LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — St. Norbert may have fallen one game short of winning the national championship, but the Green Knights appear to be loaded for years to come.
They have 16 skaters coming back, 10 of them freshmen, as they only graduate four.
Of course, captains tend to be the seniors leaving the program, and Erik Cooper is no exception.
Granted, he is their biggest exception being the team’s leading scorer (13-23–36).
“We’re obviously happy to call him our captain,” St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin said. “He’s a 3.75 student. He works hard in the weight room. He works hard on the ice. He works hard everywhere he is in the classroom. He classifies what it is to be at St. Norbert.”
First, Cooper reflected on this season: “I think we were where we wanted to be. It was a surprise to the nation as a young team. We came in training camp, and this is our goal every single year. We got here and tonight we just didn’t click.”
Then, he reflected on the future of the program he will be leaving behind: “Sixteen skaters tonight who are coming back who experienced this and felt what it’s like to be on the losing end. Now, this fuels you all summertime to get back. Now they have the experience.”
The third-leading scorer is also a senior, Michael Hill (15-11–26). However, the rest of the 13 double-digit scorers are underclassmen, with six freshmen.
Both goaltenders are coming back — Tony Kujava is a junior and T.J. Black is a freshman.
“I’m proud of the young guys, and I’m proud of the veteran players,” Coghlin said. “Our veteran guys did a lot to lead this group. Yes, we will go forward next year without four seniors, most notably Cooper, who had his single best season.
“We want players to come in and be freshmen and just play. And we want our sophomores and juniors to carry a lot of water. And then we want our seniors to go back to when they were freshmen and to be able to just come in and play and have a great season. And Erik was able to do that.”
Cooper said he and his fellow three seniors did their job to continue St. Norbert’s winning ways.
“Now they know what it’s like to play a full season and the expectations are to be right back here,” he said of the freshmen. “As seniors, that’s all we want. We want them to learn how to play great nights of hockey, and I feel we did that. The proof was how the freshmen performed.”
St. Norbert’s winning tradition is certainly in good hands as the Green Knights will look to end their season once again during the national championship weekend which will be in Utica, N.Y., next year.
This time, they hope to end it on a high note.