Ann Arbor – Josh Norris gained valuable experience playing in a lot of situations as a freshman for Michigan last season. The Wolverines advanced to the Frozen Four, losing a national semifinal game to Notre Dame in the final seconds.
Norris also learned while watching Michigan’s Dexter Dancs, Cooper Marody and Tony Calderone go to work as one of the nation’s premier lines.
Now that the DMC Line has moved on, Norris is providing the scoring as a member of Michigan’s top line in Mel Pearson’s second year as the Wolverines head coach.
Norris, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound center, is already closing in on his goal output (eight, 37 games) of his freshman season, scoring six goals in Michigan’s first seven games. The No. 14 Wolverines (4-3-0) play host to No. 4 Notre Dame to open the Big Ten season in a weekend series beginning Friday night at Yost Arena.
Norris is playing like a player who was picked No. 19 overall by San Jose in the 2017 NHL draft. He was then part of a blockbuster trade in September that sent his rights to Ottawa with two-time Norris trophy award winner Erik Karlsson moving on to the Sharks.
The Wolverines have gone from the DMC Line to the SNL Line, with juniors Jake Slaker and Will Lockwood (Bloomfield Hills) joining Norris.
“He’s been good, elevated his play to another level,” said Pearson of Norris. “Last year was good for Josh, but it was a learning experience, playing against a lot of older guys, stronger guys. He found his way last year. He played in a lot of situations (power play, penalty kill). I think because of the ice time that he earned last year, played in a lot of different situations, I think that’s really helped him for this year.
“He worked hard during the summer. He came back stronger, leaner, quicker and more confident, and you can see it in his game. It translated from what he’s taken in during the summer into this fall and he’s played extremely well.”
Pearson said Norris was set to play with Slaker and Lockwood last season before Lockwood suffered a season-ending injury at the World Junior Tournament during the holiday season.
“They have a chance to be really, really good,” said Pearson of Norris, Slaker and Lockwood. “They like playing together. They all have good skill. They can all finish.
“Josh is the straw that stirs the drink. He’s the guy who controls the puck. He plays in the middle. He can really shoot it. He sees the ice well. Will is more of a scorer, more of an up-and-down speed guy, tries to beat you one-on-one, and then Slaker is the shooter on the line. They all can skate. They all work hard.”
As a freshman, Norris led Michigan forwards in blocked shots (43) and won 56.4 percent of his faceoffs. He was ready to play college hockey after going up against strong competition as a member of the U.S. National Team Development Program.
“There were a lot of ups and downs my freshman year, times where you may lose your confidence a little bit,” said Norris. “I thought I did a lot of work over the summer both physically and mentally, felt I gained a lot of experience and matured a lot.”
Norris enters the weekend series on a five-game goal streak. He has at least one point in each of the seven games.
“It’s kind of fun when pucks just start finding you and they go in,” Norris said. “I’ve had two great linemates in Locks and Slaker and we have some pretty good chemistry right now.
“They are both really fast, probably two of the fastest guys on the team. Slakes can really shoot the puck, he can score off the rush. He’s good at making plays in tight, and Will is another guy who can fly. He’s really good one-on-one and he’s found me a couple of times this year. And, myself, I feel I’m a bigger guy who skates really well, can finish, can make plays. I feel like we all complement each other.”
Norris’ father, Dwayne, met his mother, Traci, while at Michigan State, where Dwayne played for Ron Mason from 1988-92. Dwayne Norris would go on to play professionally for 15 years, including 11 in Germany, where Josh was born. Josh fell in love with hockey hanging around the rink with his father and friends.
Why did Norris pick Michigan over MSU?
“It was a tough decision,” Norris said. “But when I was deciding Michigan was a powerhouse and they had a lot of big names, like Dylan Larkin and Zach Werenski. I guess ultimately I just thought it was the best place for me to develop as a player and a person and I’ve loved every minute of it so far.”
Now, Notre Dame is next up for the Wolverines and Norris is looking forward to it.
“It’s great anytime you can play Notre Dame – the rivalry goes way back – and we had some great games last year,” Norris said. “They beat us with a couple of seconds left in the Frozen Four and it kind of left a bitter taste in our mouth. We want to be ready to have a great weekend because we know they have a great team. We have to be disciplined and ready to play right from the start.”