Goalkeeper Ryan Klingensmith
learned how to shine on Norwich ice © March 12, 2010, Norwich University Office of Communications

Norwich senior Ryan Klingensmith helped take the Cadets 2009/10 men’s ice hockey team to the NCAA Div. III playoffs as starting goalie.

photo by Jay EricsonNorwich senior Ryan Klingensmith helped take the Cadets 2009/10 men’s ice hockey team to the NCAA Div. III playoffs as starting goalie.

As a college freshman who loved hockey but was not skilled enough to be recruited, Ryan Klingensmith sometimes let himself dream an unlikely fantasy: He’d start practicing on the Norwich University team as a walk-on player. One day, the coach would let him into the game. He would do well and start playing regularly, eventually leading his team to a national tournament.

“It’s a storybook type of moment,” Klingensmith admitted.

Sitting amid the maroon and gold seats of an empty Kreitzberg Arena, Norwich’s state-of-the-art ice rink, Klingensmith described how he fell in love with hockey as a kid growing up in Pennsylvania, but never played until seventh grade.

Four years later, Klingensmith’s dream has come true. The senior is the 2009/10 starting goalkeeper for the Cadets, and helped the team capture its eighth ECAC East championship in March 2010 and the NCAA Div. III tournament.

“My parents didn’t let me,” he said. “They thought I’d grow out of it. ... I never gave up asking my parents to play. They finally figured it wasn’t a phase.”

A starter in high school, Klingensmith decided to attend Norwich, the country’s oldest private military college, mainly because he was interested in a military career and the nursing program. Still, he gave hockey a shot.

Klingensmith guards the net in a December 2009 match against Hamilton College.

photo by Jay EricsonKlingensmith guards the net in a December 2009 match against Hamilton College.

Head coach Michael McShane remembers meeting Klingensmith. “He was very young looking, he looked 13. He was a very lean kid. He couldn’t have weighed more than 140 pounds,” he said. “Initially, he had trouble staying with program; with the workouts.”

“We had no expectations,” said Assistant Coach Fred Coan. “He was going to be our third goalie, our practice goalie. We told him that. We told him, ‘Don’t expect to get into games.’”

Juggling a rigorous schedule as a nursing major and member of the Corps of Cadets, he had little spare time for the team, but Klingensmith still came to practices religiously. He was rocked by the intensity of college hockey—it was much tougher than he’d imagined.

“I thought I was better than I was,” he said. “Being here brought me down to reality.”

That first year, he played just two minutes. Coaches expected him to drop out, but Klingensmith never gave up.

“He worked hard,” recalled Coan. “He never complained that he didn’t get into any games.”

Klingensmith devoted the summer after freshmen year to hockey, attending the Dave Marlin Goaltending Academy in Downingtown, Penn. After a year of physical training with the Corps and a summer of intensive workouts, he came back to campus a new person.

“When he came back sophomore year, we could see he was much stronger physically. And his mental [game] was focused better. He was ready to compete for playing time,” said Coan.

One goalie had graduated, so Klingensmith became the backup. McShane decided to reward his hard work, and made him starting goalie for the January 2008 Times Argus Invitational championship game against Babson College.

“I could sense he was playing well,” said McShane. “Everyone thought I was nuts putting him in a big game like that. He played well. We won.”

In another early starting game, 17 Klingensmith saves in the third period led to a shutout. “He proved he was the real deal,” said McShane.

By junior year, Klingensmith was starting and teammates were impressed by his growth and steadiness.

“Ever since Ryan became starting goalie, he’s been really consistent,” said team captain Eric Tallent. “He shows up every day focused and ready to go. With Ryan, we know we’re going to get the same player every single night.”

Coaches and teammates credit the Corps as one element of his success.

“Being in the Corps definitely helped him,” said Coan. “Physical training is a big part of their program. ... And his mental toughness also comes from being in the Corps.”

Klingensmith agreed. “The Corps taught me how to block things out; to block out distractions. I learned to focus on what I need to do.”

“Norwich has taught me a lot about discipline and hard work,” he added. “Nothing comes easy. You have to work hard for what you want to accomplish, whether in sports or academics or just being in the Corps. You have to know what you have to do. You set goals and work at them. If you don’t set goals, and think you can do well, probably you won’t do well.”

Klingensmith isn’t sure what follows graduation—one option is a nursing career, the other is playing hockey overseas.

This year, Klingensmith’s prowess has led to the team’s Number 1 ECAC ranking and 23-1-4 record. His save percentage was .927, and he was named tournament MVP after the championship match.

“This year, he’s been unflappable,” said Coan. “If a goal goes in, he’s immediately up and ready to take the next shot.”