BOISE, Idaho – Green Bay, Wisconsin is known for one major thing in the sports world: football. The National Football League has had a franchise in Green Bay for almost 100 years, dating back to 1919. While football is the focal point in Titletown, USA, a small liberal arts college is becoming an NCAA Division III hockey powerhouse just six miles south of Lambeau Field.

The St. Norbert College Green Knights men’s hockey team has become a force to be reckoned with in collegiate hockey. They have captured five Division III titles in ten years, with their most recent championship coming this past season. Green Bay’s championship pedigree has apparently bled over to the Green Knights, as well.

The Idaho Steelheads have taken notice.

Two rookies have been plucked from the western shore of the Fox River and signed by the Steelheads for the 2018-19 season. Tanner Froese, the captain of the Green Knights last year, became the first rookie player to sign with Idaho on July 10. His teammate, Sean Campbell, was also signed by the Steelheads as the team’s fourth announced defenseman on August 30. Coincidentally, both players had an Amateur Tryout (ATO) with the Ft. Wayne Komets at the end of last season, albeit at different times (Campbell for two games on March 30 & 31, Froese for three games on April 6-8).

St. Norbert College Men’s Hockey Coach Tim Coghlin weighed in on two of his skaters heading west to play for the Steelheads, saying,

“I think Idaho is one of the premier franchises in the ECHL. It’s an exciting time for these kids; they certainly are going into a well-run organization. Andy Brandt, my associate head coach, was the head coach and general manager in Atlanta; he has first-hand knowledge of the ECHL. It’s all thumbs up in terms of Idaho. I’m originally from out west myself in B.C., so I am familiar with where they’re playing and what they’re doing. The coaching staff has done a good job there for a long time.”

Froese, a 25-year-old winger from Estevan, SK, honed his craft in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) for four seasons before attending St. Norbert. He led the team last year in both goals (14) and assists (20), playing in all 32 games for the Green Knights in 2017-18. Complimenting his all-around play, Froese was also named an alternate captain his junior year and lead captain his senior year.

“Tanner has always been able to score goals,” said Coach Coghlin. “he’s always had a good shot. He was Estevan’s leading scorer [in the SJHL] before he came to us. But, he’s also a very good defender. In terms of understanding the game, he’s a 200-foot player. He’s a shooter, but he’s also our top penalty kill forward. His skating continues to improve, and his overall game really blossomed in his senior year. With the ‘C’ on his jersey, he led a young group last year; we had ten freshman on the team. Just keeping his hands around everybody and making sure he’s leading by example and doing the things right in every situation.”

Idaho Steelheads rookie forward Tanner Froese controls the puck at center ice during his collegiate days at St. Norbert College against Concordia University. Photo Credit: St. Norbert College.

Froese has also proved that he has what it takes to thrive in high pressure situations, with St. Norbert College making deep postseason runs three out of the four years he attended.

“He’s done it at the highest possible level,” said Coach Coghlin. “he’s played in some big games. He’s had a lot of success. In the national title game (this year), we won 3-2 in double overtime, and he had three points [Froese assisted on every goal]. He ended, as a senior, winning a national championship while earning Most Outstanding Player of the Frozen Four. In his junior year (2017), we were in the Frozen Four again and got beat in the semifinal. In 2016, we played in the national title game, as well. So as a sophomore, junior, and senior…he’s in the Frozen Four every year and been on long stretches of playoff runs. He’s been an invaluable piece of our puzzle for a long time.”

Alongside Froese, Campbell attended four years at St. Norbert College from 2013 to 2017. He also played in juniors before attending St. Norbert, playing three years split between the Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings and Michigan Warriors of the NAHL. Last season, Campbell was tied for fourth on the team with 15 assists, and like Froese, skated in all 32 games for the Green Knights in 2017-18.

Coach Coghlin: “(Going to Idaho) will be a very good situation for Sean. Sean was a bit of a utility guy for us…a guy that can operate on the first unit. In a perfect world, we’d have two defensemen on the ice when he’s running the power play. Sean has always understood the game at a high level. He was a very good junior player coming in; he’s probably been in our top-four defensemen all four years. This year, he was on our top pair. His play is suited for how the ECHL plays right now. Where he sits on a pro roster, I’ll be interested on how that all shakes out. Terrific young guy, has his head screwed on straight, and will certainly represent our program and his family well.”

Former coach Tim Coghlin described Idaho Steelheads rookie defenseman Sean Campbell as a “top-four defenseman all four years of college” while skating for St. Norbert College in NCAA Division III. Photo Credit: St. Norbert College.

Heading into his 25th season as head coach of the Green Knights, Coghlin has seen many of his former players go on to succeed in the ECHL and beyond as both players and coaches. Coghlin believes that the success of past St. Norbert alumni at the professional level can no doubt translate across for both Froese and Campbell, as well. Coach Coghlin is well-versed in his program’s historic success at the ECHL level, saying,

Spencer Carbery was one of my grads…he was the coach in South Carolina for a long time and is now the head coach in Hershey. Jason Deitsch played in the CHL and the ECHL; he’s the all-time leading scorer in St. Norbert history. We’ve had guys that have had high levels of experience. Joe Perry was down in Orlando; he scored 32 goals a year ago. We’ve got a little bit of a handle on which guys are going to succeed, and I think this is an exciting opportunity for both (Tanner and Sean).”

The full audio interview with Coach Tim Coghlin of St. Norbert College is available below:

ECHL teams may begin on-ice sessions starting September 28. Idaho’s first preseason game is against the Utah Grizzlies at the Maverik Center on Friday, October 5, with the Steelheads’ one and only home preseason match (also against Utah) at CenturyLink Arena on Saturday, October 6.

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