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WIAA State Tournament Flashback: Cory McCracken, 2023 D-1 Championship Coach

By Matt Carey, Contributor, 02/25/24, 12:15PM CST

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Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Matt Carey and do not reflect the opinions of Wisconsin Prep Hockey or its partners.

Cory McCracken coached Notre Dame to last year’s 2023 WIAA D-1 Championship with a 28-0 record. Cory is one of only four coaches in WIAA history dating back to 1971 to win a WIAA championship with an undefeated team. Bill Howard in 1976 & 1977 with Madison Memorial, Vic Levine in 1985 with Madison Memorial, and Mike Schwengler at Eau Claire Memorial in 2008 are the only other coaches to win a WIAA championship with an undefeated team.

Cory McCracken coached Notre Dame from 2006 to 2023. Cory made WIAA State 10 times, won two WIAA championships and was runner up once. Cory had four players drafted in NHL, two play in NHL, 19 players went NCAA D-1, two players made the NTDP, and several others made the final NTDP camp.

After a remarkable tenure as Notre Dame’s coach, Cory McCracken accepted an opportunity to become an NCAA D-1 coach. This season Cory is an assistant coach at NCAA D-1 Minnesota State.

“Cory walked in our door with a comprehensive plan on how to build a program for long term success. He realized it would take time, but if the student-athletes would accept his ideas and vision it could become one of the better programs in state. Over the next decade he proved to all of us at Notre Dame that his vision was correct. Cory meant so much to the kids at ND as he really became a mentor to his players and always was working toward helping them find success at ND and then beyond. Cory and his assistants always worked towards putting the players in a position to succeed in hockey and just as importantly in school. I think Notre Dame and our students were much better off having Cory in their lives.” Ken Flaten, athletic director that hired Cory McCracken at Notre Dame.

“Cory was one of the huge reasons that Notre Dame won a state championship. With his extremely intelligent hockey mind and voice, he guided us throughout the championship run. He held everyone accountable and got the very best out of every single player. Along with that, he made it extremely enjoyable for everyone on the team and created a lifelong relationship with everyone. Personally, he was a huge influence on my hockey journey and has really shaped me into the player and person I am today.” Drew Schock, player on Notre Dame 2023 WIAA championship team, committed to play NCAA D-1 for Michigan Wolverines.

“Cory understood the most important thing was the relationship with players. He took the time to get to know the players on a personal level. He strongly believed that a relationship builds trust and once a player trusts you have their best interest, they would become extremely coachable. He was vested in every kid’s development. Cory always wanted to get better, and he continuously connected with junior and college coaches. He would always say if I’m asking the kids to spend time with video and do all the off-ice training to get better, then I have a responsibility to put the time in to get better also. It was his relentless pursuit to keep up with the modern game. Cory has a passion for the game, and most importantly a passion to help others succeed and reach their dreams. It was an absolute pleasure being on his coaching staff.” Sil Mirao, assistant coach (17 seasons with Cory McCracken), Notre Dame Academy

Let’s meet Cory McCracken!

What memory stands out most about the 2023 WIAA championship team? How coachable they were, it was a coach’s dream. They had high hockey IQ, and they were willing to learn and try new things. The development of the players as the season went on. They continued to get better as the season went along. Most importantly, it was all about team success and no selfishness. It was such a positive group, a fun group!

What motivated you to become a coach? My passion for teaching. The root of what I do is teaching. This is an age that I enjoy working with. The players at this age need to figure out how to put the pieces together. It is rewarding to help them put those pieces together.

What skills or attributes made you so successful? My work ethic and being a continuous learner. I spend time going back to learn more that I can teach. I try to maximize the potential in each player.

Congratulations on getting hired at Minnesota State. Thank you!

What are the differences, and are there similarities, between coaching NCAA D-1 and WIAA? There are a lot of differences. It (NCAA D-1) is more disciplined and structured. I wear a lot of hats now; on ice coaching, recruiting and on the road recruiting. Being detached from players when I am on the road recruiting is the biggest challenge and difference now. The similarity is the players are student athletes trying to navigate their hockey and academic schedules.

Who were your coaching mentors? Luke Strand and I spent a lot of time around each other. Luke has always been willing to share and give me a lot of his knowledge. Brad Byce and I talked a lot when working together with Team Wisconsin. I learned a lot from Mark Osiecki also.

What advice do you have for young coaches? Number one is the relationship. The person matters as much as the player. Second is to be a learner. The game has evolved and continues to evolve, and things done 10 years ago may not work now. You must be uncomfortable as a coach to grow.

Final thoughts to share with players that aspire to play after high school? Seek out information from those that have done it already. This will allow them to understand the process. Players need to learn what work is required to have consistency in their game. Then they need to put in the work, and the investment of time and work goes beyond the minimum requirement for your team. Players need to invest more time working on their game away from the team. They need to develop their blind spots, which is why they need to seek out those that have done it already.

A sincere thank you to Cory McCracken!

Yours for hockey, Matt Carey

 

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