The University of New Mexico hockey club enjoyed plenty of success last season, advancing to the ACHA National Championships for the first time in program history. Just five short months later, the squad is ready to get back to work and pick up where they left off.
Head coach Grant Harvey, fresh off a fundraising endeavor, seemed excited about getting a chance to celebrate last season's accomplishment and try to garner support for the upcoming campaign. He said it made it a lot easier to ask for money from private donors when they are able to see the return on their investment.
Harvey said he was thankful for the support, because he doesn't have anything to offer in return. UNM hockey is a club sport, as opposed to being a part of the UNM Athletic Department, and they rely heavily on fundraising to make playing the game possible.
Still, that means the sacrifice student-athletes are asked to make often involves them digging into their own pockets to cover team fees and play without receiving something like an athletic scholarship in return.
And members of the team don't have it easy, as Harvey admitted he has more prerequisites than the average coach. He said he requires players to engage in some kind of civic-minded duty in the local community and it is important for them to exhibit the ability to earn good grades and be good people, all of which take precedence over what they can do on the ice.
But the rewards for being on the squad outweigh the sacrifices, a sentiment shared by team co-captain Nate Taglialegami. He said he has built relationships with past and current members of the team and is looking forward to sharing another season with fellow senior co-captain Mackenzie Smith.
Harvey said naming two team captains and two alternates is just one example of him running things a little unorthodox, which is part of his coaching style. Another example might be the method he selects players in lieu of a tryout.
He asked what better way is there to find out about a player than putting them in a game. Sometimes players can be really adept at performing drills, but then coaches find out they are afraid of the puck once they are in a game situation.
For that reason, he inserts potential newcomers into a scrimmage to simulate real action and see who players respond.
Harvey quickly rattled off Chance Shanks' name as a player who really surprised him in scrimmages. The head coach said while nothing may have jumped out just to look at him, Harvey recognized Shanks' poise and hockey abilities.
"There is not an 'are you in the right place at the right time ' drill," Harvey said. "It's something that manifests when you actually play the game."
Players can expect Harvey to be a hands-on kind of leader, saying he monitors grades closely and his finger is definitely on the pulse of the team. He even said, perhaps only half-jokingly, that he is aware of players' important life events, such as when they break up with their significant other.
But the expectations are the same for everyone across the board, and they are all held to a high standard — rookie or veteran. That has seemed to bind teammates together, which can often be an important part of team chemistry.
"I think you play better with your teammates inadvertently when you hang out with each other. And I think I'm lucky that these players all get along — nobody is too cool for each other and it is paying dividends."
It remains to be seen how quickly this season's squad with come together. There have been some key departures, such as Jaxson Farnholtz and Austin Short.
Taglialegami said it will be a tough task to continue to show improvement after losing big pieces like them, but they are just going to have to pick up more of the load.
"I feel like we still have the same kind of fire power, but will be a little bit shorter on the bench," the new team captain said. "It's going to be tough, but I think we can still do it."
Harvey said he is hopeful some students at UNM will show an interest in becoming a part of the team and reach out to fill in some remaining roster spots. If interested, people can contact Harvey at via email at email@example.com or through Twitter @Lobocoachgrant.
The 2018-19 UNM Lobo hockey season is scheduled to begin Friday, Sept. 14 when it hosts Colorado School of Mines at the Outpost Ice Arena at 8 p.m.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and football and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.