NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University men's ice hockey team begins a new era in 2018-19 when the Cadets open the season at Endicott College on Saturday at 4 p.m.
For the first time in over two decades, a new coach will be behind the bench as Cam Ellsworth took over as the 11th coach in program history this summer after legendary head coach Mike McShane retired following 23 years at the helm of the perennial national championship contender.
"I'm smiles ear to ear every day to have the opportunity to take over an esteemed program like Norwich that is in great shape and I look forward to trying to continue the tradition set by Coach McShane," Ellsworth said. "It's been outstanding for me and my family to be close to Norwich and Northfield community. I can't be happier with the way the first four months have gone here."
Norwich is coming off winning its 19th New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) regular season title in the last 20 years. The Cadets posted a 19-7-2 record, but failed to make it back to the NCAA Tournament to defend their 2017 NCAA Division III National Championship title.
Conference-newcomer Hobart proved to be a proverbial thorn in Norwich's side all season, beating the Cadets three different times in Kreitzberg Arena, including a 3-0 win in the NEHC Championship.
"We're going to look to continually grow as a group," Ellsworth said. "There are going to be ups and downs in every season. We're in a unique situation this year where it's almost like having 29 new players. I've got a different language and ideas and that sets up new opportunities for kids and I'm excited to see who grabs it."
Norwich graduated five seniors from last year's team but returns 21 players, led by freshman Coby Downs (Montclair, Calif.), who was the team's leading scorer en route to earning NEHC Third Team All-Conference and All-Rookie team honors.
Downs had 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points in his inaugural season in the Maroon & Gold. Juniors Jordan Hall (Anchorage, Alaska) and Todd Jackson (Holly Springs, N.C.) also return after tallying 17 points and 15 points respectively. Hall ranked third on the team with nine goals, while Jackson tied for fourth with seven goals.
Three returning sophomores scored seven goals each as rookies in Scott Swanson (Wheaton, Ill.), Kale Kane (Kahnawake, Quebec) and Felix Brassard (Saint-Jean-sur-Richilieu, Quebec).
All three of the Cadets' captains will patrol the blue line this season with senior co-captain David Robertson (Boissevain, Manitoba) and junior co-captain Jake Erickson (Stillwater, Minn.) taking over the leadership this year from Alec Brandrup '18 and Braeden Ostepchuk '18.
Junior alternate captain TJ Dockery (Lockport, N.Y.) is the top returning point scorer from the blue line with four goals and nine assists for 13 points last season.
In goal, junior Tom Aubrun (Chamonix, France) came on strong in the second half of last season, splitting the starts with Ostepchuk, who was named the NEHC Goalie of the Year. Aubrun started the NEHC Championship game, making 28 saves and shutting out Hobart for two periods before the Statesmen pulled away in the final 15 minutes.
Aubrun posted a 7-2-0 record with a 1.58 goals against average and a .934 save percentage in 532 minutes of game action.
Freshman Adam Mercer (Belchertown, Mass.) and sophomore Ben Nelson (York, Maine) will also look to compete for time in the net and push Aubrun for starts.
The Cadets played two exhibitions this past weekend at home vs. SUNY Canton and Fitchburg State. Norwich beat SUNY Canton 5-0 on Saturday, before battling defending MASCAC champion Fitchburg State to a 0-0 draw.
"It was nice to get on the ice and play someone different other than ourselves after two straight weeks of practice," Ellsworth said. "The pride of the guys really showed once they hit the ice for a game. I kept hearing about it and then it went to a new level when they took home ice."
Norwich won't have much time to ease into the new season and new bench boss as the Cadets open with one of the toughest schedules they've seen in recent years. NU travels to Endicott to open the season on Saturday, Oct. 27. The Gulls have quickly asserted themselves as a perennial national contender in just their fourth season as a varsity program.
"I'm excited to see where we stack up against some really good teams," Ellsworth said. "Endicott is an older group that has a lot of Division I transfers that has had a lot of success under Coach Tolan."
The Cadets then return home to host Hobart and Skidmore on its opening weekend at Kreitzberg Arena, before hitting the road again to travel to perennial NEHC contenders UMass Boston and Babson. After playing an exhibition against a Quebec All-Star team in Canada, Norwich will host the prestigious PrimeLink Great Northern ShootOut with national powerhouse Adrian taking on the Cadets in the opening round.
"Mark Taylor and Hobart do an outstanding job," Ellsworth said. "We'll get a good measuring stick to find out where we are. Skidmore has shown a lot of potential and played Norwich tough in the past few years. Those first three to five games will give us a great barometer of where we are and how far we have to go from there."