by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
When Brandon Longley was 15 he was part of a state championship hockey team for Elk River. When he was 20 he figured he was washed up in hockey, having failed to earn a scholarship after three years in the USHL.
But when he was 22 he finally enrolled in college at St. Norbert, a Division III power in Wisconsin. His belated collegiate career ended last weekend with a 3-2 victory over Adrian College for the national championship at the U of M — the second title of his career and his third finals appearance.
“Sometimes you get second chances and they work out,” said Longley, the team’s elder statesman at 26 and one of the few college athletes who’s worked for a living and owns his own house.
Longley contributed 12 goals and nine assists this year. In his career, he logged 36 goals and 29 assists in 102 games. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound right winger played on the team’s top line the last year and a half “with a Swede and a home-grown Green Bay boy” – Johan Ryd and Scott Pulak.
Longley was a defenseman as a sophomore on the Paul Martin-led Elk team that won the 2001 state championship. But he didn’t stick around for two more years, opting to cast his lot in the USHL. He played two years for Green Bay and another for Des Moines, where his coach was former a Elk, Reggie Simon.
His goal of a Division I scholarship never materialized, and Longley dropped out of hockey for two years, except for playing in a men’s league for fun.
He settled in Green Bay because that’s where his then-girlfriend was, got a job with a sports warehouse selling archery equipment, and bought a house.
Longley started thinking about college hockey again when former Elk teammate Tim Madsen, who had joined the staff at UW-Stout and asked if he’d like to come back. Longley was skating in men’s league with a former St. Norbert player, Tom Cianslone, a volunteer assistant for the Knights. When Cianslone heard what Longley was thinking he recruited him for St. Norbert, located in the Green Bay suburb of De Pere.
Longley knew he would be joining a top-notch small college program there. The Knights coach is Tim Coghlin, who has a 390-108-40 record in 18 seasons with seven Frozen Four appearances, two national titles and three runner-up finishes. He assembles a team older than most D-III teams as all his players have juniors experience.
“When I came here I told Coghlin what I really missed was not so much the games as being around the guys,” said Longley. “I told him I could be a good teammate and that I could still play a high level of hockey.”
Coghlin was delighted to add Longley.
“He was reinvigorated with his passion for hockey when he joined us,” said the coach. “When he was done with juniors he had lost his passion. He is a fun-loving kid, always with a smile on his face, seldom having a bad day.”
Longley was a battler for the Knights.
“He is very good around the net. He will stick his nose in there,” said Coghlin. “He is not very big, but he is tough as nails.”
Longley said he got some family help in keeping up his mortgage and continued to work in the summer. That first year, had to wait until the second semester to enroll, saving up money and working right up to the first week of classes.
“It was a little different,” he laughs. “That was my first time in college. A lot of the people I was going to school with were the same age as my youngest brother.”
That included teammates who, of course, tagged him “the old man” and “Grampa,” but Longley was OK with that.
Longley joined the Knights at mid-season and played 16 games on the third line, capped by a national finals victory over Norwich in Lake Placid. N.Y. As a junior he was on the first line for a national runner-up team that lost to Norwich in the finals. This year they got back to the top.
The Knights, who led the nation in defense, capped a 25-4-1 season beating Hamline 4-0 in the national quarterfinals, then Norwich 4-3 last Friday and Adrian 3-2 on Satruday.
With the U of M hosting nationals this year, at Ridder Arena (where the Gopher women play), Longley was able to close his career with a big rooting gallery.
“That was pretty cool, after playing out East (previous years) where we’d have maybe 15 or 20 fans. All of my family was there and a lot of friends I hadn’t seen in 10 years. One guy told me the only other time you have this many family and friends around is your wedding.”
The marketing major says he is a semester short of a degree.