Chris Czarnota is having fun behind the bench at Kreitzberg Arena

Assistant men’s ice hockey coach Chris Czarnota is enjoying life behind the bench after skating four years on the Norwich University hockey team. “I loved my time as a player here,” said Czarnota, Norwich class of 2014 and a goalie for the Cadets. “When the opportunity came up to take the assistant coach job it was a no-brainer. From the facilities to the coaching staff, everything is top notch and it provides the players the best opportunity to succeed.”

Now deep into the season, he is “excited to be back” with a new role on the team. Czarnota was previously working with the Tufts University men’s ice hockey team as goalie coach. “I felt that being a first-time coach, working with Tufts was a wonderful experience to get my feet wet and working with players,” Czarnota said. “I have definitely taken a lot of great learning experience from this and am excited to carry this over with the Norwich team.”

With the teams’ current goalie coach Cap Raeder retiring next season, Czarnota will be taking over the duties for next year. “Anytime anyone is replacing a guy like Cap and the incredible resume he brings it is going to be tough,” said men’s assistant ice hockey coach Ron Dimasi. “But we must remember that Chris was trained by Cap during his time at Norwich, and has learned so much from Cap that he can then use this knowledge with the goalies and make for a smooth transition after Cap’s tenure.”

Chris Czarnota in goal at Fenway Park in Boston during his career at Norwich. NU Athletics photo

Czarnota joins another former teammate, Bryce Currier, NU ’15, who is in his third season with the team as an assistant coach. “When I heard about Cap leaving I was saddened,” Bryce said. “But when I heard Chris would be replacing him I knew our goalies were in good hands. Chris was a very successful goalie in college and working previous hockey camps with him over summer I could see he had a passion to help the younger players learn and grow.”

Czarnota had a very successful college career at Norwich, winning a Division III National Championship in his freshman year. He finished his college career with 665 saves and a save percentage of .91% for the Cadets. When the new position opened up to become the goalie coach for the Cadets, Czarnota said he was “very grateful” to be considered for the job.

The coaching staff has the goalies on the ice twice a week before team practices for specific one-on-one training to work on fundamentals. “One of the hardest things to do is to re-create a game-type atmosphere,” Czarnota explained. “That is why we try to create these unique drills to simulate what kind of shots a goaltender can expect to see in a game and to prepare themselves on what to do.”

Norwich goalie Braedon Ostepchuk, of Lethbridge, Alberta, is in his fourth year with the team and the senior said he has seen a “huge success rate” with the time used during the goalie practices. “Receiving goalie-specific coaching has been instrumental to my development and success over my time at Norwich,” said Ostepchuck, adding he was “very excited” to have Czarnota added to the coaching staff “because he provides his own unique experiences and input that help us to constantly strive for improvement and excellence.”

Ostepchuk has had a very successful career at Norwich with 931 saves and a .93% save average. Along with winning a Div. III National Championship last spring, Ostepchuck was also named American Hockey Coaches Association (ACHA) Academic All-American.

Czarnota said coaching Ostepchuk has been a pleasure. “I have really enjoyed my time working with a player like Braeden,” Czarnota said. “He’s not only a good goaltender, but his hockey intelligence just separates him from most goalies I have seen around college hockey. He has an ability to see plays develop before they even happen. Furthermore, he is very good at handling the puck. This is an area where most goalies struggle but not Braeden, he even had a couple assists last year.”

With the departure of last year’s senior goaltender Ty Reichbach, the coaching staff brought in a transfer student, sophomore Tom Aubrun, to help take over the backup duties and to “learn and develop” in anticipation of Ostepchuk’s departure next year. “The competition in practice is great. me and the other goalies are really pushing each other to make more saves in practice,” said Auburn, who hails from Chamonix, France.

This year Czarnota has his own goals, primarily to develop the younger goalies so that they are ready to take over when Ostepchuk graduates this spring. The goalie core is very young with two underclassman netminders, so Ostepchuk has handled the bulk of the netminding duties, playing in 16 of the team’s 20 games this season.

“The goal every season for our coaching staff is to make sure our team grows and develops over the course of the season,” Dimasi said. “We are always trying to teach these players it doesn’t matter if you’re an incoming freshman or a four-year starter, there is always room for improvement.”

And improving they are. After some tough losses early this season. a team with a lot of young players seems to be jelling at the right time. Norwich sits atop the NEHC standings with a 17-5-1 record/ The Cadets had two big wins a couple of weekends ago on their annual Boston road trip, knocking off arch-rival Babson 5-3 Friday and a tough UMass-Boston team 5-4 on Saturday. Ostepchuk came up big in both games, making 32 saves in the first game and 36 saves in the second to improve to 12-5-1 on the year.

He also took a win against Southern Maine 2-1 last weekend. With sophomore Tom Aubrun in goal,the Cadets also downed New England College in a thrilling overtime victory, 3-2, as the season heads toward the playoffs.

According to Norwich Athletics, the win at Southern Maine was Ostepchuk’s 50th of his collegiate career. He has the second most wins by a goalie under Mike McShane at Norwich. He is four wins away from tying Randy Hevey’s program-record 54 wins.

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