Alexa, play, “The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy. The boys are back and buzzing. The IUP Men’s Ice Hockey team is preparing to repeat as College Hockey Mid-America (CHMA) champions. Despite losing the team’s top two scorers the boys have their sight set on another championship run.
Last year, this squad was unstoppable and made a run towards a title. Like other sports, their season was unconventionally ended by COVID-19, but they are ready and hungry for another run.
Head Coach Joe Honzo is confident in his group and stated, “We return the core of our team, our goaltending and defense remain very strong and we also expect some of our forwards to take a step forward next year, we will be a physical hard to play against team.”
This is the feeling throughout the locker room. The team knows what it takes to be successful and works daily to sit atop the division for a third straight year.
Coach Honzo clarifies what separates IUP’s Hockey Program from the rest of the division, “We like to think of our team as a family with a culture of winning, we expect to contend every year, winning is contagious our kids have worked hard the past two years securing the regular season championship two years ago and winning the CHMA title last year.”
Not only is this team experienced, they are accomplished. Captain Gavin Cummings (senior, sports administration) has been to the dance before and leads the ragtag group of players who are just as close off the ice as they are on.
Cummings reflects on the long break, “At this point were just ready to play hockey and compete, we feel like our nationals trip was taken from us so we’re looking to repeat and actually get to experience the full trip from flying, to playing, and just being around your teammates in an environment you’re all experiencing for the first time.”
The men are closer than just teammates and Cummings emphasizes the importance of the seniors they lost.
“Last year's seniors were a key group to our success last year but they will mostly be missed in the locker room and off the ice, they were all such great people that brought a lot of positivity to our team.”
It is clear this is what makes a championship caliber team. The roster is loaded with talent from top to bottom but what's talent without teamwork? Kyle Harris (junior, athletic training) another big contributor to this team’s success, speaks on the team's recipe for success.
“I think what sets IUP apart from previous teams I’ve been on is the comradery and how tightly knit our team is. There is no better feeling than knowing no matter what you have 30 guys who have your back.”
The team still has aspects to improve on. When alternate captain, Harris, was asked about what the team needs to fix he said “I think the most important aspect the team needs to improve on is keeping our game simple and not try to do too much. We are a hardworking team which plays a very fast game and once we try to get fancy, we get away from our playing style.”
Harris put last year's run-in perspective and reflected on his growth as a player.
“Last year’s run really helped my game as a player and as a leader. Coming in as the third seed, we weren’t expected to win but we all rose to another level come playoffs and seeing your teammates push themselves to achieve a goal is a great feeling as a leader of the team. It taught me to go into every game with the same mindset because anything can happen.”
Coach Honzo also spoke about their run last year and the team being unable to compete for the natty.
“We are highly motivated after last year’s national tournament being cancelled, We were extremely disappointed we were not able to travel to Dallas, Our players are hungry to get another shot at nationals, They have worked hard over the off season.”
IUP Men’s Ice Hockey team is a force to be reckoned with. Hawks are going to be back to back champions this year.