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New coach? No problem! Szkodzinski grateful for 'sincerely special' debut season with Notre Dame

Notre Dame's first-year head coach has guided the defending champion Tritons back to the state tournament. He's also grateful for the "sincerely special" opportunity to coach his former coach's son.
Posted at 9:38 PM, Feb 27, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-27 22:38:36-05

ASHWAUBENON, Wis. (NBC 26) — The state champions will have a chance to defend their title.

Notre Dame boys hockey is headed back to the WIAA state hockey tournament for the 11th time since 2010. It's nothing new for the program, except this time they've done it with a rookie head coach.

  • A year after a perfect 28-0 season, Notre Dame boys hockey is headed back to the state tournament.
  • The Tritons went 14-8-1 this season, overcoming a slow start to march back to Madison.
  • Mike Szkodzinski is in his first year as Notre Dame's head coach. He replaced Cory McCracken, who left for an assistant coaching job at Minnesota State.
  • Szkodzinski previously coached at Lawrence University and played at St. Norbert, where he played for legendary coach Tim Coghlin. Coghlin's son, Joseph, is on Szkodzinski's team at Notre Dame.
  • The No. 2 seeded Tritons will play Madison Edgewood on Friday at 2:30 p.m. at Bob Suter’s Capitol Ice Arena in Middleton.

Mike Szkodzinski's debut season at Notre Dame wasn't perfect.
"It was a big challenge, to be honest with you," Szkodzinski said.

The longtime Lawrence University coach replaced Cory McCracken, who is now an assistant at Minnesota State.

"I think the number one thing was making sure that I gained the trust of the players," Szkodzinski said.

"We've been able to cultivate some big-time trust within our locker room," he added. "That's really been the reason that we've been able to have some success the second half."

Getting to know most players was a process, but with one, Szkodzinski goes way back.

That would be Notre Dame's leading scorer, Joseph Coghlin, whose father, Tim, coached Szkodzinski at St. Norbert in the late 1990s.

"I'd have to say I've known him since I can remember," Coghlin said of Szkodzinski. "He's always been in my life to some extent."

"Coach Coghlin is a mentor, he's a father figure," Szkodzinski said. "He's one of the most influential people I've ever met in my life. And being able to coach his son is sincerely special."

"He's always focused on tomorrow and just tomorrow," Coghlin said of Szkodzinski's coaching style. "Don't worry about what's going to happen in a day or a week. Just worry about tomorrow."

And that's the message this week as the Tritons chase a second straight state title.

"It's one day at a time," Szkodzinski said. "We've done that since day one. And we're going to continue to do that same thing."

"It would be a really cool experience to have that back to back," Coghlin added. "So, we're going to do everything we can for it."