Q & A with NDA’s State Champion Hockey Coach Shows His Passion for Sports, Love for Team


The man behind the success of the state champion hockey team is Head Coach Cory McCracken.  Thankfully, he answered questions for the Online Tritonian about his coaching style, players, and key moments of the season.

Q.  How long have you been the hockey coach at NDA?  Had you coached anywhere else before coming here?  Do you have a particular coach or mentor that has influenced your approach to coaching?

A. Seventeen years coaching at NDA.  Prior to WIAA hockey starting in Green Bay I coached the club high school team in De Pere from 1998-2003.  Started a family in 2003 and paused coaching for a few years.

I have several mentors and close friends in the game.  Luke Strand is a close friend of mine (current assistant coach at Ohio State University).  Mark Osiecki (Wisconsin), Brad Byce (Team Wisconsin).  My approach to coaching is constantly evolving.

I try to stay modern in tactics and trends in the game.  To stay modern and evolve as a coach I watch a lot of hockey, learn from others that are considered at or near the top of the game in coaching.  I have a style of hockey that appeals to me, which tends to appeal to our players.  Great coaches are always stealing from others that do it well.

One of the funnest parts of coaching is brainstorming with others and forming your own opinion on how you would do something.  Teach it, apply it and have your players learn from it/apply it.

I have always been passionate about learning and studying the game.  I feel it is my obligation to my players to put them in the best possible situation for success–both short and long term.

Q. What is your background in hockey?  Did you play in high school and where?  in college and where?  If not from Green Bay, what led you here?

A. I grew up in Green Bay and played locally in youth hockey, De Pere youth hockey through high school.  I was a multiple-sport athlete in high school–football, hockey and golf at West DePere.  I chose to pursue the golf path following high school.  Hockey did not have the opportunities then as it does now.

I started coaching while in college. My first assistant coaching job was a bantam team in De Pere youth hockey in 1995.  I really found a passion for hockey on the coaching side.

Q. How does it feel to win the state championship?  Like a load off your shoulders? 

A. I am really proud of the group and their state championship.  Those that are unfamiliar with our program do not really understand just how hard our players work to be great.  The process starts in early June with our off-season workout program.  I don’t measure success or failure by winning state championships.  However, I know our players really wanted to see how good they could be as a team.

Not really a load off my shoulders as much as validation that all the work that we put in as a program continues to be worth it.  All the time our players invest in our team, our team culture, our development model has paid off.  I am thrilled for our players, my staff and specifically our leadership group. They started out as freshmen losing in the state championship game. To end their career as a state champion has been a long time coming for them.  They were exceptional leaders–inclusive, culture builders and leaders by example daily. The team chemistry this group had is the primary piece of their success.

Q. A teacher told me last week that she was going to the Cornerstone match with Bayport because “the hockey boys are such great guys; their coach has done a good job in building their character, for they are so considerate and caring.”  Do you feel a kind of parent-like feeling for the members of the team?  Like you are all family and have a reputation to uphold? 

A. Wow – what a great statement from that teacher!  To me coaching is all encompassing. You coach the person as much as the player.  The coaching staff tries to instill a foundation of expectations within our program.  Part of those expectations are to treat others with respect.  Be great student-athletes. Make great decisions on and off the ice that are reflective of the core values our school has set in place.

Like I said in an earlier answer, our leadership group and specifically our captains do a great job of setting the example of what good looks like.  We discuss decision-making, both as a group and individually, constantly.

I spend a great deal of time around our players from the start of summer and throughout our season. The relationship I build with the players is from a place of care and love.  So yes, a bit of a parent-type feel.

I also feel it is a personal responsibility to build leaders and quality young people that can positively impact our world outside of hockey.  We do have a reputation to uphold.  The hockey team wants to uphold a tradition of excellence on and off the ice.  We have won the academic team award for our section each of the last four years.  The team average GPA is 3.76. The group is a high-performing team on and off the ice.  For that, I am incredibly proud of each player.

Q.  Could you name any deciding or critical moment in the season and why it was such a turning point or significant event?

A. There is not really any one moment that stands out as critical. There were many moments that as a coach you look at it from a perspective of growth and helping form a team identity. The opening weekend of tournament play in Eau Claire was really a dominant performance by our group.  We made a statement and put others on notice that our team had potential to be very good.

The first Bay Port game was a testament to our resilience.  We found ourselves in a 1-0 game late and tied the game with 8 seconds left in regulation.  Went on to win the game in OT.  We did not play our best that night; however, we found a way to win.

The trip to Michigan in early February was another major step in the right direction for us.  We put a full 51-minute performance together vs Brother Rice–a statement game for us.  At that point, I knew what we were capable of if we put it all together for three periods.

The following day we beat a very good Detroit Catholic Central team 2-1.  That game felt like a state championship style game.  Two very, very good teams going toe-to-toe and not giving up much space or time.  We had to win a game in a very playoff style approach.  At that point it was two unbeaten teams.  Catholic Central had beaten a previously unbeaten Houghton, MI, team the night before, the highlight game of the MIHL Showcase.

At that point all the buzz started around “unbeaten” and “undefeated” season.  From then on our group handled the outside noise really well.  The group stayed focused on preparing for the playoff stretch and ultimately a tough matchup with Bay Port in the section final.

Q. What are your favorite memories from the season?  What are your hopes for the youngsters on the team?

A. Favorite memories. . .The top memory is for sure the state tournament and specifically how we played in the state championship game.  We started fast and dominated a good Verona team from start to finish.  Other memories that stand out include the Bay Port sectional final game and regular season game we won in OT plus the MIHL Showcase weekend.

For me as a coach some of my best memories are watching our players in practice daily apply what is being taught and see that be performed and applied in games.  The games become their opportunity to apply the artistry of this game.  For me that artistry is repetition based in practice to game application.

We put several new pieces into our team game this season.  We took advantage of our speed, skill and talent.  We were one of the very few high school teams that had a backend that could play offense from the offensive blue line, join or lead the rush with consistent success.

Favorite memories include seeing individual players have massive success and well-deserved recognition.  Drew and Sam practicing with the National Team Development Program.  Hunter won the Player of the Year Award.  Drew getting invited to the NTDP Player Evaluation Camp.  Sam’s setting a state tournament championship game scoring record with five points.  Seeing our entire roster play well in the state championship game.  Contribution from top to bottom of our lineup.  Our team had great success.  Team success leads to individual recognition and success as well.  We had seven all-state players.  Drew Schock and Michael McIntee were finalists for the Defenseman-of-the-Year Award.  Drew was the Player of the Year in the FRCC.  Players were rewarded for all of their hard work and commitment to excellence.

We also have several players that will get their recognition in time.  That time is coming in 2023-2024 after the work is put in!

Hopes for younger players?  A great year to grow and develop with tremendous mentors and leaders around them.  Next year becomes their time to shine and carry the torch forward.

Although we graduate a very decorated and talented group of seniors, we also return a lineup with tremendous experience.  Some of our younger players have been in big roles since their start in our program.

Hockey is unique.  Freshmen or sophomores can make a big impact, and we had several that did just that.  My expectation for younger players is really simple.  The team culture is dynamic.  The younger players now become experienced returning players.

The expectations and standards in our program will not drop.  I am completely confident that younger players can step right in and perform at a high level.  I will need exceptional leaders, starting with leadership by example amongst their peers.  We will certainly get back to work in early June with the intent of becoming a great team again.