Tanner Froese was pretty good for St. Norbert a year ago. He’s been even more impressive this season.
“What separates this year from last year is my improvement in staying consistent,” said Froese, a star for the second-ranked Green Knights.
Froese scored 13 goals and dished out nine assists last season for a St. Norbert team that reached the Frozen Four.
A senior this year, the standout forward has come through with 10 goals and 17 assists, leading the team in assists and points.
“The biggest thing I’ve worked on this year is my mental toughness; I’ve had to fill a bigger role, so making sure I’m prepared and ready to go every game is so much more important,” Froese said.
He’s been ready without a doubt, and he credits his teammates for playing a part in his success.
“I would say I’ve been having my best year since being at St. Norbert, but I would also have to give credit to my linemates for that,” Froese said. “I’ve been playing with Brad Pung and Peter Bates as of late, and we all compliment each other really well, which makes the game a lot easier.”
Froese came to college after four years of junior hockey with the Estevan Bruins of the SJHL. His numbers have risen each season.
“Playing junior hockey really helped me find out what kind of player I am and what kind of role I need to fill,” Froese said. “It prepared me for a fast-pace game, but the biggest adjustment coming to college has to be the scheduling. You only play half the games in college that you do in juniors, so with that comes a deeper meaning for every game. When you only play two games a week, every single game matters.”
Being one of the veteran players, Froese understands that as well as anyone now and does his best to provide leadership to the younger players.
“I’ve learned a lot from previous captains on this team, and I’ve seen what it takes to be a good leader. I try to implement what I’ve learned from them with my own personality,” Froese said. “I’m not the most vocal person, so I like to think I lead by example from what I do on the ice. I focus on bringing work ethic to practice and games.
Froese is impressed with the play of freshmen who have stepped up throughout the season and heaps credit on goalie T.J. Black as well for the work he has put in to take a little pressure off the offense because of his ability to make big saves.
He calls St. Norbert a welcoming place, and that played a big part in his decision to come to the NCAA Division III powerhouse. He said the coaches have been instrumental to his own personal success and to the success of the team.
“When you have that type of title as a top program in the nation, you get every team’s best game when you play them,” Froese said. “You can never take a team lightly, and I think that’s why this program is successful, because of the way our coaching staff prepares us for each game.”
Being prepared will be crucial for the Green Knights as they skate into the final four of the Harris Cup playoffs. St. Norbert will battle Marian in a battle of two teams on impressive win streaks. The Green Knights have won seven consecutive games. The 13th-ranked Sabres have rattled off nine consecutive wins.
A potential championship game matchup looms with overall No. 1 seed Adrian, which happens to be the No. 1 team in the nation as well, but the Green Knights can’t gaze that far ahead yet.
“In order for us to be successful, we have to stay focused on what is in front of us,” Froese said. “We talk a lot about taking care of the task at hand, and that task is always the next game. We can’t look at what comes next until we take care of the present. This is something we work on every day, staying focused and keeping our priorities in check. When we start on time and stick to our game plan, we are successful.”
Once Gustavus and Concordia play in a first-round game Thursday, only four teams will remain in the tournament.
The winner of the above-mentioned game gets to play Saturday in the semifinal round against No. 15 St. Thomas, which clinched the overall No. 1 seed and MIAC championship in the final weekend of the regular season.
Saint John’s and Augsburg battle Saturday at the home of the Johnnies in a game pitting the second and third seeds in the tourney. The Johnnies actually were on top of the league going into the final weekend of the regular season. Augsburg spent time atop the standings as well this season and started the year 8-0. The Auggies are the reigning league tournament champions.
The Harris Cup is down to four teams, including top-ranked Adrian, which takes on Lake Forest in the semifinal round Saturday. The Bulldogs have won their last 15 games and are the reigning league tourney champion. The Foresters have won two in a row and are hoping for an upset for the ages.
The winner punches a ticket to the title game next Saturday.
The final four is set for the Commissioner’s Cup, with Wisconsin-Stevens Point entering as the top seed in the tourney. The Pointers are ranked third in the nation and take on Wisconsin-River Falls in a two-game semifinal series that begins Friday.
The Pointers, unbeaten in their last seven, have won the last two tourney championships. The Falcons last won a title in 2015.
Wisconsin-Eau Claire hosts Wisconsin-Stout in a two-game series that starts Friday as well. The Blugolds went into the season as the favorite to win the championship and are hoping to win their first Commissioner’s Cup since 2014. The Blue Devils are gunning for an upset and have won only once in their last 12 games.
The winners play next Saturday for the league tourney championship.