A winning system: Secrets of success yield results
The Norwich men's hockey team has withstood injuries and obstacles while keeping its top ranking in U.S. College Hockey Online's polls. The Cadets are looking forward to preserving their health while looking ahead to the playoffs, according to forward Shane Gorman, 20, communications major from Trumbull, Conn.
For many teams both professional and collegiate, being No. 1 can add pressure and unwanted anxiety, but not for the Cadets.
"It gives me an added chip on my shoulder every time we play, especially when we play away from home," Gorman said, "the pressure is on the other teams to knock us off."
For others like junior right wing Kyle Thomas, being ranked number one is a bonus; it isn't the main concern for the remainder of the season.
"Finishing the way we started and going into the playoffs is our number one priority," said Thomas, who has been instrumental in the Cadets' success.
"My role is to play hard, put pucks in the net and points on the board," he said.
Because of top players and their high ranking, there is no question the Cadets have a bulls-eye on their back and are the team to beat.
"Teams come out 110 percent and are eager to beat us," said Tim Houston, 22, a senior criminal justice major from North Andover, Mass. "This challenge makes us better."
"Being ranked number one alongside the women's team shows how respected and important Norwich hockey is here," Houston said.
The Cadets have been at the top of the polls for nine straight weeks despite their only loss against U-Mass-Boston earlier in the season.
"After our first loss, no one wants to lose again. Our mentality is to win out," said Gorman.
Still, injuries have plagued the team from the beginning of the season until now. Head coach Mike McShane has kept the players prepared and focused throughout the season to counter the impact.
"We have had a lot of injuries from the start of the season, including concussions, knee injuries and broken bones," McShane said.
Senior forward Houston suffered a sprained anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) which put him out for three weeks and limited his playing time.
"Game experience is what it takes to get back in condition," said McShane. No other player exemplifies this more than senior forward Emmond Bell, a communications major from Ottawa, Ontario.
Bell suffered a concussion at the beginning of the season, which limited his action on the ice. "I have played in a couple games and have slowly worked in," Bell said.
Bell has scored once while assisting five times in seven games this season, according to collegehockeystats.net.
Thomas has also missed a few games this season to a knee injury suffered during game play this season, recovering in time for the Frozen Fenway game against Babson College.
"Skating and conditioning alongside my teammates put me in the swing of things," Thomas said.
The senior leadership and advice this season have been critical to the freshmen stepping up and contributing in the 2012 season.
"Our head coach keeps us in check and has us mentor the younger players for the future," said Gorman. "Every freshman has played and stepped up the most during the injuries."
McShane agreed. "Freshmen have stepped up, including Doug Lindensmith, who is our leading scorer in the power play and Alec Thieda who is on our first-line defensemen," he said.
A combination of experience and young players is well-known in providing success for NU hockey, which was displayed in the 2010 national championship team.
"Every team is different, this team has a lot of players from the last national championship team in 2010," McShane said. "The experience is here."
"This team has a bit more depth, we are very balanced," Houston said .
Thomas agreed: "I have a great feeling about this team, our chemistry on and off the ice is good, we can make it to Lake Placid and accomplish anything we want to."
Looking ahead, the Cadets are in the driver's seat and in complete control of their destiny.
"Our mind-set is to take everything one game at a time," Bell said.
"Hockey is different from any other sport, a good character team with a good goalie can knock off a team with talent any day," McShane said.
This mantra is well-known to Thomas, who won a national championship his freshmen year in 2010, and lost in the finals last season.
"More is expected of me as a leader now that I have been molded since freshman year," Thomas said.
The confidence to skate and play with the best in Division III hockey is essential for the rest of the season, alongside trying to keep player's from getting injured.
"Being healthy going into the playoffs can give us the push to have a long run in the playoffs," Bell said.
Recently, the injury bug has hit hard. Players such as team captain and defenseman Shawn Baker, freshman forward Doug Lindensmith, freshman forward Nevin Lawler and senior forward Emmond Bell have all been hurt and missed recent games.
As the regular season draws to a close, players are finding motivation and looking forward to avenging the one loss against U-Mass Boston, and to play Castleton once more.
"We are playing (U-Mass Boston) away and I will do everything it takes to win," said Gorman. Adding humor, "this time we are not going to play them in the afternoon after a Fenway game at night."
Bell could not believe the Cadets lost to the very talented Boston team, which gave the team its only conference loss so far.
"We out-skated and out-played them the entire game," he said.
Putting the loss in the rear-view mirror, the focus for the end of the regular season and heading into the playoffs is still to take it one game at a time.
"Never overlooking an opponent is the key to our success," Houston said. "We can't play and forget about a team who has had a losing streak, they can still beat us."
This mentality is what keeps many players humble, including star players like Thomas.
"Preparing for each opponent critically is what keeps us hungry, our practices are very tough," he said.
Come playoff time, the Cadets well know that "it is a one and done system, we must not forget," Houston said.
The Cadets face off against Castleton on Saturday Feb. 11, away in Rutland at 4 p.m. The Cadets set out to avenge UMass-Boston at home on Friday Feb. 17, at 7 p.m., which will be the last weekend of regular season play at Kreitzberg Arena. Senior game follows on Saturday Feb. 18, at 4 p.m. against Babson College.
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