For over a decade, the St. Norbert men’s hockey and winning have gone hand in hand when it comes to the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) and NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Green Knights are year in and year out a perennial powerhouse in the West Region. On Oct. 29, 2010, a new chapter was added to the St. Norbert hockey legacy with the birth of a women’s program.
Ron Morgan was tabbed as the inaugural coach for the new team on July 21, 2009 by SNC Athletic Director Tim Bald. Morgan brought six years of experience as an associate head coach with Dartmouth College with him to De Pere, Wis. and he immediately went to work on recruiting his first class with the luxury of having a full year to recruit before the team would play its first game.
“It was a real big advantage to have that extra time,” Morgan said. “I think St. Scholastica would say the same thing because you’re not rushed and you can go about educating people on the women’s side of the game what your college is all about.”
The results were impressive.
Morgan’s inaugural class includes 24 players from all across the United States and Canada, as well as three European players, including Swedish national team member Emma Agen.
“Emma is a huge part of our program and a captain,” Morgan said. “Having a player on our team playing at that level will only help us build for the future.”
The Green Knights will have to do without the Swedish star for the next five games though, as she’ll be representing Sweden at the Four Nations Cup in Newfoundland.
“It’s going to hurt us not having Emma for the next five games while she’s playing at the Four Nations Cup,” Morgan said. “But, when she comes back and brings that experience from playing in a tournament like that, she’ll help make us a better hockey team.”
Morgan also said that although St. Norbert is well-known on the men’s hockey side, there was still a lot of work to do getting the college’s name out to recruits on the women’s side.
“As much of a success as our men’s hockey program has had, a lot of people outside of the Midwest in the women’s hockey circles haven’t heard of St. Norbert,” he said. “It was really about connecting with the coaches and getting people to come and visit us.”
With the addition of the new team, the Cornerstone Community Center built the Resch Olympic Pavilion, a brand new 63,000 sq. foot, $4.1 million expansion with an Olympic-sized ice sheet adjacent to the existing complex, which houses the men’s team.
Morgan said there was a lot of nervous energy leading up to the Green Knights’ first set of games this past weekend and finally seeing firsthand where the team was at a little over 15 months after he was hired.
“I’ve never experience so much nervous energy before in my life though,” he said. “But, as soon as the puck dropped, it was all normal. As soon as the kids got their first shift under their feet, they were all able to settle in and just play. Certainly scoring on our first shift was electrifying though.”
SNC’s Lauren Straus needed just 22 seconds to record the first goal in program history and the Green Knights rode the momentum from the opening shift all the way to a 2-0 shutout win over Bethel.
“Our home opener was a good end-result for all the hard work we put into it,” Morgan said. “We had 500 plus fans on both days, 20 of the 24 girls’ parents showed up, as well as a lot of support from the faculty, students, community and staff.”
The men’s program also hosted Wis.-Stout over the weekend, providing Green Knights fans the opportunity to come out and watch a doubleheader of SNC hockey.
“By design, we wanted to stagger a couple of weekends with our men’s program so we could introduce the women’s game to an already strong fan base on the men’s side,” Morgan said.
St. Norbert will now hit the road for its next six games, starting with three games in three days this weekend. The Green Knights will play St. Catherine on Friday and then follow up with Bethel and St. Benedict on Saturday and Sunday.
“This weekend will be a great test for our team, playing three games in three days against some established programs,” Morgan said. “We’ll see where we’re at.
“We’ve set some goals for ourselves and we’d like to make the conference playoffs and be playing our best hockey of the season come that time. Whether it’s a team full of upperclassmen or freshman, the goal is always to improve each day and each time out on the ice. We want to play to our potential every time we’re out there.”
Morgan expects that the NCHA will be as competitive as ever this season with the addition of his team and St. Scholastica to an already loaded lineup featuring Superior, River Falls, Lake Forest, and Stevens Point.
“It’s going to be a very tough conference,” Morgan said. “St. Scholastica is going under the radar right now. They are going to be good. Jackie has done an excellent job to bring in some strong student-athletes and I think they will be very competitive early. Superior and River Falls are always strong as well. We’re just going to go about our business and try and put pucks in the net.”