Men’s hockey riding high as playoffs begin

Sophomore forward Cody Downs looking for someone to pass the puck to. Photo by Norwich University

The Norwich men’s hockey team is busting into the playoffs with a strong win streak that makes some early season issues seem ancient history.

“Some struggles we have had were just adopting to a brand-new system, but that lasted for about three weeks,” said TJ Dockery, 23, a defenseman who hails from Lockport, N.Y.

Since those early season issues and losses, the team has done a great job of executing better with each game, Dockery said. At this point the team must be at its best to make the playoff and conference push, he said – and that appears to be the case as the Cadets have now won 14 straight with a 6-2 win over Southern Maine on Senior Day.

They end up at 18-4-3 overall and are 13-4-1 in conference play. The Cadets have earned the No. 2 seed for the NEHC playoffs and will host Suffolk at 7 p.m. this upcoming Saturday at 7 p.m.

All the games in the past couple weeks were tough and were must wins, Dockery said last week. “If I had to pick one it would be NEC, they beat us right before break and since we are tied, it would be nice to get one back on them.” Norwich did, taking that game 3-0 and gaining a measure of revenge.

Keeping everybody focused and ready for games coming up is something that the leaders on the team have done a very good job of, said Jordan Hall, 23, a forward from Anchorage, Alaska.

“The leadership has been great this season. We have a team full of leaders starting with our three captains and then going down through our whole roster,” said Hall.

Every player on the team has their own specific qualities, said Hall. “Our leadership has helped a lot in having such a tight-knit group and a successful season so far.”

The older guys on the team have helped the freshman and younger guys on the team have been contributing so far, said Hall.

“The freshman and the younger part of our roster has been great. They have all be able to help the team in their own way and the depth that they bring to our roster is going to help the team immensely,” said Hall.

Junior forward Jack Griffin gets past his opponent. Photo by Norwich Athletics

Obviously, this year there is a new coach who has done a great job with the team. “I think that coaching transition has gone as smoothly as it could,” said Hall. “Coach ( Cam) Ellsworth came in and said he wanted to keep the tradition that Norwich has built over the last 20 years and that is exactly what has happened,” said Hall.

When a new coach comes in new offensive and defensive systems on the ice have to be learned but Hall said the team has adapted well. “There have been some things that have changed on ice, but it has all been for the best and has helped the team tremendously.”

Hall also noted that Norwich plays a lot of tough Div. III opponents. “We play in a very strong conference with four nationally ranked teams in the top 15 and our out-of-conference schedule is very tough as well.”

A good opportunity for the team this year was playing the Quebec all-star team, said Matthew Burchill, 23, who plays defense and hails from Marshfield, Mass. “It was a good opportunity to play a new opponent early in the year.”

Even though the team suffered a loss, it was a good opportunity to practice the new systems put in place and get a chance to show the coach that the team is understanding the new systems, Burchill said.

“Toughest opponent this year is UMass-Boston. When we play them it is a playoff intensity style game, every team we play is difficult, they all want to beat us,” Burchill said. After UMass-Boston beat Norwich 4-2 back in November when the team was still jelling, the Cadets returned the favor by beating them 2-0 in a shutout last week.

“We are a completely different team now than we were at the start of the season,” Burchill said, and the team has its eyes set on getting into the playoffs.

“Dave Robertson, our captain, has done a good job keeping everyone focused on the end goal,” Burchill said. Different guys have been stepping up at different times when the team needs them and that has contributed a lot to the success of the team, he said.

Burchill echoed others in saying the team’s recent success is due a lot to their coach, who has been beneficial in all aspects of the game.

“We struggled at first to understand the new systems he has brought to the organization but have all learned quick and work hard every day and every player appreciates his coaching abilities,” Burchill said.

Sophomore forward Carter Cowlthorn fights past the competition. Photo by Norwich athletics

Burchill said the season has shown that the squad this year is deep. “Every player on the team has the talent to be top players on most DIII teams, and our team has depth.”

“The hopes for playoffs is to have home ice advantage for as long as possible,” said Todd Jackson, 23, a forward from Holly Springs, N.C. “Our goal of playing for each other and being the best team we can be does not change, no matter the opposing team,” Jackson said.

The freshman on the team this year have been very key for the team’s success so far, Jackson said. “A lot of young guys have stepped up in some big moments and at the same time pushing the returners to play even harder.”

The early-season struggles are long in the rear-view mirror, Jackson said. “We have really come together as a team this year with a lot of new players and a new coach, the bond we have created is unbreakable.”

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