by Matthew Webb
Senior Writer, D3hockey.com
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- St. Norbert's status as one of the, if not the most, successful program of Division III's modern era is a fact lost on no one. After all, with 12 Frozen Four appearances since 2003, four national runner-up finishes, and four national championships it's a reality that's impossible to deny.
|The Cornerstone Community Center, home of the Green Knights, has previously had to reconfigure things because it was literally out of room for more banners.
Aside from Middlebury's run that saw the Panthers score eight national titles in a 12 year span -- a feat likely never to be matched -- there's a strong case to be made that St. Norbert's sustained success rates as utterly unprecedented.
As such, and to the surprise of probably no one, the Green Knights are back at yet another Frozen Four in search of their first national title since 2014.
"You know, you look around our rink and see all the banners and all the championships and such, it's something that's expected and such and it's something that's talked about right from the beginning of the season that we strive for," said St. Norbert senior captain Tanner Froese.
"The way this team is run I'm not surprised we're here a lot, so you've just got to embrace it and enjoy it when you do get here."
But how unprecedented is St. Norbert's success and exactly how dominant have the Green Knights been? Let's turn to the numbers, most of which were faithfully compiled over the past 20 years by a veritable encylopedia of facts and figures, St. Norbert Assistant Athletic Director/Athletic Communications Dan Lukes. Most of them also rate as nothing short of remarkable.
Some examples that speak to the Green Knights' success under head coach Tim Coghlin:
- Have appeared in 18 of the past 22 NCAA tournaments and are 29-13-1 all-time, including 20-4 in their last two dozen NCAA tournament games.
- Have finished with fewer than 20 wins just twice since 1996, and those instances include an 18-8-3 season in 2001-02 and a 19-8-1 campaign in 2008-09.
- Coghlin, who has spent his entire career at St. Norbert, is just the seventh coach in college hockey history to hold a career record at least 400 games over .500, joining like likes of Jerry York, Ron Mason, Jack Parker, Red Berenson, Bob Peters, and the only other Division III coach to crack the club, Plattsburgh State's Bob Emery.
- Have eleven 25-win seasons.
- Since 2002-03, have posted a combined record of 139-24-17 against teams from the WIAC -- all members of which have spent at least some time among the nation's elite over that span.
- Have been ranked in 302 consecutive weekly polls and were ranked No. 1 in 97 of them.
- Hold a record of 288-2-3 at home when leading after two periods, which includes a streak of 200 games without a loss.
And there are more...
But the point is clear: the numbers are simply staggering -- so much in fact that it's almost hard to grasp the full context of the success they speak to.
While the last St. Norbert national championship came a mere four years ago -- a standard most programs would be plenty content meeting -- it also means this year's senior class has yet to score a title of its own. It has come plenty close, however, having lost in the 2016 national championship game before falling in a semifinal a year ago. These facts are not lost on this year's group and the Green Knights hope they can use the recent close calls to their advantage this time around.
"At this time of the year there is no room for nights off and that's something we can take away from the last two years -- we can't come out here with any regrets," Froese said. "From a leadership standpoint I and we need to lead by example, have to keep the nerves calm and show the boys that it's just another game and that if we stick to our gameplan we should be just fine."
Which hints at one other factoid that speaks to the resounding success of the St. Norbert program: if the Green Knights fail to bring home this year's championship, it will mark their first recruiting class since the class of 2003 that will graduate without having scored at least one national title.
Not even Middlebury managed such a long stretch. In fact, it didn't even get close. It's also a factoid we had no intention of asking Froese about but it turned out we didn't have to as he brought it up on his own.
"There's a lot of motivation there...we're the only class that's been around in a long while that hasn't won a national championship and that's a lot of motivation for us, especially after being so close the last two years. To go out on top would really be something special."