Possessing deep ties to the state of Michigan, 20-year-old Josh Norris has wasted no time making an impact for the Belleville (Ontario) Senators in the American Hockey League (AHL).
Through his first 40 games, he has totaled 38 points, most among AHL rookies. An affiliate of the Ottawa Senators, Norris’ success in Belleville has put up him on the precipice of his National Hockey League debut.
This success has been the result of a lot of early mornings and late nights, and Norris’ journey to where he is today is an intercontinental one that includes a local touch.
“I was born in Commerce Township and lived part of each of my first 10 years in Germany,” he shared. “My mom is from Holly and her sister lived in Oxford. We knew a lot of people out here from youth baseball and other things like that, so we moved out here (to Oxford) and I stayed until I was 16-years-old.”
Norris’ father, Dwayne, played collegiately for the Michigan State Spartans from 1988-92 and professionally in Canada, Germany and the United States – including time in the NHL with the Anaheim Ducks and the Quebec Nordiques (now known as the Colorado Avalanche) – from 1992-2007.
Following the conclusion of his playing career, Dwayne served as the general manager of the Frankfurt (Germany) Lions of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga until the team folded in May 2010. He then returned to the United States and accepted a position with the Oakland Junior Grizzlies as the club’s Hockey Director.
Playing for his father as a member of the Grizzlies, Josh began to shine and attracted the attention of the United States National Development Team. Competing for Team USA for two seasons in the United States Hockey League, the top junior league sanctioned by USA Hockey, Norris racked up a total of 33 points in 49 games and put himself on the map as one of the country’s top prospects and an early selection in the NHL Draft.
When it came time for the younger Norris to make his college selection, he elected to go in a different direction than his father had, taking his game to Ann Arbor to play for the Michigan Wolverines.
“It was a great experience,” Josh said of his time as a Wolverine. “We advanced all the way to the Frozen Four my freshman year, and my second year was off to a really nice start, played really well the first half of the season but then I got hurt and had the shoulder surgery.
“Made a lot of great friends there that I still have to this day, too. It was an awesome experience, other than the injury, I’d do it 100 times over again.”
Playing for head coach Mel Pearson from 2017-19, Norris collected 43 points in 54 games during his time at Michigan.
Unlike the National Basketball Association or National Football League, players can continue to compete in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) events even after being drafted by an NHL team. This is true in the case in almost all the draft’s top players annually, including Norris.
On June 23, 2017 – about four months before his inaugural campaign with the Wolverines began – Norris was selected by the San Jose Sharks in the first round (19th overall) of the NHL Draft at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
“It was a dream come true,” Norris said of draft night. “I had a lot of family and friends in Chicago with me which made it even better.”
Just as he was wrapping his mind around a possible future on the West Coast, however, Norris was introduced to the nature of the business in the NHL as he was traded to Ottawa barely over a year later as part of the blockbuster Erik Karlsson deal on Sept. 13, 2018.
“It was a little bit of a shock,” he shared when first hearing of the trade. “But I get it, it’s a business and I think it’s been really good for my development. We’re having a great year here in Belleville, so I’m really happy.”
While Norris’ individual success has its clear benefits, he is most proud of the success the Senators are collectively having. Posting a 24-13-4 record (52 points) at the time of this article’s publication, Ottawa trails the Utica (New York) Comets by just two points for first place in the North Division.
“We’ve been clicking really well,” he said. “Lots of good young guys on this team. Took us a little while to find our stride, but once we got about 10-15 games into the season, we found it and we’ve been playing much better.
“Hopefully we can continue to have fun and keep it going.”
Founded in 1972 as the New Haven (Connecticut) Nighthawks, the franchise adopted the Senators moniker in 1992 and moved to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in 1993, the organization’s first foray into Canada.
The team would only last three years in Charlottetown, however, as they folded concluding the 1995-96 season due to attendance woes. The franchise would return in 2002 as the Binghamton (New York) Senators after a six-year hiatus. It was during their time in Binghamton the club captured their first – and only – Calder Cup, coming in 2010-11.
Since moving to Belleville in 2017, the organization has yet to qualify for the postseason. Perhaps all they needed was a touch of Oxford to change that.