Green Knights Look to Climb Back to Top of NCHA in 2009-10

From Sports Information Director, October 15, 2009 | Men's Hockey
by Dan Lukes, dan.lukes@snc.edu, (920) 403-4077

DE PERE - Change has been a big buzzword throughout the country in the past year, and it certainly applies to the St. Norbert College hockey team in 2009-10.

Several new faces and a new-look Northern Collegiate Hockey Association have many who follow the Green Knights watching to see what the new season will bring. Seven newcomers to the St. Norbert roster and a new 18-game NCHA schedule are two changes that St. Norbert head coach Tim Coghlin and his troops have come to believe in.

"Every year presents new challenges, even within our conference," said Coghlin, whose squad went 19-8-1 last season and was 8-5-1 in the NCHA, missing the NCAA Division III Tournament for the first time since 2001. "We're looking at potentially being in the middle of the pack and up, and any time you're in that situation there's a lot of room to grow.

"The top teams return most of their firepower, and we're one of those teams that's going to need some breaks and create some bounces for ourselves. It's important we improve at every position, starting from the goaltender out."

St. Norbert had a respectable 2.20 goals against average last season, but it was the second-highest number for the Green Knights in the last seven seasons. St. Norbert's average of 3.89 goals per game was its second lowest in the last 14 seasons.

"Things are more predicated on our goaltending and defensemen, not just what happens up front," said Coghlin, who carries a 341-100-36 record into his 17th season. "We're not going to set a mark to score five goals a night. Our M.O. has been to be opportunistic, and with the best teams we've had here that's been the case."

St. Norbert has won 10 NCHA regular-season titles and seven NCHA Peters Cup Playoffs championships since joining the league in 1994. What's the biggest thing the Green Knights will have to improve on in the new season?

"Some nights it's the power play stepping up to score an extra goal, other nights the goaltender needs to make that save," Coghlin said. "It's just a need to be consistent. There will be a lot of even games and you need to hold your cool on the big stage. At the end of the day the 20 guys who play the best together will have the best chance to win."

Senior defenseman Sam Tikka is the captain this season, while senior forward Shane Wheeler and junior defensemen Adam Hammerbeck and Dustin Walz are assistant captains.

Forwards

St. Norbert returns five of its top six scorers from last season, all of whom are juniors and seniors. That type of depth and experience, along with six newcomers, should help the offense improve from last season.

"Up front we've added a significant amount of athleticism in terms of hand-eye coordination, puck skill and savvy," Coghlin said. "It is a fit group and that's important in those back-to-back series."

Wheeler leads the returning forwards in scoring from last season, when he posted 11 goals and 17 assists for 28 points. Senior Matt Boyd, who missed eight games last season due to injury, still led the team with 20 assists to go along with five goals for 25 points.

Senior Tyler Allen netted 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points, while junior Scott Pulak had five goals and 15 assists for 20 points.

Sophomore Alain Joanette, who scored a hat trick in his first collegiate game, led last year's freshmen with six goals and nine assists for 15 points. Senior Peter Fylling contributed two goals and five assists for seven points in 22 games.

Junior Dylan Exton is a transfer from New England College, and he will be joined by freshmen Cody Keefer, Kyle Stroh, Noah Nemgar, Adam Bevilacqua and Derek Donohue.

"We have some role players there. Guys have an opportunity to have a role more than in past years, and be good at one or two special things that can ultimately make us a better team by the time we get to Christmas break," Coghlin said.

Defensemen

St. Norbert brings back five defensemen who saw a great deal of time on the blue line a year ago. First-team All-American selection Nick Tabisz, a junior, leads the corps after scoring 11 goals and 17 assists for 28 points last season.

Seniors Tikka (3-6-9) and Jason Nopper (3-7-10), and junior Adam Hammerbeck (0-2-2) were regulars on St. Norbert's NCAA Division III national champion in 2008, while junior Dustin Walz (3-4-7) was named the squad's most improved player last season.

"The strength of our group is on the back end and I like our mix of eight guys back there," Coghlin said. "Most of those guys have played big minutes. They can help stabilize the goaltending quickly."

Also back is junior Mike Bernardy, who played in just one game last season due to injury. The lone newcomer on the blue line is Justin Favreau, who Coghlin said would see minutes in situations right away.

"Favreau is a very complete defenseman who makes very good decisions on the offensive blue and has an ability to be a power-play guy," Coghlin said. "He also has a nasty side and makes contact in the neutral zone. He's very highly recommended from anyone who's ever seen him or coached him. We're excited about him."

Goaltenders

Two juniors will battle it out for time between the pipes this season -- Blake Bashor and B.J. O'Brien.

Bashor saw 57 percent of the time in net for the Green Knights a year ago, going 10-6-1 with a 1.93 goals against average and .914 save percentage with two shutouts. O'Brien was 9-2 with a 2.57 goals against average and .896 save percentage.

"The goaltending position is unique because it takes time to grow into that spot," Coghlin said. "If you look at our league last year the best goalies were seniors, and when they were sophomores they didn't look too much different than the years our two had last year."

Coghlin said in the early going time might not be split on weekends like it was last season.

"We have good goaltending but neither have been elite yet, but that's a step those two can make," Coghlin said. "We're more likely to start with a starting goaltender and let him run, and see if the team can gel around that position."

Schedule

Only seven teams remain in the NCHA following the departure of Lake Forest, meaning the Green Knights will face each league foe three times. The Green Knights will have six two-game weekend series against the same opponent this season. St. Norbert's home series will be against UW-Stevens Point, St. Scholastica and UW-Superior.

"It's a throwback to the 1990s schedule when you saw everyone four times," Coghlin said. "I'm looking forward to that because I think you learn a lot about your guys going back-to-back nights in difficult situations. I think we've missed that with the schedule we've had the last 10 years.

"I think it's a positive thing. Our strength of schedule goes through the roof playing the top teams in the West Region more frequently, and I think it helps our conference as a whole nationally come tournament time."

UW-Superior won the 2009 regular-season NCHA title, while UW-Stout claimed the Peters Cup. Both of those teams, along with St. Scholastica, advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

"Stout and Superior are the teams that return the most," Coghlin said. "St. Scholastica had a run but lost 10-12 kids. Stevens Point and Eau Claire are two sleeping giants that continue to get better. With only seven teams in the league, any of them are legit contenders."

With the expanded NCHA schedule, St. Norbert has just seven non-conference games to work with. The interlock with the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference has been reduced from six games to four, with the Green Knights facing Concordia-Moorhead, St. John's, Bethel and Hamline.

St. Norbert, in addition to its season-opening game with Lake Forest, will face Lawrence and Salem State in the Western Thanksgiving Showcase, hosted this season at St. Scholastica.