Norwich hockey captains adding different perspectives to leadership role

Cadet captain Matt Burchill has brought a D-I perspective to help lead Norwich to the nation’s No. 1 ranking Photo By Chandler Mosher)

Following this past weekend’s important sweep of Massachusetts-Boston and Babson, the No. 1 ranked Norwich Cadets are solely focused on their next opponent and seem to be very locked in on avoiding distractions and the constant attention that is found in polls, stats and other outside influences they can’t control. Part of that outside avoidance comes directly from second-year head coach Cam Ellsworth but a lot of new perspective comes from this year’s eclectic leadership group that knows how to best communicate with each team member in a positive and productive way that limits distractions.

“I thought last weekend was a big one for the team,” said Ellsworth. “Last year we went down to play those two teams early in the year and did not have a good weekend. They are both very good and highly skilled teams and certainly we were ready to play our best in order to get the results we were looking for. Both teams present different challenges that we saw when we hosted them earlier in the season but I thought we played our game well, got great goaltending from Tom [Aubrun] and took advantage of our chances when we got them. It is good to see how we can stay in the moment and I think our core leadership group has a lot to do with that.”

One of this year’s captains is senior Matt Burchill who transferred to Norwich from Air Force following his sophomore year. Burchill, who has committed to Air Force service following his graduation from Norwich, could not crack the lineup in his first season and first season for Ellsworth. He requested a private meeting with the coach which was something that coach Ellsworth was unsure of the direction and intended path of the conversation. While expecting something different, the meeting’s outcome went a long way in defining the player’s role with the team and relationship with the coach.

“Matt came right in and directly said that he wouldn’t be playing me [him] either,” said a stunned Ellsworth. “He made commitments to working harder and being a better player, one that would earn my faith and trust in playing him. I was frankly surprised and pleased with his accountability and ownership of being better and earning his ice time. That is not how the typical conversation goes with players around ice time and role on a team but that speaks volumes about Matt’s maturity as a young man, a player and a leader. Shortly after that our captain last year, David Robertson went down with an injury against Neumann. David had a big voice with the team and I saw similar things in Matt and dressed him against Endicott the next night. He brought his inspirational voice and strong play to the team and I kind of knew I found one of our next leaders. He played a lot of minutes that night and he made it very hard to think about taking him out of the line-up. He relates well and motivates the guys in the room and on the bench. He brings a different perspective having played in different places and played D-I at Air Force. He is really well respected by his teammates in such a short time here at Norwich and the captain vote validated what I thought about his leadership and voice with this team.”

TJ Dockery is the other captain on this year’s team and along with seniors Taeron Lewis and Todd Jackson add different and valued voice to the other players on the team. Collectively the four are capable of reaching and relating to everyone on the roster who may have different triggers or responses to the different leadership styles and voices in the room.

“I think the group takes a lot of pressure off of me and the coaching staff in the way that they can motivate, critique and pull the team together at different times,” noted Ellsworth. “Whether it is Matt providing that emotional jump start like we needed in a mid-week game against Middlebury where we got off to a slow start or TJ pulling a player aside after a tough shift, the group finds ways to identify with each and every player in a positive way that we see the benefits on the ice and in the room. Although we have a lot of returning players from last year’s very successful, and maybe surprising run to the national championship game, we have added some new players this year and that changes the complexion on a new team that needs different voices to bring them together. I think this group led by Matt and TJ has done a great job keeping us focused on the next game and being the best, we can be in that 60 minutes.”

There shouldn’t be much voice or motivation needed for the next game as Norwich will look to avenge their sole home loss of the season in the re-match with travel partner, Castleton on Saturday night. That said, Ellsworth knows his leaders have the team in a good and productive place and that they are only focused on preparing for the next team on the schedule.