National title run again goal for SNC
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – A trip to the NCAA Division III national tournament quarterfinals would be considered a successful season for most college hockey teams.
Don’t count the St. Norbert College men’s hockey team in that category.
Despite a 24-7 overall record last season, St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin said it wasn’t enough.
“We have extremely high standards around here,” he said. “Bottom line, we didn’t get it done.”
Coghlin, currently entering his 29th season at the helm, said “the proof was in the pudding.”
“If you look at our results, 24-7 was a good year, but looking deeper, I can’t remember the last time — if ever — we lost three games to the same team during a season,” he said. “It not only happened once (last season) but twice.”
The Green Knights lost three games to both Adrian College — the eventual Division III national champs — and Augsburg University.
Against Adrian, St. Norbert was outscored by a combined 26-9 margin, including a 12-3 thumping in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) Harris Cup finals.
After sweeping an early-season series over the Green Knights, Augsburg also ended St. Norbert’s season in the NCAA quarterfinals, 4-1.
“We got off to a 1-3 start last year,” Coghlin said. “That was uncharacteristically slow and put us behind the 8-ball right away. We need to start stronger this season. We never figured out a way to beat Adrian or Augsburg — both teams in the Frozen Four.”
If the Green Knights are to improve on last year’s showing and have a chance to win their sixth national title, Coghlin said several things must happen.
“First off, can we keep the puck out of our net better than we did last year?” he said. “We never locked in a seven-man defensive unit last season. We were still making changes in the playoffs, but we’re not going to do that this year. We need to have a cohesive, in sync group by the end
of January. It’s not our mojo to try and outscore teams, but last season, that’s what we were doing in some games.”
With defense being a top priority, St. Norbert will be young on the back end when the season begins Oct. 28 against the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP).
“If you look at the roster now, six of the nine defensemen haven’t played college hockey — that’s a lot,” Coghlin said. “We’re asking a lot to say we’re going to defend better when we have a bunch of guys who haven’t played. It starts with the concept of everybody buying in.”
Secondly, Coghlin said his squad must account for the loss of Peter Bates and Peyton Frantti — both lost to graduation.
“Those two combined for more than 100 points,” he said. “You never replace senior productivity with one guy — it’ll have to be more by committee.”
Bates, the Division III National Player of the Year, tallied 28 goals and 30 assists for 58 points, while Frantti added 16 goals and 29 assists (45 points).
Besides Bates and Frantti, forward Tim Nicksic also graduated — he had six goals and 21 assists for 27 points.
Green Knights senior forward Michael Spethmann, who scored five goals and added eight assists last season, said it will be a big challenge to replace the points lost from the graduated seniors.
“It was a good season for a bit, but we didn’t finish the way we wanted to,” he said. “All the guys returning had a good offseason in the gym and on the ice, so we’re feeling ready. You can’t replace Peter Bates, but we have lots of depth coming in.”
Despite losing a lot of points from last year’s team, St. Norbert still returns plenty of firepower.
NCHA Freshman of the Year Liam Fraser (24 goals, 23 assists — 47 points), junior Adam Stacho (10-18-28), senior Michael McChesney (12-12-24) and sophomore Carter Hottman (9-13-22) all had 20 or more points in 2021-22.
Thirdly, Coghlin said goaltending is always key.
Last year’s goalies Johnny Roberts and Colby Entz split time between the pipes and had nearly identical save percentages.
“Colby has an interesting story,” Coghlin said. “As a freshman, he had a groin injury early in the year and was out for the first semester. The second year was a COVID year, and the third year they figured out his groin injury was because he has hip impingements, so he had surgery in the offseason to fix that. When we ended our season last spring against Augsburg, that’s when his offseason began. He’s had five or six months to see where he’s at.”
Coghlin said he told the goalies in the offseason it will be an open competition between the pipes.
“Johnny Roberts knows Colby finally had a solid offseason, but (Roberts) is also much improved and had a great offseason,” he said. “Those two guys will push each other.”
Coghlin said he expects Adrian to be strong again this season.
“The USCHO.com Preseason Poll recently came out, and Adrian received all 20 first-place votes,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what they return, but I expect it will be a lot.”
St. Norbert came in at sixth in the poll, while UWSP is 10th.
“It says a lot about our league — if you’re good enough to win the NCHA, you’re good enough to win it all,” Coghlin said.
Teams from the West Region have fared well over the last 10 seasons in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
“Adrian won in 2022, there were no tournaments in ’21 or ’20 (because of COVID-19), Point won in ’19, us in ’18, an eastern team won in ’17, Point beat us in ’16, a team out east won in ’15, we won in ’14, Eau Claire won in ’13 and we won in ’11 and ’12,” Coghlin said. “The West has been a beast — that’s good, but we also have to go through tough teams.”