Men’s D-III Frozen Four previews: Norwich Cadets lean on leaders

Felix Brassard of Norwich scored the overtime winner to send the Cadets past UNE to Frozen Four. (Norwich Athletics)
Felix Brassard of Norwich scored the overtime winner to send the Cadets past UNE to Frozen Four. (Norwich Athletics)

While some were ready to press the panic button at the end of the first half of the season and Norwich sitting on a 6-4-1 record, first-year coach Cam Ellsworth kept a focus on lessons learned from a key mentor. This became a big part of the team’s current 18-game unbeaten streak and 14 consecutive wins.

“Norm [Bazin] at UMass-Lowell has been an important mentor to me as a coach,” stated Ellsworth. “He taught me how to keep a short-term focus and worry about today and the game on Friday. Being grounded in getting better every day and working toward that end has proven to work quite well and has for this team that has all 28 guys living that focus every day.”

While there were some adjustments in the second half of the season, one area of importance emphasized by the Cadets coach has been the leadership of the senior and junior classes. This weekend, with the big prize on the table, Ellsworth looks to those players to set the tone and continue their leadership and focus with the younger players.

“I have talked about this a lot during the second half,” said Ellsworth. “It may be an over-simplification, but the upperclassmen have been given the opportunity to run this thing. They have gone through this road before when they won the national title in 2017, so we will lean on their experience to help the younger guys prepare for our game on Friday night against a very strong Geneseo team.”

One of those veteran guys is goaltender Tom Aubrun, the NEHC Player of the Year . Aubrun (1.65 goals-against average; .930 save percentage; six shutouts) has started 26 games this season for Norwich, going 19-3-3 on the season and has been a big part of the current unbeaten streak through the NEHC playoffs and early rounds of the NCAA tournament.

“Tom has been an absolute rock for us this season,” state Ellsworth. “I give him and our goalie coach Chris Czarnota a lot of credit for pushing and showing how much Tom wanted the position and the crease. Chris has done a great job with all our goaltenders and has a great relationship with them. Throughout the season, Tom just made it very hard to think about putting anyone else in there, and it gives the rest of our team the confidence and freedom to play and make mistakes — yes, they are going to happen — when you know have a goaltender like him there to back you up.”

Some older line combinations have emerged in the second half to help the offense, sparked by sophomore forward Felix Brassard. Reconnected with junior Jordan Hall and sophomore Ryan Boucher, the line is building on their experience from last season and proving to be a very steady line for Norwich.

“Those guys didn’t play together in the first-half,” said Ellsworth. “When I interviewed all the staff at the break on how we get better, putting them together came up frequently and has paid dividends for us. Felix has the best shot on the team and is a big strong kid with a knack for scoring big goals like the OT winner against UNE last week or the game-winner in the NEHC title game against Hobart. He is very smart on the ice and can create opportunities quickly for himself or his linemates.”

Norwich will face Geneseo in the first national semifinal at 3 p.m. local time on the campus of Wisconsin–Stevens Point on Friday.