Four years, four straight Frozen Four appearances and one national championship is quite a legacy left behind from the departed senior class at Norwich.
Players like Pier-Olivier Cotnoir, Colin Mulvey and Kyle Thomas, among others, all helped to bring great distinction to the Norwich program along with a number of significant individual honors for their great performances on the ice as Cadets.
So how does one replace All-American caliber players?
“I am not sure you can replace them,” said a frank Norwich coach Mike McShane. “We have a lot of new guys here this year and I am not sure that we did really replace those guys. We have a lot of new faces and younger players this year who may not be at the level of the guys we lost, but they all have great attitudes and have come here to work hard and get better every day.”
The Cadets have started out well, posting wins in their first two games of the season and outscoring their opponents by a collective 15-4 margin. Leading the way has been the re-tooled first line of Travis Janke centering for Shane Gorman and Chris Duszynski. Each player has six points in their first two games with Duszynski posting five goals, including his first collegiate hat trick in the season opener against Plymouth State.
Janke has six assists in the first two games and the admiration of his new linemates to start the season.
“Travis has great hands and great vision when he is on the ice,” noted McShane. “He has been a great front-line center for us and really does make good things happen offensively for himself, but more his teammates. Shane and Chris both enjoy playing with him and I think both have come back this year a little leaner and a little quicker, which further plays into Travis’ game and our overall desire for team speed.”
If there was one area of concern coming into the season for the Norwich coaching staff, it was about the need for team speed based on the key losses to graduation and their ability to fly around the ice. It is only two games into the season, but so far, McShane likes what he sees from his team in their skating and intensity from the first line to the fourth line.
“Last year, there were times when the fourth line just didn’t play or get a regular shift,” McShane said. “From what I have seen this year so far, I am not afraid to play any line based on our depth, talent and speed. I think we recouped a little bit on the team speed with the new guys and they continue to work hard to improve their game. Nick Pichette is looking pretty good with Gerard McEleney with Nevin Lawler at center. These guys hard work hard every day and earn their ice time. It is great to see that work ethic every time they step on the ice.”
Another young player who seems to be catching onto the college game is sophomore defenseman Ryan Whitell. Through two games, Whitell has five points on a goal and four assists and seems at times to be quarterbacking the offense from the blue line, even in five-on-five situations. The mobile defender has already more than doubled his point total from last season where he joined the team after the semester break and played the second half.
“Like a lot of kids coming out of juniors and prep hockey, it can take awhile to get used to the speed of the game at the college level,” said McShane. “We tell all of the players, and especially Ryan as he came here, that you have to be in it every shift and can’t just be watching what is happening on the ice around you. The adjustment to the speed of the game at this level can take some time and what we are seeing from Whitell early on is the confidence that he has adjusted to that speed.”
While things are sorting out amongst the newcomers, one area that Norwich has both experience and depth is in goal with the return of three goaltenders who all saw significant playing time last season for the Cadets.
Junior Matic Marinsek joins seniors Chris Czarnota and Parker Carroll to give the Cadets the opportunity to always go with the hot hand. And just how does one establish who has the hot hand? It comes down to practice and competition there to get game time.
“The great thing about all of these kids is that they come here with a great attitude and work hard every day at practice and have fun doing it – it has been fun to watch so far,” McShane said. “You never know what it may be like when you bring in a lot of new faces like we did, but so far, it has been great. It is not different with the goalies. They work hard every day and support each other, but every day is a competition and a chance to get real game time on the weekends. They all played some in the opener, but I liked the way Matic played and he got the start in game two at St. Michael’s and stopped everything that came his way. There weren’t a lot of shots, but he had to be ready and focused and the puck was around more than the shot total indicated.”
With all of the positive happenings for the Cadets early on, McShane must be very confident for the season, right?
“I like what I have seen so far, but it is very early,” cautioned McShane. “The season has just started and we have answered some questions about our team in terms of speed and depth, but there is a long way to go, starting this weekend in Maine. It will be a good test against Southern Maine, who got a real quality win at Skidmore last weekend and played well in their opening game as well.
“The league is better and what I have seen of Babson and Massachusetts-Boston show me they are better teams than last year, so we are going to have to work hard and stay focused to keep pace with all the teams in the conference.”
The names and numbers have changed, but the attitude and results for the Cadets have not so far this season. How consistent the young players can be will certainly be a factor in any success Norwich achieves this season, but expect the traditions and levels of excellence obtained in the past to be both motivational and aspirational for the Cadets as they mature along the way.