By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – Despite having 10 freshmen on its roster, don’t tell St. Norbert College (SNC) men’s hockey coach Tim Coghlin it’s a rebuilding year.
“It’s cyclical,” Coghlin said. “Of our 26 rostered players, 16 are underclassmen. There will be some adjustments from junior hockey to college hockey with the intensity level of going from 60 games to 25.”
Coghlin said looking back at some of his past squads are good examples of what could be.
“In 2011, we had 11 seniors, and all of them played in the National Championship game,” he said. “Then we went back in ‘12 with a bunch of young guys. In 2003, we graduated a heavy senior group, but then in ‘04, we played in our first-ever title game, but lost to Middlebury. You can’t pick it that way every year.”
Coghlin said if you look at last year’s seniors and this year’s group, special teams could be a question mark.
“With the senior class we graduated, all of our defensemen who ran the power play are out the door,” he said. “We also graduated Michael McChesney (34 points – 16 goals, 18 assists) and Ben Schmidling (34 – 12, 22), so special teams could be a factor. Either you have those guys on your roster who are elevating to that spot or you’re playing the young guys in those big spots. We’re currently playing young guys in those spots.”
Positively, Coghlin said the Green Knights return senior goaltender Johnny Roberts.
“We’re going to lean on him,” he said.
Additionally, this time last year, Coghlin said many of his defensemen had not played college hockey.
“(On this year’s roster), we have a bunch of sophomores who got significant playing time last season,” he said. “We’re talking about a defensive unit that returns a lot of guys who have now played college hockey, so you expect that group to start in a higher spot than last year. Our core should be better, but we’re going to be playing young guys in those spots, too.”
Coghlin said his squad focuses on puck possession.
“We pressure the puck and want to create our offense through defensive posture and pressure,” he said. “That’s how we want to win pucks back — be defensively sound, force teams to go 200 feet down the ice to score goals, make them make good shots to beat our goaltender and only give up the shots we want to give up versus what (the opposition) creates.”
Offensively, SNC returns leading scorer Liam Fraser (35 – 16, 19) and Adam Stacho (25 – 15, 10).
“Based on our intrasquad game, we going to score some goals,” Coghlin said. “We looked okay there. I would call Liam a preseason All-American, and Stacho has the ability to be our leading scorer — I hope he gets off to a good start.”
In the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) Preseason Coaches Poll, the Green Knights slotted in third behind Adrian College and Aurora University.
“Adrian has a great team again,” Coghlin said. “They’ll be the team to beat — winning the (NCAA Division III) National Championship in 2022 was a big boost for its program. They were back in the title game again last season. Aurora is also in the national conversation — they’ve done big things getting the roster to where it’s at. I think the top of the conference is tight.”
SNC has a tough start to its season, Coghlin said.
“Because of the way the schedule worked — which isn’t ideal — we play a large number of games in a short period,” he said. “We go Friday and Saturday (Oct. 27-28) in Minnesota and come back to play (UW-Stevens) Point a few days later. St. Olaf, Bethel and Point all return their whole team — we most likely won’t see many freshmen on the teams we play, and we’re going to play 10 freshmen … we don’t have any choice. There’s a lot on our plate those first three games.”
The Green Knights open NCHA play on Nov. 3-4 at home when they host Lake Forest College.
The 2023-24 season will be No. 30 for Coghlin behind the bench at St. Norbert.
“I’ve been here since I’ve been nine,” he laughed. “It’s a long time. I think the first time I reflected on it was during the COVID-19 season when we didn’t play. Beyond that, I stay in the moment and try to get (the current team) to where it needs to be.”