The last couple of seasons have not been friendly to the Lebanon Valley Flying Dutchmen. Two seasons ago, Lebanon Valley went 1-23-1 and barely survived an effort to kill the program. Last year, with 17 freshmen on the roster, the Flying Dutchmen continued to struggle going winless during the season.
Needless to say, the challenges are many in central Pennsylvania.
“Hopefully we can do something this year,” said Lebanon Valley head coach Ted Russell. “It can’t get any worse. Obviously we know the position we are in.”
But hope springs eternal and Lebanon Valley is trying to put together the right ingredients to return to competitiveness. A key component is team leadership. Despite a small upper class, the Flying Dutchmen will rely on a handful of juniors and seniors to fill that gap.
“The key thing I have this year that I really didn’t have the last couple years is real good leadership from the older kids,” said Russell. “There [are] a handful of quality juniors and seniors that have been with this program through a lot. I have some real good leadership.”
The second ingredient is bringing in new talent and Lebanon Valley has been doing that in large quantities. Thirteen freshmen join this year’s team and combined with the 13 returning sophomores will be looked to provide the core of the team.
“Our freshmen are coming from all over North America and were very successful in the leagues they played in last year,” said Russell. “We have some kids who led their teams in scoring and they have had success. We have a real good group of kids now. To have a year like we did last year, and then have so many kids come back is huge. Once we are able to retain kids here, then we will be able to start competing in this conference.”
Getting the new players accustomed to the speed and skill of D-III hockey is always a challenge. Now that the sophomores have a year under their belts, they will need to pass on those lessons to the freshmen quickly.
“If you look at the lineups for last year, we were playing 10-12 first year players,” said Russell. “There were times where we played pretty good, then all of the sudden we took five minutes off and the other teams were so talented they would put four or five goals in. With a year’s experience, our players now know how good ECAC West hockey is and they have a whole brand new respect for it. We have been harping on the new kids now that it isn’t junior hockey anymore. After last year, they know that they need to play 60 minutes.”
Lebanon Valley can best be described as a work in progress. With a busload of young players, the Flying Dutchmen are building a foundation. If they can add in hard work, positive attitude, and some leadership, they might be able to get a taste of success to rebuild the team to competitiveness.
“We can’t afford to take a minute off,” said Russell. “I want to pride ourselves that the one thing we can control is how hard we work. Whenever we lace up the skates, we don’t look at the other team but play a certain way for a full entire 60 minutes. If we do that, then there could be some success at the final buzzer.”