News 3 days ago

Norris' passion for hockey could lead to college career -- and beyond

The Frederick News-Post — Joe Ferraro The Frederick News-Post, Md.

March 19--During the long car ride from Thurmont to Brick, New Jersey, Jamie Norris found his son's silence a bit peculiar.

Usually, he and Dominic Norris are engaged in long conversations during these long weekly Saturday road trips, rambling about subjects ranging from hockey strategy for upcoming games to Dominic's future to school and movies.

But the behavior didn't raise any serious red flags with Jamie, who simply dropped off Dominic at the hotel of his USPHL Islanders Hockey Club junior hockey team. On that day, nothing about Dominic's play on the ice gave Jamie much reason to be concerned as the Catoctin High School senior had two assists in a 6-1 win over the Jersey Shore Whalers. In another against the Whalers the following day, Jaime didn't see Dominic's usual crisp skating and had a brief conference with his son between the second and third periods.

"He's telling me he can't breathe," Jamie recalls.

The leading scorer for the Islanders and someone who has aspirations of playing college and professional hockey, Dominic still played in the third period, scoring the eventual game-winning goal, his second of the game, in a 5-4 victory.

It wasn't until a doctor's visit five days later, after any antibiotics Dominic took to address what appeared to be a severe cold didn't remedy his illness, that he was diagnosed with pneumonia. If the doctor hadn't advised against traveling to West Springfield, Massachusetts, the following day, Jamie figures, Dominic wouldn't have thought twice about making the 5-hour, 30-minute trip for two more junior hockey games that weekend.

"It's his passion," Jamie said. "Ice hockey is definitely Dom's passion -- in all aspects.

"Whether he's helping kids by coaching them, whether he's playing a serious, high-level junior game or whether he's playing for his high school team or men's league or pickup, it's his passion."

The fact that Dominic wanted to play despite having a serious illness only scratches the surface of that passion, which becomes a prerequisite for the willingness to travel great distances just to play high-level junior hockey while also competing for a Maryland Student Hockey league during the 2016-17 school year. The two seasons overlapped for months, often requiring Dominic to play Friday night MSHL games for the Frederick County Kings, get up at 6 a.m. the following morning and then travel to a USPHL game in either Massachusetts, New Jersey or Virginia. The Islanders' home rink is in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts -- a small town that neighbors the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border -- requiring a seven-hour drive.

Add up all the trips since last September, and Jaime's Lincoln MKX has racked up 41,000 miles, with the father and son spending a total of 31 nights in hotels. At no point during the season, Dominic claims, did hockey become a chore -- for him or his family. When Dominic's older brother, Jonathan, was heavily involved in hockey, the Norris family often scheduled family vacations around hockey tournaments. If the brothers played games at the same time, Jaime's wife, Michelle, attended Jonathan's games while Jamie and his daughter, Olivia, followed Dominic.

"I know a lot of people say me and my family are pretty crazy for all the sacrifice and all the road trips up and back," Dominic said. "But I wouldn't trade it for anything. ... I was amped up for every single weekend. If I had a weekend off, I was bumming."

If Norris experienced any fatigue, it didn't become apparent for those who routinely saw him make an impact throughout the course of the season. He led the Kings -- a Frederick County co-op team that included high school players from Catoctin, Thomas Johnson, Brunswick and Linganore -- with 84 points, averaging six points per match.

Norris' production on Saturdays and Sundays for the Islanders Hockey Club may have been more impressive considering his games came on the heels of long treks from Thurmont. Over 43 games, he piled up 73 points (32 goals, 41 assists). Part of that success, Norris said, stems from the fact that he genuinely enjoys being with Islanders teammates he has known for years. He first started playing with one of them, Brandon Nale, in Maine when the two were 6 years old.

Norris found himself falling asleep during the Saturday morning drives but possessed what he described as an internal alarm clock that consistently woke him up just as he and his father crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge, which allows motorists to cross the Hudson River just north of New York City.

"A lot of the times, your adrenaline is pumping for the next day, it's hard to get some sleep," Norris said. "You're really just super excited to be in your home locker room, ready to go."

If anything, Norris' play with the Islanders illustrates how much his passing skills and decision-making have improved.

Norris has long possessed a hard, accurate shot and the strong skating skills required to be a potent goal-scorer. He finished his high school career with the Kings as the MSHL's all-time leader in goals (156) and points (244).

Paul Veillette, who once served as the director of hockey operation at Skate Frederick, first taught Norris how to skate before the latter turned 3. Norris had the fortune of learning from someone who grew up in the hockey-crazy town of Timmins in Ontario, Canada.

As a 10-year-old, Norris won a skills competition -- it accounted for shot accuracy, shot speed and stick-handling skills -- at Mellon Area -- the former home of the Pittsburgh Penguins -- while competing against players in the Pittsburgh area. Two years later, he won a Washington Capitals shootout competition during which he and a goalie competed for Maryland against a shooter and a goalie from Virginia.

But since he progressed through high school, Norris, who has logged most of his time at left wing while playing junior hockey, has worked on improving his patience and timing within the flow of the game. For example, Norris might wait an extra second or two and absorb a check to get a goalie sliding toward him before delivering a pass to an open teammate on the opposite side of the ice.

"Some people may see the pass too late and not get it there or [not see] the opening for the goal or the chance to save a goal," Norris said. "With all the hockey and the high level that I've been playing since I was little, I really think that all that has paid off into getting my vision on the ice at a really high level."

Combine that with his goal-scoring ability and the fact that he's 6 feet, 3 inches tall and 230 pounds, and Norris becomes difficult to defend.

"When you have the speed and the tools with the hands and the shot and the patience and the vision ... you're a big threat on the ice," Norris said.

It's a package of skill Norris hopes will land him an opportunity to play collegiate hockey. Most schools that offer college hockey wait until promising players have exhausted their junior hockey eligibility -- Norris has two years of eligibility remaining.

Norris called a return to the Islanders a possibility because his linemates, Nale and Robert Norwalk, are likely to return. However, Norris has also attracted interest from the Central Canada Hockey League and the Ontario Junior Hockey League. Both leagues are known for developing future NHL players, and because of their reputations, participation in either league could possibly accelerate the start of Norris' collegiate career. So could his overall skill set.

Playing some form of professional hockey after college remains Norris' biggest long-term goal. Regardless of how long he spends competing on the ice, Norris plans on sharing his knowledge as a coach at some point. He has already started to mentor players on the 14-and-under Frederick Freeze, an area club team.

Norris, never forgetting the role Veillette and others have played in his development as a hockey player, wants to give back to the sport.

"I've always wanted to take that advice and experience to make them the best hockey player they can be," Norris said of working with Freeze players. "A lot of coaches have shown me so much."

After Norris worked with Freeze defenseman John Rempe on his slapshot for about a week, Rempe scored a game-winning goal on a shot he lifted into the upper half of the net.

Chris Wetzel, the Freeze's head coach, called Norris after the game and told him he had just won a game for the Freeze.

Wetzel said Norris can relate to his players well because of his youth, making communication an easier task. However, he sees the manner in which Norris conducts himself as conducive to coaching now or in the future.

"I think the biggest thing is he has respect for the players, and [he's] willing to give feedback in a constructive way," Wetzel said.

For now, Norris seems ticketed for a professional career of some sort, according to people in hockey circles who are telling him he has the tools to earn a paycheck somewhere, whether it be playing minor league hockey in the United States or competing overseas in Europe or Russia.

"It's always been my dream to play professional hockey, and it doesn't have to be the NHL," Norris said. "But I would love to play anywhere where you are getting paid to play and getting paid to do what you love."

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