‘Late bloomer’ Norris staying hungry to avoid sophomore slump with Ferris State

 (photo: Scott Whitney/Ferris State Athletics)
Coale Norris popped 10 goals and 18 points in 36 games as a freshman at Ferris State last season (photo: Scott Whitney/Ferris State Athletics).

Last season was filled with ups and downs for middling Ferris State, but there was at least one bright spot: Coale Norris and his breakout year.

As only a freshman, Norris hauled in all the accolades.

He was named the WCHA Player of the Week twice, was third nationally in game-winning goals (four) and finished with 18 points (10 goals, eight assists), which was the best among the Bulldogs’ 10 freshmen. Ferris even gave him its Bulldog Freshman of the Year award.

So with Ferris off to a rough 1-3 start, there’s really only one question regarding Norris: How will he avoid the sophomore slump?

“We’ve seen a lot of players come in and have good freshmen years,” Ferris coach Bob Daniels said. “And then in the second year, you see them take their foot off the gas because they think they’ve kind of figured it all out.

“Here, we don’t want you to come back your sophomore season and pick up where you left off. We want you to come back and pick up where you started your freshman year. We want you all ears. We want you to pay attention to the details of your game and your approach in each practice.

“We want you as hungry as you were as a freshman.”

That shouldn’t be a problem for Norris. He’s been hungry his whole career.

From his NAHL days with the Springfield Jr. Blues and the Amarillo Bulls to his one season with the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms, he’s steadily improved, giving 110-percent effort each night he takes the ice. In juniors, he went from 20 points in 2015-16 to 30 the following year.

At every stop, he’s worked to get into a lineup, and he’s worked even harder to stay in it. He’s never really been promised playing time, despite being the son of Dwayne Norris, who played for both Michigan State and in the NHL.

“I was a late bloomer,” Norris said. “It’s a great example of how people develop and grow at different times. I have a brother (Michigan’s Josh Norris) who was a pretty high draft pick (first round by the San Jose Sharks in 2017). I developed late. You just have to stay at it and embrace the everyday grind. I embraced that I was a late bloomer – and I’ve done that at every level so far. I want to continue to do that, and it starts with hard work.”

Daniels has made a career out of recruiting “late bloomers” at the youth and even the junior levels. He doesn’t care if a guy catches on late or develops slower both physically and mentally than star players.

“I like that how his progression since he was in youth hockey has been on a steady incline,” said Daniels, who has coached the Bulldogs since 1992. “From the point he was an older player in the USHL, he has just started to blossom. I like, each and every year, how he got a little bit better, and it looks to me like he still has growth to go in his game.

“He has a terrific shot, a great release and a heavy NHL-style shot. That’s the No. 1 skill we saw in him: He can shoot the puck. And that certainly allows him to be a power-play player as well.”

Norris said his success as a freshman at Ferris wasn’t a fluke. He arrived on campus with an open mind and quickly got acclimated with campus life and being a student-athlete. As the winter went on, he got more and more comfortable being a college hockey player.

“It started with putting in a little extra work,” he said. “You’re working hard to impress people right off the get-go and to let people know – with the junior record you have – that you can still play. Even though you may have a pretty good junior record, you have to keep working hard.

“Last year started off pretty average, but I got better as the year went on. I started getting comfortable at school and with my linemates. I started shooting the puck a lot more. One of my strengths is to be able to score and get into the gritty areas, and that’s what I’ve thrived on to be successful.”

Norris quickly impressed Ferris captain Corey Mackin with his work ethic. The fact Norris was a good player made him even more likable, Mackin said.

“He’s very mature coming in, being able to talk to people and talk to the older guys about what he thinks could be the right plays for us to make,” Mackin said. “What helps him is his size and shot. He has a big body, and he’s one of the best shots I’ve ever seen – it’s so quick and accurate. It helps him in the offensive zone, and a big body does great in the defensive zone, too. He knows he can play hockey, and he can really help his teammates, too.”

Mackin, too, was a breakout player early in his career. His best advice for Norris to avoid the sophomore slump is to “put freshman year behind you because you are not invincible and you now have a reputation around the league. People know who you are. Put all that behind you and know that they’re coming after you now. Play your game and don’t try to do too much.”

Norris had shoulder surgery over the summer, so a lot of his off-season was spent rehabbing and getting stronger for 2018-19. But that allowed him to work on his conditioning off-ice since he couldn’t spend as much time as he wanted to on it.

So the sophomore still has some work to do early this fall. His aspirations are to become a 20-goal scorer, which Ferris hasn’t had in almost a decade, and to develop into a trustworthy 200-foot player because, well, his ultimate goal is to catch on with an AHL or NHL team after college. He said playing in the NHL as his dad did, and like his brother, Josh, will do in a few years, is the ultimate dream for him.

But he’s not looking too far down the road. He still has to prove there’s no such thing as a sophomore slump.

“Coale Norris can be a big-time scorer in college hockey,” Daniels said. “He skates well and has a big shot. He has a chance to be really special, but he’s got to pay attention to the details of his game.

“He’s got to be as hungry as ever to avoid that sophomore slump.”