Editor’s note: Times Argus Sports Editor Anna Grearson is in Lake Placid, N.Y., with the Norwich University men’s hockey team covering the Division III NCAA Frozen Four. Follow her on Twitter: @annagrearson for the live updates.
By ANNA GREARSON
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Norwich University is the nation’s oldest private military college, and it also happens to be one of the nation’s top Division III hockey programs.
Both came together in an emotional display at historic Herb Brooks Arena on the Olympic Center campus Thursday as a flag sent from Afghanistan by a former Cadets hockey star, 1st Lt. Rico Piatelli, was draped inside the Norwich locker room.
“That’s unbelievable,” Norwich freshman defenseman Nick Poulin said before Friday afternoon’s semifinal against No. 5-seeded St. Norbert. “To represent your school and the history of the school, so I’m pretty proud to see it and be part of the team.”
The American flag hung just inside the door to the team’s dressing room, a symbol of patriotism, sacrifice and honor they would walk by several times over the course of the tournament.
“Hopefully we’ll have another one tomorrow,” Poulin said of his team’s hope to play for its fourth national title.
The flag came with a plaque that reads: “Let it be known that these Stars and Stripes were flown over Forward Operating Base Finley-Shields, Jalalabad, Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom XI in honor of Norwich Men’s Hockey Team on this the 15th Day of June, 2011.”
It is signed by Maj. Dan Wallestad and Piatelli, who graduated from Norwich in 2009 with a degree in financial economics and as a corporal in Norwich’s Corps of Cadets.
The forward from Danvers, Mass., recently returned from a tour of duty and brought the flag with him to the Northfield campus.
“Coach talked to the team about the history and tradition of Norwich, and about the history behind the flag,” NU assistant coach Cory Gustafson said. “He talked about the people and sacrifice behind it all.”
Cadets head coach Mike McShane showed the players the flag earlier this week before they departed for Lake Placid, and they hung it up before practice Thursday.
“They do an unbelievable job over there, and we want to do the same thing,” said Poulin, who was inactive for Friday’s semifinal. “We want to do our best. We want to win again — that’s the most important thing.
“He’s like a symbol to us,” Poulin said of Piatelli. “We want to do (well) as a team, and we want to win as a team.”
“Team” suddenly presented a whole other level of significance for the top-seeded Cadets as they prepared for the challenges ahead of them in Lake Placid.
Follow Anna on Twitter: @annagrearson
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