By @MichaelCaples –
ANN ARBOR – It didn’t come as a shock when the matriarch of the Norris family reached out to MiHockey for a photo request this week.
Traci Norris wasn’t the only one that had Michigan vs. Ferris State circled on the calendar for multiple reasons.
The surprising thing – at least to this reporter – was that she asked for Will Lockwood to be in the postgame family photo, too.
More than 50 friends and family were in attendance for the Norris brothers college hockey showdown Thursday – the first of two games between Josh’s Wolverines and Coale’s Bulldogs. But it was also a battle of best friends – a unique triangle of friendships formed by brothers and hockey paths.
During their youth hockey days, Coale and Will – both ’97 birth-year players – were teammates and linemates with the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies AAA program. Will was also a fixture at the Norris household, which meant quality time with both Coale and little brother Josh.
“Will and Coale have been friends for a lot of years,” said Dwayne Norris, father of Coale and Josh. “They played for the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies together and they were linemates on the OJG 16U team. Will went to [USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program] and Coale and Will have been close ever since then, and then, for Josh, being the middle brother, you start to hang out with the older brother’s friends, which was Will. Josh going to NTDP, there were a lot of similarities and paths with Will. The boys are all very close, both Coale and Josh, to Will – a fantastic family and a great kid.”
According to Will, it was never a problem having Josh, a ’99, tagging along with the big kids.
“I think me and Josh became friends through Coale, I was always over in Oxford and hanging out at their house,” Lockwood said. “Josh was always sticking around and hanging out with his older brother, and I always fell in the mix with those guys. We’ve been best friends ever since.
“There was a little bit of annoying little Josh,” he said with a laugh. “Not really, Josh always kind of fit in perfectly with us. Whenever we hung out, he’d be around, whether we were golfing, fishing, whatever, he was there. He fit in perfectly in our friend group.”
While Coale’s hockey path – a year in the NAHL and a year with the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms – put distance between the two friends, Josh’s journey mirrored Will’s.
“When I was at NTDP, he was a good friend of mine,” said Josh, who played on the NTDP team one year younger than Will’s group. “We weren’t the best of friends, but I think since I’ve gotten to Michigan, we’re linemates now and we spend a lot of time together. We have a lot of time to talk about things and for me, I’m a guy who sometimes gets frustrated with myself and I’m too hard on myself and him and Slaker, as well, they’ve helped me with calming myself down and telling me everything’s going to be alright.
“The mentorship from him has been huge.”
The trio have faced each other in competitive situations before, but they all agreed that this one was unique.
“That was awesome,” Coale said after the game. “I played against him a couple times too, but he was my linemate for a couple years with the Grizzlies, and it was special playing against him too. He was one of my best friends growing up. It’s kind of a ‘coming home’ feeling.”
“I think it was the first time I played against him since we tried out for the same team, so it was a bit weird playing against him,” Will said. “He’s been one of my best friends for years and years now. Just to play on the same ice as him was a great experience, and I really look forward to doing it again tomorrow.”
A family reunion at Yost
While it was a big deal for the three close friends, the brother-vs-brother situation was what drew a crazy amount of family and friends to Yost Ice Arena on Thursday.
According to Traci Norris, the family reunion-like event wouldn’t have even been possible for Round 2 of the Wolverines vs. Bulldogs series because they needed so many tickets.
“Oh my gosh, it was awesome,” she said. “Awesome but also hectic. Everybody’s here, and you’re trying to see everybody.
“My 8-year-old twin nephews are here, so they were all over me. They were talking and climbing on me and I’m taking them to the bathroom and buying them drinks – it was fun though, it was good.”
For younger brother Dalton Norris – a member of the OJG U16 Team – it’s admittedly a little confusing. The boys were raised as Michigan State fans, as Dwayne played for the Spartans from 1988-1992. Now, his two brothers are playing for Michigan and Ferris State.
“It is kind of nuts, but I support them, and whatever they do, I’ll keep supporting them.
“[Tonight] was pretty special – having two of the guys in our family and then obviously my dad played college hockey too, so to see two of them on the ice is pretty special.”
No matter the teams they’re playing for, Dwayne said it was a proud moment as a hockey dad to see two of his children sharing the ice at historic Yost.
“As a dad, it is pretty cool,” Dwayne said. “It is pretty surreal. You always hope that when your boys are playing…that you hope they can play at a high level. To have the two boys play against each other, it is pretty special. As a dad, it’s a pretty proud moment.”
Different paths, same spot
Dwayne also said that he loves how college hockey is structured today; his sons may be perfect examples of the different routes into the NCAA. Josh, a first-round NHL Draft pick, is starting at 18 like a typical student, while Coale, a 20-year-old, took advantage of his USHL opportunity to secure a spot on a college roster.
“Yeah, and that’s the beauty of college hockey right now,” Dwayne said. “When I played, everybody went in as a freshman. Now there’s different paths, and you can go in as a 19 or 20-year-old, boys who are more ready to play after junior hockey, and that was Coale’s path and it’s worked out well. It’s about when you’re ready, not when you want to go.”
— MiHockey (@MiHockeyNow) November 2, 2017
Coale, who has already impressed Bulldogs coach Bob Daniels a great deal, is adjusting to life as a student-athlete once again.
“It’s good,” Dwayne said of his son’s freshman season in Big Rapids. “It’s an adjustment for him, he’s been out of school for two years, so a workload of being a student-athlete is difficult, there’s a lot of expectations in the classroom and on the ice, but overall, he’s enjoying it.”
Josh, meanwhile, is already one of the offensive leaders for the Wolverines.
“it’s awesome. At the end of the day, it is not about what I want. It is not about where I played. It is about what’s best for him. We weighed the options at the time, and we felt the way Michigan played was a great fit. Fantastic education. We are all good with it.”
A quick moment to chat
Their paths didn’t cross on the ice too often, but at the start of warm-ups, Josh and Coale met near center ice and stretched together – albeit on their respective sides of the red line.
“We just had a quick moment there in warm-ups where we were stretching together, that was pretty cool,” Josh said in his postgame press conference. “It was a fun night getting to play against him.”
Was there smack talk? No.
“We were just like, wow, you’re playing on one of the biggest stages in college hockey, we’re both here, freshmen, this is a high point in life. It was really special.”
Hey bro. pic.twitter.com/qLHU1GHiWg
— Michael Caples (@michaelcaples) November 2, 2017