College hockey: Former Thunder players Alex Kozic and Jack Gilligan making an impact for Bowdoin
Mar. 10—Alex Kozic likes challenges.
Former Maine Nordiques and Twin City Thunder players playing in the NCAA Division III Tournament
Maine Nordiques Alumni
Makem Demers, F, (Curry)
Timmy Kent, F, (Curry)
Kevin Pitts, F, (Curry)
Matt Connor, D, (Curry)
Jacob Crespo, D, (Curry)
Ignat Belov, F, (Hobart)
Tristan Fasig, F, (Hobart)
Cooper Swift, D, (Hobart)
Avery Sturtz, G, (Utica)
Jacob Pellerin, D, (UNE)
Spencer Bellina, D, (Plattsburgh)
Twin City Thunder Alumni
Gabe Shipper, F, (Bowdoin)
Jack Gilligan, D, (Bowdoin)
Alexander Kozic, G, (Bowdoin)
Jeromey Rancourt, F, (Plymouth St.)
Nicolas Poirier, D, (Plymouth St.)
Andrew Kurapov, F, (Endicott)
Nathan Chickering, F, (UNE)
The 5-foot-10 goalie for the Bowdoin College's men's hockey team has thrived in big games throughout his playing career, which includes a stop with Twin City Thunder's USPHL National Collegiate Development Conference team in the 2019-20 season.
"I have looked forward to those games just because I know I am going to be tested," Kozic said. "I know I play my best hockey when I am tested. I am never nervous going into those games."
The London, England native has passed every test the past two weeks and helped seventh-seeded Bowdoin College (15-9-3) win a NESCAC championship this past Sunday and earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament. The Polar Bears open the tournament against Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts, on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Kozic helped knock off the second-seeded Trinity College 2-1 in overtime in the quarterfinals on Feb. 25 by making 46 saves in a goalie duel with Devon Bobak (30 saves), who played for the Twin City Thunder in 2020-21.
Last weekend in Amherst, Massachusetts, Kozic stopped 33 shots in a 3-1 win over Colby College in the NESCAC semifinal. He followed that with a 35-save performance in a 2-1 overtime victory over eighth-seeded Williams College.
Bowdoin has had its ups and downs under first-year coach Ben Guite — who took over for Lewiston native Jamie Dumont — going 1-4-2 in their final seven regular season games, but Guite said Kozic is a clutch performer.
"Just like us (as a team), he was very good early, and I don't think we have an individual on our team that's head-and-shoulders above everybody else," Guite, a member of the University of Maine 1999 national championship team, said. "We all hit a rough patch in January, including myself. He has been so good of late, and I think that's what it comes down to, when it mattered the most and when our season was in the balance, he has been coming through really good."
Another former Twin City alum, Jack Gilligan, a sophomore for Bowdoin, said that despite the struggles heading into the NESCAC tournament, the Polar Bears knew they had a run in them.
"We just trusted the process," Gilligan said. "Coach Guite told us about a month ago we were learning how to win big games together in the last few weeks and we have won some big ones."
Kozic said he also has been able to trust Gilligan this season.
"I would say the past couple of games — this recent stretch — (Gilligan) has been stepping up his game a whole another level," Kozic said. "I don't think I have seen him make a mistake in the entire playoffs. He has been very solid and he's a strong guy. Whenever he's in front of the net, I am going to see the puck, no one is going to get in my eyes. And he's a great teammate, as a whole."
The 6-foot-1, 20-year-old Gilligan is known for his defensive play and for making his presence felt by his opponents,
"He's a hard-nosed defenseman and very physical; he's no fun to play against," Guite said. "He's somebody who moves the puck really well in the breakout when he finds the seams — he has a good shot, so when he puts it on the net, he's dangerous."
Gabe Shipper, who played three games for the Thunder during the 2020-21 season, scored a goal in the quarterfinal against Trinity to tie the score 1-1. The freshman leads the Polar Bears with 11 goals and has 17 points.
"From day one, we preached hard work and high level of compete — anybody that has done that has gravitated to the top of our lineup," Guite said. "From day one, that's what Gabe has done. He works every shift, and he competes every shift — he's all in all the time. He found the back of the net early (in the season), that doesn't hurt."
Kozic and Gilligan had memorable moments in their lone seasons with the Thunder.
Kozic's moment came in December of 2019 when powerhouse New Jersey Hitmen came to Norway Savings Bank Arena to face the Thunder's inaugural NCDC team, and Kozic stopped 41 shots in a 3-2 win.
"The season itself, we were an extremely close group," Kozic said. "Obviously, the big win against the Hitmen; it was the first time they lost, and that was pretty memorable for me."
Late in the season, Kozic defeated the Hitmen again, stopping 46 shots in a 4-2 victory.
Kozic expressed gratitude to the Thunder for giving him an opportunity. He entered the 2019 training camp as a free agent invitee and it was his final Tier II tryout. Getting the chance with the Thunder helped him get recruited by Bowdoin.
Gilligan sent the Thunder to the NCDC semifinals during the 2020-21 season with a game-winning goal in a 4-3 overtime win against the Northern Cyclones.
"It was early in the overtime session, I think (Tyler Fox) gave it to (Hunter Schmitz) or (Schmitz) gave it to (Fox)," Gilligan said. "I was like, 'I am going to the net.' I put my stick out, and the (puck) ended up hitting a Cyclones guy going to the net. It was kind of a blur from there. I was just super excited."
Thunder co-owner and NCDC coach Dan Hodge said Gilligan's goal is the top moment in the organization's history.
"Gilligan, he scored probably the most iconic goal in Thunder history two years ago," Hodge said.
Gilligan credits Hodge for developing his skill set so he was ready for college hockey.
Bowdoin travels to Milton, Massachusetts, to face the Colonials (21-5-1), the seventh-ranked team in the most recent United States College Hockey Online Division III poll.
Curry has five former Maine Nordiques players on its roster: Timmy Kent, Makem Demers, Kevin Pitts, Matt Connor and Jacob Crespo.
Kent is the Colonials' second-leading scorer with 15 goals and 19 assists in 21 games. Matt Connor is the top-scoring defenseman, tallying five goals and 15 assists in 27 games.
"They are a good team — there's only 12 left," Guite said. "They are very skilled and have some speed on the rush. We will have to be smart with the puck. And they have a very good goalie. It should be an interesting matchup."