The Lehigh ice hockey team is off to its best season start in over a decade.
The team hasn’t seen an overall record of 13-4-2 since 2011, and their 4-2-2 divisional record has them in fourth place in the Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association.
The team is led by a trio of returning forwards, Sean Grant, Michael Grise and Ethan Behar, who have racked up 31, 25, and 21 points (goals and assists) respectively.
“In the past, the team has been heavily reliant on first-line scoring, but this year there’s been a lot more depth of points,” Grise said. “Instead of having (a few guys) to carry more weight, it’s much more distributed this year, which makes everyone play better and then makes it a lot more fun.”
The team’s second line includes first-year Zach Gruber and sophomore Josh Gruber, who are brothers. Eleven players have at least five points this season, and seven of those players have totaled more than 10 points, including sophomore forward Ferdinand Bergard from Austria.
“I think that our mentality is next man up,” said coach Joshua Hand. “If you look at all of the games we’ve played in, the lines have been different and the lines have moved around and we’ve had different goaltenders.”
Fifth-year Kenny Burgess has been the primary goaltender, playing in 10 games and saving 93.6% of shots, nearly a 6% increase from last year.
Senior Ben Speyer has also seen some time in front of the net, including a shutout victory against George Mason University, which is first in the ECHA. Speyer has played in six games and has only allowed five goals for a 94.6 save percentage, a 5% increase from last season.
“As the oldest (goaltender), I try to help out and set a good example,” Burgess said. “We all have a pretty good relationship, and we all know we’re trying to pull the rope in the same direction and help the team win.”
Earlier in the season, the Mountain Hawks gained national recognition when they were ranked 23rd in the American Collegiate Hockey Association for the first time in three years. They have since dropped out of the latest ranking.
Hand said the team appreciated the ranking and recognition but it doesn’t represent their ultimate goal.
Though the Mountain Hawks have not made the playoffs in seven years, Hand said the team is confident their improvements will propel them to postseason play.
“It’s hard to win in college sports,” Hand said. “It’s hard to win in sports in general, and I think we’ve taken another step forward every year.”
He said mature leaders, strong underclassmen, good depth and solid goaltending are just some reasons as to why they are improving — even if it’s not happening as fast as they sometimes want it to.
Grise said he hopes to break back into that top-25 and maintain their position week to week.
The Mountain Hawks have 12 games remaining in their season, seven of which are against divisional opponents.
“Our mentality is to try and be 1-0 every day,” Hand said. “We have little goals that we have set for ourselves and we try to achieve them every day we step on the ice.”
The team will take about a month off this winter before continuing their season against Villanova on Jan. 12.