by Mathieu Webb
Senior Writer, D3hockey.com
STEVENS POINT, Wis. -- When it comes to the Frozen Four, Norwich being at one is a rather familiar thing. After all, the Cadets have been here on twelve prior occassions, four of which led to them leaving town with the national championship in hand.
|Freshman forward Maxime Borduas, a native of Saint-Césaire, Quebec, has made an immediate impact for the Cadets and has seven goals and 13 assists on the year.
Photo: Norwich Athletics
This year's is one of the younger Norwich teams to make a Frozen Four, but features a familiar trait that is far from the norm in Division III. Specifically, the Norwich roster once again features a handful of players that hail from Quebec.
Québécois appearing on the Norwich roster is nothing new as the program's ties to the La Belle Province go back quite some tim, and not only have the Cadets pulled players out of areas and leagues many others don't even try to touch, but they've pulled some extremely talented and successful players at that.
Most recently, William Pelletier, a native of St. Jean Chrysotome, electrified the 2017 Frozen Four and notched a pair of goals and assist while there to help lead the Cadets to the title. And who can forget the exploits of Rouyn-Noranda native Pier-Olivier Cotnoir at the 2010 Frozen Four when he scored late in the second overtime of the championship game to lift Norwich to its third national title?
It would take a while to list every Quebec native to have ever put on the maroon and gold (or camouflage), but the main takeaway is that Norwich has long-ventured into lesser-traveled Division III recruiting territory and has managed to do so quite successfully.
The Norwich team that will take the ice for Friday's semifinal against Geneseo is continued proof of as much.
Sophomore forward and team-leading scorer Félix Brassard, along with freshman standouts in forward Maxime Borduas and defenseman Gabriel Chicoine all are Quebec natives, as are two others on the roster.
Curious as to the history behind Norwich's successful ties into Quebec, we sat down with Cadets' assistant coach and head of recruiting Steve Mattson to try to glean some insight. Now in his 19th season at Norwich, Mattson has spearheaded the Cadets' recruiting since the 2000-01 season and had some very interesting and educational insight into the why's and how's of recruiting in Quebec.
So much, in fact, that we're just going to do what we've done before in instances where the answers are so good they speak for themselves and don't need a story written around them, which is just run the answers in full. Enjoy.
D3HKY: What was it that brought you back to Norwich as a coach?
SM: It was just a great opportunity. I had been at St. Mike's and it's a Division II program so it's sort of trapped and the program just isn't in the same capacity as Norwich.
D3HKY: One of your main roles is to serve as the head recruiter. How long as that arrangement been in place?
SM: Mike McShane did everything that had to do with coaching. All the x's and o's, all the stuff on the ice. So what we did was we created sort of like a pro situation where I was the director of player personnel and would be responsible for all the recruiting and then micromanaging the kids while they were at school: making sure they were taking the right classes, is your car working, and you know all that stuff.
So then all Mike had to do was focus on the coaching. The marriage worked out perfectly because that's what he wanted to do with all the on ice stuff and I was doing what I wanted to do with doing the recruiting.
D3HKY: Norwich has pulled a healthy amount of players from Quebec over the years, which is fairly atypical for Division III. What led to you focusing on that area when it seems many others do not.
SM: The biggest thing is really the proximity. I live in Burlington so I can be to the closest team in that league in about 50 minutes and then can see all the other teams come through. So it's kind of a no-brainer that from my home I can run up there in a little over an hour and see a game. So I just started seeing those and they'll play Friday, Saturday and Sunday's and then sometimes have a Wednesday game."
The thing about that league is that the Quebec culture is such that when you grow up as a kid it's a real honor to play major junior so when you're playing minor hockey and they come in and say 'hey, we want you to come up and play a game in major junior,' you jump at the opportunity and then lose your (NCAA) eligibility. That's the biggest hurdle up there: there are so many kids that could be impact college players, but they've played major junior. And usually it's just an exhibition game or two games, it's not a lot, so that's a huge hurdle. The second hurdle, and they are probably equal, is that you have the language barrier and the money, because they can stay home and go to school for a third of what it costs to go to school in the States. So because of those things most colleges are like 'why am I going to drive 2-3 hours to get over there when I can go to Cornwall (Ontario) and see that whole league come through and I get there in an hour?"
It was just easy for me to get there and I had the time to sort through it. There are each year just a handful of kids that will fit a college profile: they haven't played major, the family may have some money, their English is pretty decent, and the kid thinks they'd like to go to college in the States. But there's not a lot of them and out of a league that size you're probably looking at ten to twelve players a year.
D3HKY: And you guys seem to get most of them.
SM: That's the other thing that happens: if you get one it definitely creates the opportunity to get two or three. So we've always managed to have, well normally we'll have two or three, but it's great. We'll just have the current player's family call the other faily and say this is what it costs, and this and that, and it works out great and it just perpetuates itself."
D3HKY: Do you speak French?
SM: To some degree. Enough so that I can carry a conversation but I wouldn't say I was bilingual.
D3HKY: So if someone was fluent in French it would be a huge asset.
SM: Huge. That would be a huge thing. That's another cultural thing. Case in point: Middlebury had a guy for a number of years, an assistant Bill Beaney, that was French-Canadian and they were killing it up there. He was French-Canadian, he was from Quebec, he could walk in and talk to the family and immediately the family was at ease, so that was huge.
D3HKY: What can you say about the younger guys on the team from Quebec, but also the younger guys across the board as this team looks quite a bit different from the version that won it in 2017?
SM: We have two freshman from Quebec that have both been impact players, one at forward in Max Borduas and the other on defense in (Gabriel) Chicoine. The one thing about the kids from Quebec is, and Max is a great example as I think he only had three or four points in the first half and then something like 17 in the second half. But there's a transition period there because in Quebec they play a very open style. There's not a lot of hitting and it's not unusual to see a game up there that ends up 10-9 or 8-7, that kind of thing. Like they just don't play defense and are not physical, but they're really highly skilled. So when those kids come down there's that transition time -- like it took Max time to get use to it as he was getting clobbered and he wasn't used to it. So you have that little lag time while they get adjusted, but once they do they're fine.
And then with regards to the rest of the young guys on the team they've all contributed well. They came into a good group, adapted well, and everyone has come together really well.