NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The last two Norwich University men's ice hockey seasons couldn't have ended more differently. The 2015-16 season ended in disappointment, falling on the road in the New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) semifinals and having the 17-year regular season title streak snapped. However, the 2016-17 season ended with the Cadets hoisting the NCAA Division III National Championship trophy.
Norwich enters the 2017-18 season back on top of the Division III landscape, but the Cadets will face a multitude of stern competitors looking to knock them off the top of the mantle.
NU ended last season on a 25-game unbeaten streak and won its fourth national championship on Mar. 25, 2017 with a 4-1 victory over Trinity (Conn.) in Utica, N.Y. The Cadets also won titles in 2000, 2003 and 2010.
"I think bitterness can be a motivator sometimes and not winning a championship, makes you work harder," McShane said. "It was amazing how the season went, I thought we had a pretty good team, but that was it because we weren't outplaying teams by any margin like we had in the past. Ty Piacentini and Will Pelletier got hurt in the loss to Skidmore, but then we beat Castleton 4-0 the next night and I had a funny feeling after that game that we were going to be pretty good and have a chance."
McShane enters his 23rd season at the helm of the program with 17 returners from last year's squad and 12 newcomers set to begin the drive for title number five.
Despite the heavy losses to graduation and seven of Norwich's 10-player senior class from last season playing professional hockey this year, the Cadets still return a strong five-player senior class that will be counted on to lead a very young group.
Kevin Salvucci (Plymouth, Mass.) returns after leading the team with 21 goals last season. He also tallied 18 assists for 39 points to rank second on the team and earn NEHC Third Team All-Conference honors.
Alec Brandrup (Rochester, Minn.) earned NEHC Third Team All-Conference honors last season as well after posting five goals and 15 assists for 20 points. Braeden Ostepchuk (Lethbridge, Alberta) was named to the NEHC All-Conference Second Team last year after posting a 16-0-0 record, 1.83 goals against average and a .924 save percentage.
Ostepchuk and Brandrup will be the co-captains this season with Salvucci serving as an assistant along with junior David Robertson (Boissevain, Manitoba).
"We have another good senior class this year," McShane said. "We have an excellent goalie, two excellent defensemen and two forwards that are good and can put the puck in the net. They did a great job running the captain's practices and the off-ice workouts to help get this team in the right mindset for the season."
McShane also pointed to the large sophomore class as needing to take another step this season in expanded roles with five of the top six scorers gone from last year's squad.
Ian Williams (Gray, Saskatchewan), Todd Jackson (Holly Springs, N.C.) and Christian Thompson (Windham, N.H.) will be looked upon to help shoulder the offensive load more consistently this season after promising rookie campaigns.
Williams had nine goals and seven assists for 16 points, while Jackson had seven goals and four assists for 11 points. Thompson chipped in with four goals and four assists for eight points.
On defense, NU returns one of its most reliable pairs towards the end of the season last year in Jake Erickson (Stillwater, Minn.) and TJ Dockery (Lockport, N.Y.). Erickson scored two clutch goals in the 5-4 NCAA semifinal overtime victory over Adrian College. Dockery had six assists, while Erickson had three goals and an assist last season.
Norwich will also look to some newcomers to play a big role in the team's success this season. McShane remarked that Coby Downs (Montclair, Calif.) and Kale Kane (Kahnawake, Quebec) should be able to make an immediate impact on offense.
"I think we have good speed and depth, but we don't have a lot of size," McShane said. "We're going to have to control the puck. We're not as skilled in certain positions as we were last year, but we're going to have a lot of guys in new roles this year."
In goal, Ostepchuk will be counted on as the only goalie returning with significant experience. However, sophomore Tom Aubrun (Chamonix, France) and freshman Jordan Brant (Edmonton, Alberta) will compete for time as well and have looked sharp in the preseason according to McShane.
Last year's team motto was "Leave Nothing Behind" and the Cadets certainly did that going out on top. McShane said that he hopes to find another motto for this year's team but it's too early to tell at this point.
"We've only had a week of practice to be able to get a feel for your team and your identity and you really don't know what you have until you play outside competition," McShane said. "Our freshmen know our culture and what is expected of them. I know we'll have some bumps which is the nature of the ball game with all the new bodies."
Norwich played two exhibition games this past weekend, defeating Nichols 3-0 on Saturday and then following up with a 4-0 victory over Saint Anselm on Sunday.
The Cadets are ranked No. 1 in the NEHC Preseason Coaches' Poll that was released last Thursday and they also debuted as the preseason No. 1 in the USCHO.com National Poll on Monday.
Norwich opens the 2017-18 regular season on Friday, Oct. 27 when it hosts Salve Regina at 7:15 p.m. The Cadets will raise their 2017 national championship banner to the rafters in a special pre-game ceremony starting at 7 p.m.