By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – After almost two years, the St. Norbert College Green Knights hockey team is finally back on the ice.
With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the world in March 2020, the Green Knights, winners of five NCAA Division III national titles, didn’t play last season.
Before St. Norbert opens its season Friday, Oct. 29, by hosting the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) in a non-conference game at the Cornerstone Community Center at 7 p.m., its last game was March 7, 2020 – days before the pandemic shut things down.
“It’ll be about 600 days since we’ve played a meaningful game,” St. Norbert Head Coach Tim Coghlin said. “The guys have worked hard to get to this point, so we’re excited to get back to normal. When we lost (to Adrian) in the 2020 Harris Cup Playoffs, on the bus ride home, we heard the news things were being shut down.”
There was no NCAA tournament play after that.
“We lost the game 3-2, selection Sunday was the next day, but nobody played,” Coghlin said.
The Green Knights, members of the Northern Collegiate Hockey Associaton (NCHA), were the only team in the league to not play some sort of a season in 2020-21.
“All 10 teams in the league played but us,” Coghlin said. “It was hard on everyone but especially the seniors who didn’t come back this season.”
Coghlin said there was a silver lining in the season getting canceled.
“In retrospect, if we had played, one of our seniors, Luke Davison (from De Pere), might not have had his (cancerous) lump checked,” he said. “He probably would have stayed the course and gotten it checked after the season. When they caught it, it was already Stage III Hodgkin lymphoma. It would have been much worse if caught later. The only thing we can concern ourselves with is the Holy Spirit was at work. We didn’t play, they tested it and caught it. The only thing about COVID-19, hockey and us not playing is Luke Davison is alive and well – that’s it. As upset and bitter as we were during that time, things happen for a reason.”
Coghlin said Davison is cancer-free and now working in Arizona.
During the pandemic shutdown, St. Norbert practiced hard – harder than it had in the past.
“We practiced five days a week,” Coghlin said. “Normally, we practice four days a week and play Friday and Saturday. Our guys handled it like champs. We tried to keep some level of normalcy. All eight of our seniors were here – including Jack Thomas in a boot with a plate and screws in his ankle. Luke Davison was practicing with a port in his chest where they were dumping chemo in. The resolve our hockey family showed was amazing.”
With UWSP coming to Cornerstone to begin the season, Coghlin said it’s a great way to start the year.
“You have the NCAA Division III national champs from 2018 (St. Norbert) and the 2019 champs (UWSP) opening this season,” he said. “It doesn’t get much better than that. In out-of-conference play, we do the best we can to schedule good opponents. Point, UW-Eau Claire and Augsburg (University) do that for us.”
Picked second in the NCHA preseason coaches poll behind Adrian College, Coghlin said it’s tough to rely on that too much, especially this season.
“On paper, Adrian certainly is a top team,” he said. “When we weren’t playing last season, Adrian virtually played an independent Division I schedule. They played Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Northern Michigan and Team USA three times. They’re legit. Having said that, this year’s poll is tough to judge. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a normal league season.”
You’ll also notice the Green Knights’ schedule is a bit unbalanced with home/away contests.
“The schedule (with our home and away games) is partly because I wanted to keep those non-conference games,” Coghlin said. “In agreeing to keep those games, we have to travel a bit more than usual this season. Those games will come back to us next season.”
2021-22 St. Norbert College men’s hockey regular season schedule
10/29 – UW-Stevens Point
10/30 – @ Stevens Point
11/5 – @ Augsburg University
11/6 – @ Augsburg (2 p.m.)
11/11 – Lawrence University
11/13 – @ Lawrence (8 p.m. – no visiting fans allowed)
11/19 – @ Finlandia University
11/20 – @ Finlandia (3 p.m.)
11/27 – @ UW-Eau Claire
11/28 – @ Eau Claire (4 p.m.)
12/3 – Concordia University
12/4 – Concordia
1/1 – Lawrence (4 p.m.)
1/7 – Aurora University
1/8 – Aurora (4 p.m.)
1/14 – @ Lake Forest
1/15 – @ Lake Forest (4 p.m.)
1/21 – @ Marian University
1/22 – @ Marian
1/28 – Trine University
1/29 – Trine (4 p.m.)
2/4 – Milwaukee School of Engineering
2/5 – @ Milwaukee School of Engineering
2/11 – @ Adrian College (6 p.m.)
2/12 – @ Adrian (2 p.m.)
Sports editor’s notes: All games begin at 7 p.m. Central Time unless otherwise noted.