Another year, and another trip to the Frozen Four for St. Norbert. Making their fourth Frozen Four appearance in the last five seasons, the Green Knights clearly want nothing more that to finally skate away with a national title, but there is another element to the weekend that head coach Tim Coghlin wishes all Division III players were able to experience.
“I wish everyone could experience a Frozen Four,” he said. “We’ve been very lucky to have been able to get that experience. Think about it, there are about 1500 or 1600 student-athletes sitting at home right now, and its such a great event that I wish everyone could experience one.”
Though everyone cannot always make the Frozen Four, St. Norbert has earned its trip and once again has an opportunity to finally shake the “always a bridesmaid never a bride” tag. In their short but successful history, the Green Knights have done everything except claim a national title, having bowed out two times in the semifinals, and two more in the title game. If St. Norbert wishes to finally get over the hump this season, it will have to first go through Oswego State in Saturday’s semifinals. The Lakers are a formidable opponent, and one the Green Knights have never faced before.
“We saw them play in 2003 when they beat Middlebury 6-0, and they reminded me a lot of a team you would see in our league. They looked very much like an NCHA team,” said Coghlin.
Though a few years removed from that experience, Coghlin doesn’t feel much has changed when it comes to Oswego’s potency.
“They have been one of the dominant, if not the dominant team out East this year. They are a very good team. From what I have seen and heard of them this year they are very skilled up front, very skilled on defense, and I think they matchup very well with us.”
This year’s edition of the Green Knights differs a bit from years past as they have no bonafide star player on offense, but rather four lines who are all capable of getting on the board, regardless of the situation.
“As opposed to having a go-to guy, I like to think that maybe we have five. The key for us, in getting off the ground is that it’s not necessarily the guys you would expect. Just last weekend you saw a guy like Ryan Petersen, who stepped up and gets the ball rolling for us.”
Though the sophomore forward earns his keep mainly by being an excellent defensive forward and penalty killer, he still has amassed 19 points on the season and is among the team leaders in scoring over St. Norbert’s last ten games, proof- positive that the Green Knights can strike from anywhere.
Down the stretch, the Green Knights have received big goals from a multitude of players, most notably senior Troy Boisjoli (17-9-26) and junior Marc Belanger (20-20-40). Boisjoli has been especially clutch, notching goals in four of St. Norbert’s five playoff games, while Belanger does most of his damage on the powerplay, and leads the team with nine powerplay markers. Petersen, Boisjoli and Belanger all scored against Bethel, and account for nearly half of the Green Knight’s postseason goal production.
As Coghlin sees it, Oswego offers a similar blend of diverse scoring.
“Sometimes you really have to key on a line, like with River Falls, you really have to pay attention to their top line,” he said. “Look at Oswego though, I think they are very balanced and we will have to use our balance against theirs and just drop the puck and play.”
One thing potentially working in the Green Knights favor is their Frozen Four experience. Discounting freshman, every St. Norbert player has been there before, and the seniors will be making their third trip to the finals.
“We are certainly a bit comfortable knowing the routine,” he said.
Additionally, the Green Knights are no strangers to trips to Superior, as it’s a trip they must make every season.
“We are comfortable that we are familiar with the building, too, and we’ve had some success up there so it’s certainly something settling on our mind. We are treating this very business-like, treating it like just another trip to Superior.”
While the trip to Superior may be a familiar one for St. Norbert, the chance to return home from the Twin Ports with a national title in hand is a first.
This time however, it won’t be UW-Superior or St. Scholastica waiting, but rather an Oswego State team who will challenge St. Norbert in ways the Green Knights are used to challenging others.
• St. Norbert is in the NCAA Tournament for the ninth time in the past 11 seasons, where it holds an overall ledger of 9-8-1. This is the Green Knights’ fourth trip to the Frozen Four in the past five seasons. In their most recent appearance, St. Norbert fell 3-0 to Middlebury in the 2006 championship game.
• The Green Knights have never played Oswego State, but are 7-1-1 all-time against SUNYAC opposition. In its history, St. Norbert is 17-13-4 against East Region opponents. The last time St. Norbert faced a SUNYAC team in the NCAA Tournament was in the 2004 semifinals, defeating Plattsburgh State 4-1.
• St. Norbert features the best scoring defense in the nation, surrendering a mere 1.73 goals per game. Ironically, Oswego State ranks second, allowing only 1.85.
• The Green Knights do not have a top 20 scorer nationally, but do boast eight players with over 20 points on the season, paced by junior forward Marc Belanger and sophomore forward Jeff Hazelwood, who check in with 40 and 39 respectively.
• Junior goaltender Kyle Jones (25-3-2, 1.72, .915) has started every game between the pipes this season for St. Norbert, and leads the nation in goals-against-average. Overall, he has started the last 37 games for St. Norbert and 68 of its last 70.