Hockey team continued a winning legacy

 

The Norwich University Men’s Ice Hockey Team won big, accomplishing its goal of winning an NCAA Division III National Championship. It is the fourth in school history.

There is no doubt in the minds of Norwich fans that this year’s team is special – but this team was not the first to turn out a championship level performance. Over the course of the program’s history, three other teams have had special seasons and won it all, taking the national title.

At the 6:19 mark of the third period, under the lights of the Utica Memorial Auditorium, Paul Russell scored the most important goal of his career by giving the Norwich Cadets Men’s Ice Hockey team a 3-1 lead over the Trinity College Bantams in the title game of the NCAA Division III Frozen Four. In seconds, the lights flashed red, the train horn sounded, and the building shook with the cheers from the hundreds of Norwich fans in attendance.

Norwich Hockey has a long and storied tradition of success, and while much of the history has centered around current head coach Mike McShane, several other coaches have led the Cadets over the years to successful seasons.

Whether it be Tony Mariano, who served as head coach for the 10 seasons from 1982-1992, or Bob Priestley, who served a record 28 seasons from 1951-1979, Norwich University’s program has been fortunate enough to have coaches that have kept the tradition of excellence alive for the better part of the last century.

“I have nothing but respect for those that have served in my role as head coach before me,” said McShane. “Bob (Priestley), Tony (Mariano), both great coaches that have done a lot for this program and this school.”

In Priestley’s first year as head coach, he amassed a 14-1-0 record, resulting in a school record .933-win percentage that stands to this day. Mariano accomplished much as head coach; his most prominent statistic is nine of his ten seasons resulted in a winning record of .500 or over win percentage.

With a program that dates back to well before its first official ECAC East Conference Season in 1925, there are undoubtedly many great players who have come to play for Norwich. None are more notable, however, than Keith Aucoin.

Aucoin attended Norwich from 1997-2001, and still stands as the all-time points leader for the school with 240 points; he was also part of the 2000 National Championship team, helping the Cadets notch their first title win in school history for any sport.

“Every time we’re in Kreitzberg Arena,” said Tyler Piacentini, 24, a communications major from Weymouth, Mass., and captain of the 2016-2017 Cadets, “we see the jerseys of Keith Aucoin and Kurtis McLean, and hear stories about the crazy number of points these guys had during their careers here at Norwich. Having that kind of legacy to live up to, it certainly gives us some motivation to work hard.”

McLean attended Norwich from 2001-2005. Like Aucoin, McLean scored well over 200 points in his college career, finishing with 212 points in 115 games played. McLean’s tenure at Norwich included the second of the Cadets’ National Championships in 2003.

“You know, I’ve said it a hundred times, Division III hockey has gotten a lot tougher over the years. You don’t see teams dominate their conferences anymore. You don’t see guys putting up hundreds of points in a career,” said McShane, “It doesn’t mean our guys are worse, it just means that the competition has gotten that much better. That’s a good thing, it means that a winning record isn’t just something to take for granted.”

In McShane’s 22 seasons at Norwich, all have had winning records. Four have resulted in National Championships and hundreds of players have skated through the doors of Kreitzberg Arena.

When asked about his history, McShane said, “It’s impossible to pick my favorite team, you know. Each year is special for different reasons. I’ve had great goal scorers come through here, phenomenal goalies, real hard workers, and some unbelievable leaders. Each and every year at Norwich success is expected, but when the players rise to the occasion and work each and every day in practice, that’s when we’ve gone on to do great things in playoffs.”

As for the players on this year’s team, winning a National Championship is not something they’ve had the privilege of experiencing four times like their coach.

“It’s the best feeling in the world, to see all the hard work and effort that the team has put in this year pay off and end the season walking away with the trophy,” said Piacentini, “Ever since we’ve been back on campus it’s been a blur, from the post-game press conference, to announcing next year’s captains, to the Blue Line Club banquet, the celebrations haven’t stopped yet.”

In 2003, following the second National Championship win, the Cadets were invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park when the Boston Red Sox played the Florida Marlins. The entire team was invited out onto the field, while the captain, Toza Crnilovic, threw the pitch. That tradition will continue, and Piacentini and his team haven’t seen the end of the celebrations. Keeping with tradition, the Norwich hockey Cadets will travel to Fenway Park on April 27 to throw out the first pitch when the Boston Red Sox play the New York Yankees.

“A lot of teams, you see it on TV, when they win a big game or when people win the lottery, they always say they’re going to Disney World,” said Piacentini. “Disney World would be fun, but I can’t think of anything better than getting to be recognized the same way as the second National Championship team did, and getting to go onto the field at Fenway Park.”

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