By Derek Dunning, Assistant Sports Information Director
NORTHFIELD, Vt. – Last March, the Norwich men's hockey team found itself back in the Frozen Four facing the exact same St. Norbert team it defeated the year before in Lake Placid, N.Y. in a 2-1 double-overtime thriller to win the program's third national championship.
However, instead of the storybook ending that was 2010; the Cadets lost 3-2 and had their dreams of a repeat cut short while St. Norbert went on to win the 2011 National Championship the next day.
NU enters the 2011-12 season with high expectations once again as the squad lost just two seniors from last year's 22-6-3 team that won an unprecedented 13th straight ECAC East regular season crown, as well as its ninth ECAC East Tournament title.
Legendary Norwich head coach Mike McShane will have 20 players back from last year's squad including seven of the top 10 scorers as he embarks on his 17th season. McShane enters 2011-12 just 15 wins shy of 600 career coaching wins. He has accumulated an impressive 341-96-24 record for a .766 winning percentage while at Norwich.
Heading the list of returners this season are junior forwards Pier-Olivier Cotnoir (Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec) and Kyle Thomas (Waltham, Mass.), along with reigning ECAC East Rookie of the Year in sophomore forward Travis Janke (Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan)
The three were paired together on the Cadets' top line for much of last season and became known as one of the most formidable offensive combinations in all of Division III.
Cotnoir led the team with 21 goals to go along with 17 assists for 38 points, while Janke's 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists) tied for the team-point lead with Scott Schroeder. Thomas listed third on the team in goals with 16 markers. Over the summer, Thomas made a name for himself at the Minnesota Wild Prospect Development Camp by scoring two goals in two games.
"We think we've got a real good line with Janke, Thomas and Cotnoir," McShane said. "We'll probably start them off together and see how they do after they finished off last year together and did a nice job."
After that though, there is a plethora of question marks surrounding where the rest of the offense is going to come for the Cadets in 2011-12. Junior forward Blake Forkey returns, but he'll be looking for two new line mates after Chad Anderson graduated last spring and Scott Schroeder didn't return this fall.
"We lost three real good impact players that probably won't be replaced," McShane said (2nd Team RBK All-American defenseman Greg Eskedjian being the third). "We brought in some guys who we think can contribute but it's going to come down to some of our upperclassmen stepping up and having better years. We've got so many ifs, and we need some of them to pan out. "
Forkey (8-14-22), Tory Allan (4-7-11) and Colin Mulvey (2-4-6) will be counted on to rekindle their freshman form. Forkey (Boca Raton, Fla.) tied for the team lead in points, Mulvey (Worcester, Mass.) scored 10 goals and Allan (Davidson, Saskatchewan) produced nearly a point-per-game when healthy.
"Mulvey has come back in even better shape this year," McShane said. "He looks stronger and looks like he has even more speed right now."
Sophomore forward Chris Duszynski (Okotoks, Alberta) could also see an expanded role this season after he posted eight goals and 11 assists on his way to being named to the league's all-rookie team during a promising first-year campaign.
"Duszynski has come back in good shape after he battled through some injuries last year that limited him a little bit," McShane said. "He's got great hands inside and if he fulfills what we think he can do, that will be a big plus for us. He's a goal scorer with a big frame that plays a physical game and he can certainly step up for us this year."
"Igor played great for us last year as a checking line center and Tim Houston has looked good so far too," McShane said. "Paquet, Gorman and Allan have played together a little bit and they have shown a little bit of chemistry so far. When they get going, they are really going, and they're tough to stop."
Three new forwards will join the mix this year looking to compete for ice time in Gerard McEleney (Canton, Mass.), Nevin Lawler (Fitchburg, Mass.) and Doug Lindensmith (Sterling Heights, Mich.) who posted 33 goals and 65 assists last year for the La Ronge Ice Wolves of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
"Lindensmith looks to be a seasoned player," McShane said. "He's a 20-year-old freshman that has played junior hockey for a few years on a good team with some good players. He's going to see some ice time early, and we'll have to see who he works best with."
"Nevin Lawler is a peppy player who plays with a lot of energy as does Gerard," McShane said. "They're both young, but I think they are going to develop and be good players here."
The Cadets' defense corps should once again be a strong point with six returners that surrendered just 2.16 goals per game to rank fourth in the nation.
The group includes three seniors headed by newly-appointed team captain Shawn Baker (Mont-Laurier, Quebec) who takes over the captain's 'C' from Chad Anderson.
"Baker is a natural leader that does it on the ice and off it," McShane said. "The kids really respect him, and he's a hard worker in the classroom. He's likeable, but he's very tough and competitive. There is a lot of weight on your shoulders when you become the captain by dealing with adversity throughout the course of the year, but I think Shawn will do a great job."
"I think experience on defense helps more than experience up front because you have guys that are used to dealing with the pressure," McShane said. "We're counting on Baker, Carpino, and Kozhokin to contribute and show right away the level the defense needs to be at as a unit."
"Frank Gatien has come back stronger this year," McShane said. "He looks like he worked really hard over the offseason, and I think Fulton and Gour have looked strong so far as well in practice. Fulton has been steady, and Gour is a great puck handler."
"Corey Hale is a good player, and we knew coming in he was going to be a good player," McShane said. "How he adapts to the college game right away will be key. Bryce Currier is a big, strong kid that has looked good. Thieda has been steady, and Poulin is small in stature but he plays with a lot of heart."
With 10 defensemen on the roster, McShane acknowledged competition for ice time will be fierce and decisions won't be easy.
"The defense is going to be the toughest decision to make because they're all pretty close," he said. "Getting all of them in the lineup is impossible to do, but you do have injuries and usually things have a way of working themselves out."
Sophomore goalie Parker Carroll (West Chester, Pa.) returns for his first full season in the Maroon & Gold. He joined the team at the semester break and helped spark a 14-game unbeaten streak after winning over the starting goaltender job. Carroll finished the year with a 14-1-2 record to go along with a 1.82 goals against average and a .899 save percentage.
Freshman Matic Marinsek (Ljubljana, Slovenia) is expected to push Carroll for ice time in the crease this season after playing for the Slovenian Under-20 National team. Sophomore Chris Czarnota (Wakefield, Mass.) rounds out the list of goaltenders.
"Parker is in good shape and worked hard over the summer," McShane said. "He's our 'go to' guy right now. Matic is working hard and has some ability. I think it's going to take him a little time to adjust to our game, but he's got great potential. Chris had an ankle injury over the summer but he came on last year and improved quite a bit through the course of the season so we'd like to see him do the same thing."
The Cadets were able to start official practices on Oct. 15 for the first time in over decade after the 12-year NESCAC/ECAC East Interlocking schedule agreement came to an end last year.
Norwich will open its 2011-12 campaign this Sunday when it travels down to Hanover, N.H. to take on Division I Dartmouth in the first of two exhibitions to open the season. NU will also take on Trois-Rivieres next Sunday in its home opener at Kreitzberg Arena with face off set for 3 p.m.
"I did enjoy playing the NESCAC schools, and it's too bad that happened," McShane said. "But, after the fact, you've got to move on and now we have the opportunity to start earlier as well as play teams like Dartmouth and Trois Rivieres. I thought it would be a great thing for the kids to play against the best teams they possibly could."
Norwich opens the regular season with a pair of ECAC East contests on the road on Nov. 11 and 12 at the Univ. of New England and then Southern Maine on Saturday afternoon.
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