Over the last several years, the Calvin hockey program has experienced much success. As an American College Hockey Association (ACHA) Division III team, the Knights made 10 trips to the national tournament, and in 2004 the program won the national championship.
“With the success that we had at the Division III level, the ACHA recruited us to put a Division I program together along with our Division III program,” said coach Mike Petrusma. “We had a tremendous amount of interest from recruits looking for an opportunity to play college hockey at Calvin. Therefore, in 2017 we expanded to two teams, and we started this season with 52 guys in the program.”
While initially the move to Division I was a large leap, the team has since risen to the challenge. Currently ranked 15th, the team is on pace for a berth in the national tournament, held in late March (canceled due to COVID-19). It would be its first since making the move to the top division. A series sweep of No. 5 Ohio University inlate January proved pivotal for the Knights.
The Division III team is coached by Jim Hartlein, who is now in his second year as the head coach. Hartlein and Petrusma work closely together with both teams in order to achieve their goal of becoming a “two teams, one program” type of environment.
“I feel the Division III team is moving steadily in the right direction,” Hartlein said. “We finished the season two years ago unranked, last season we moved up to 17th, and this season we have held onto 13th in the tough north region. We have implemented structure, accountability, and raised the bar of expectation for our D3 team. We have implemented regular recruiting for the program and focused on development of skill.”
Petrusma, who has headed up the Calvin program for the past 21 years, is grateful for the opportunity to welcome both players who are ready for the Division I level and those who are at the Division III level, with an opportunity to move up to the top level.
“The major difference between the levels is that typically the guys at the Division I level have participated in junior hockey for the past couple of years. At the Division III level, guys primarily follow a more traditional path of coming out of high school and starting to play college hockey,” he said.
“We have designed our program for those kids that come straight out of high school to develop them and for some of them to have the opportunity to play at the Division I level once they’ve gotten bigger and stronger. The Division I level is faster, more physical, and tactically more demanding than the DIII level. Our adjustments to the higher level have included recruiting players that are physically and mentally capable of performing and understanding the game at the higher level for both of our teams.”