LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — This is not a normal week for the Colby College hockey team. In more ways than one.

While the Mules are preparing for their first NCAA Division III Frozen Four berth in program history at Herb Brooks Arena, they’re also preparing for something else: Exams.

“We’ve had a little different challenge than maybe some other teams. We’ve got 17 guys taking midterms while we’re here,” Colby head coach Blaise MacDonald said. “Half the guys did it (Thursday) morning, the other half are doing it right after practice here.”

The team has had to split its focus in the middle of an unprecedented run for the program, on the one hand preparing to play in the biggest hockey weekend of their collective lives to date while also balancing the books.

MacDonald expected that by Thursday night the team would finally allow itself to really indulge itself in the experience of the Frozen Four.

“It’s hard to totally get all your focus and joy out, because you know you’ve got to do the schoolwork,” MacDonald said. “Our kids are here for the reason and not just the season, but I’m really impressed with how their spirit is — not nervous, excited to play, embracing and taking it all in what Lake Placid has to offer from an historical perspective.”

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Colby has maintained its focus during this emotional, up-and-down run from one potential elimination game to the next over the last month. So far, the Mules are 5-0 in five straight playoff elimination games heading into the Frozen Four.

After Justin Grillo’s goal in the final fractions of a second last weekend against Geneseo lifted the Mules to the national semifinals, they allowed themselves just a day or two to bask in the emotional high before moving on.

“I think we’ve been really good all year, especially in the playoffs, about turning the page the next day and focusing on what we have the next weekend,” senior defenseman Michael Decker said. “Guys were ready after a long trip back Sunday last weekend— a couple airplanes, a couple buses — we’re just ready to get going again and get back on the ice.”

MacDonald said it’s been a consistent characteristic of the team.

“I think they have the ability to go in and out of those sort of emotions pretty seamlessly,” MacDonald said.

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Much is made of the Olympic-sized ice rink at Herb Brooks Arena — at 100 feet wide, it’s 15 feet wider than the standard-sized sheet — but for Colby goaltender Sean Lawrence, he’s not noticing a lot of difference.

“I don’t think it really changes much. The dots are all in the same spots — the middle dot and the neutral zone dots are all in the same spots,” said Lawrence, who has a 2-0 record with a 1.50 goals against average and .959 save percentage in the NCAA tournament. “The only thing if you really take it into account is that the blue lines are a little bit wider and shots from the outside you have a little bit more time on, but the dots are in the same spots. That’s mostly what I use for references.

“I’ve played on bigger sheets before. I’m used to the big sheet. It’s just another game.”

Sophomore winger Kienan Scott, who is tied for the Colby lead with 11-15-26 totals, can’t wait to take his game to the bigger rink.

“Yes. Absolutely,” Scott said. “It kind of suits the faster, maybe the more skilled players. It kind of suits my game a bit more. I think it’s going to be a big advantage to us against St. Norbert. They’re a big and more physical team than us, and I think having more space is going to play to our advantage.”

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St. Norbert (25-4-1) head coach Tim Coghlin says he has a team perfectly suited to play this weekend on the big ice.

The top-ranked Green Knights incorporated 10 freshmen into their lineup this season after reaching the Frozen Four a year ago and losing in the semifinals. The team was unbeaten at the Christmas break, at 11-0-1, before stumbling a bit in January with three straight losses.

“That kind of turned us upside down, but (a 5-1 win at Trine) got us back on track,” Coghlin said. “We looked at the type of game we were playing on video, early in the year and later in the year — and we could start to see why scoring opportunities were up and our scoring defense was down.”

What Coghlin saw, he thinks, translates to the Frozen Four.

“I was reminded of something looking at our roster from last year, when I compared it to the team this year,” Coghlin said. “This group this year is going to do just fine on the big sheet with that type of game. In the past, out of the west, it tends to be a little more of a grindfest.”

• • •

After losing six of seven games to begin January, there has been a lot of analysis done — internally and externally — about what Colby has done so well over the final third of the season.

In the end, it might just boil down to horseshoes.

Colby players are honored with a horseshoe sticker on their helmet for leading the team in blocked shots, shots on goal or the biggest body check of the night — and Decker thinks the desire of every player to earn one of those coveted horseshoes speaks to a larger sentiment.

“No one wants to be the first or second loser (in the Frozen Four),” Decker said. “I think it’s all the little things we’ve been priding ourselves on. A lot of guys have really been talking about the horseshoes, which is a huge part of our culture here. … Just doing the little details that our team really prides ourselves on has been the big thing.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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