In a league that seems bent on making things as convoluted as possible, it’s only fitting that the defending champions were the ones who had to bear the most significant losses to graduation. Eleven players are gone from last season’s Green Knight roster, eight of whom were forwards.
Most notable is the departure of team leading scorer and captain Connor Hughes. While his contributions on the ice spoke for themselves, it’s the loss of leadership that coach Tim Coghlin thinks might be even more significant.
“It’s definitely a concern. There’s a big difference between underclassmen leadership, when you have a guy like Hughes you can rely on, and having to be that guy. That’s where it changes this season; I don’t believe we have that one person. Rather, I think we’ll see leadership by committee”, said Coghlin.
Leadership, at least on the ice, will begin with the defense. With All-American Kyle Jones returning in net for his third season, and a defensive corps led by another All-American in senior Andrew Derton, a defense that allowed under two goals per game returns almost entirely intact. It’s a strength Coghlin is aware of, but not one he is willing to take for granted.
“While we understand our strength, we need to play it out as strength.”
As mentioned, the Green Knights lost more offensive production than any other team in the league. Though 158 points of offense will not be returning, St. Norbert still returns nine players who scored double digit points last season – seven of whom scored over twenty. Not bad for a team that graduated eight forwards.
While returning a healthy dose of productivity, the offense will remain somewhat of a question according to Coghlin.
“We’re going to have to really shuffle up the lines. With different guys we are going to have some different looks, and maybe will have to do some different things.”
According to Coghlin, his freshman class is highly impressive, but with five or six expected to see action every night, it will only serve to be another challenge in terms of offensive cohesion.
“We really like our class. It’s an extremely well-conditioned and well-prepared group, but going from Junior A to college hockey is still a big jump. As I said, we are going to have a different look this year.”
For a team that has won eight of the past ten NCHA regular season titles, this could certainly be called a rebuilding year. Even so, the Green Knights are left with a defense that is entirely intact, a host of quality forwards, and a group of talented freshman who are expected to produce immediately.
The fact of the matter is that although there are seven other teams gunning for the title, until someone steps up and dethrones St. Norbert they remain the team to beat in the NCHA — whether they are rebuilding or not. Then again, do these guys ever rebuild or do they just reload? We’ll find out soon enough.
Most intriguing storyline: With a reshuffled offensive cast, how long until St. Norbert is firing on all cylinders? Will it be long enough to allow the rest of the league a chance to pounce?