Moon Area varsity hockey coach Scott Kubatka said prior to the season that he expected his team to defend its section title.
But due to graduation attrition, injuries and eligibility issues, the Tigers dug themselves quite a hole that they are now trying to climb out of.
Moon (2-6) lost its first five games of the season before rebounding to win two of its past three.
"We dug a bit of a hole," Kubatka said. "A lot of it was things we couldn't control. But we have put it past us and hopefully we'll be a different team with our full lineup. We still believe we can win the section."
The Tigers finished 10-6-3 last season, but had to replace their top four scorers -- Trevor Handlovitch, Austin Siebert, Brett Dunham and Koby Uhrig, all of whom graduated -- along with all-star goaltender J.T. Cillo-Owen.
Those losses have been compounded by some of the Tigers' better players this season missing games early on. Dustin Egenlauf, the team's top returning starter, has missed three games; Brenny Walcom, a talented sophomore, has only played in half of the games due to amateur obligations; projected starting goaltender Ryan Durkin, a sophomore, hasn't played a game yet due to injury; and freshman Brayden Lange has been playing through an injury all season.
Those missing players have allowed younger players who may not have had a chance to play otherwise -- such as forwards Nick Hart and Luke James and goaltender Julian Wolstencroft -- an opportunity to show what they can do. James has scored two goals while Wolstencroft has played every game in net, winning two of his past three starts by allowing just one goal in each victory.
"[Wolstencroft] has played pretty well all year," said Kubatka. "Even in the games that were lopsided, it was more the play in front of him. For a freshman who had no varsity experience, he's playing pretty well."
But Kubatka expects Durkin back soon, which will give Moon almost its entire lineup on the ice for the first time all season. A difference could already be seen offensively with the return of Egenlauf and Walcom, who combined for six goals in wins against North Hills and Montour.
Egenlauf leads the team with five goals, while Walcom's three goals ranks him second on the squad. Kubatka said the two haven't missed a beat with their linemates despite missing time.
"They've gotten chemistry pretty quickly," Kubatka said. "Dustin played with the same two linemates, Alex Ottaviani and Jake Fortwangler, last season. And Brenny has played amateurs with his linemates, Brayden Lange and Domenic Tarquinio, a few times before. So there wasn't much catching up to do."
Despite the slow start, Moon is just four points behind North Hills for the section lead and Kubatka expects the team's best hockey is still to come.
"I think we're going to be a very good team in the second half of the season," he said. "Our goals are still the same."
Luchini has been a key contributor for the Mountain Hawks. He started eight of 11 games last season as a freshman before missing time with a concussion.
This season, this Franklin Park resident started 13 of 16 games and had two goals to lead the team. His 24 shots were second most on the team.
"It is different coming on the field as a sophomore and being an experienced player versus someone who has never played a college minute before," Luchini said. "The main difference this year is mostly experience and knowing the pace of the game."
Luchini scored goals against Navy and Holy Cross this season. His goal against Navy was scored against goalie Gavin Snyder who at the time led the nation in goals-against average. Luchini scored on a breakaway run from the left side late in the game. His other goal came on Nov. 9 in the season finale for Lehigh.
"As a team you see goals go in and they tend to be a pretty streaky thing," Luchini said. "Last year there was a streak where we had a decent amount of goals. It is good knowing that you can score and get you that confidence back you had in high school when you had the feeling that you could score at any given time."
Two soccer seasons in and nearly three full semesters in, Luchini has proven he can excel off the field as well. Last week Luchini was named to the Academic All-Patriot League team. Luchini has a 3.76 grade point average in the business school. He landed on dean's list each of his first two semesters at Lehigh. He was also named to the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll last season.
The Patriot League names 11 athletes to the Academic All-League team each season and Luchini was one of only two underclassmen to be honored this season.
"The first semester of college, sometimes you overanalyze things," Luchini said. "The more you go through your college career, the more you can figure out ways of doing things in a timely manner."