Everyone is more bought in,” sophomore forward John O’Shea said. “(Hand) is moving the program in the right direction, (creating) a culture where he pushes us to our limits and makes us better players and people.”
This season, the team is motivated more than ever to push for a championship. With the help of a group of impactful freshmen, their roster of 25 is poised to be competitive in the tournament.
The players preached focusing on the next play to put themselves in a position to win.
“Everybody we play can beat us, but we are still learning how to win and execute,” Hand said.
Hand said his players’ attitudes are what will make them successful not only on the ice, but also in the classroom and real world as well.
Fifth-year forward and captain Keith Calvaruso transferred to Lehigh his sophomore year and has since seen progress in the team’s dynamic, describing their chemistry as more cohesive and closer than ever.
“I enjoy going into the rink and developing life-long relationships,” Calvaruso said. “It’s exciting to be a part of.”
The core of the team’s relationships stretches beyond the ice. They are rooted within their team-first mentality, knowing each individual’s contribution is key to the team’s overall success.
“The connection of being on this team is unparalleled,” O’Shea said. “You always want to win and have each other’s backs on the ice and in the classroom.”
The Mountain Hawks finished the 2019-2020 regular season 10-13, winning seven out of their 11 games at home.
Having made considerable progress since last season, Hand believes the team still has a way to go before winning the ECHA championship.
“We want to keep the train moving in the right direction,” O’Shea said.
Lehigh will face William Paterson in the ECHA playoffs, hosted by the Naval Academy, from March 6-8 at McMullen Ice Center in Annapolis, Maryland.