LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — This is not a normal week for the Colby College hockey team.

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,” said Colby Coach Blaise MacDonald, whose team will play St. Norbert (25-4-1) at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the semifinals.

“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.

MacDonald expected that by Thursday night the team would finally allow itself to really indulge 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.”

Colby has maintained its focus during this emotional, up-and-down run from one potential elimination game to the next over the last month. The Mules are 5-0 in 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.

ST. NORBERT incorporated 10 freshmen into its lineup this season after reaching the Frozen Four a year ago and losing in the semifinals. The team was unbeaten at the Christmas break (11-0-1) before losing three straight in January.

“That kind of turned us upside down, but (a 5-1 win at Trine) got us back on track,” said Coach Tim Coghlin. “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.”

AFTER LOSING 6 of 7 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 game – 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.”

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