When Josh Norris was selected 19th overall by the San Jose Sharks in 2019, he never expected to be traded, let alone one of the main parts in a franchise-altering deal.
Norris was acquired by the Ottawa Senators after they sent star defenceman, Erik Karlsson, to the Stanley Cup-aspiring San Jose Sharks. After being shocked by the trade, Josh started looking at the positives of being wanted by another organization. After deciding to leave Michigan to turn pro with the Belleville Senators, Norris was named to the All-Rookie Team and a First Team All-Star after scoring 31 goals that year.
In his first full season with the Ottawa Senators, Josh tallied 17 goals with 18 assists for 35 points in 56 games, once again finding himself on the All-Rookie Team. Norris has established himself as the Sens 1st line centre and is one of the top goal scorers on the team.
Josh grew up in Germany watching his dad, Dwayne, play for the Cologne Sharks and Frankfurt Lions in the DEL. After a few years, their family moved home to Michigan where Josh would play his minor hockey while being coached by his father. When it came time to decide where Josh would play his collegiate hockey, he chose to stay close to home at the University of Michigan.
It was a special moment for his whole family, especially his mom (Traci) and brothers (Dalton and Coale) when he was taken by the Sharks in the 2019 draft. We sat down with Josh to talk about his time in Germany, representing the United States at the Junior level, and his journey to becoming a full-time Ottawa Senator.
Photography by Sean Sisk
You spent time in Germany as a child while your dad was playing and managing over there. What was that like for you?
It was great. I really enjoyed living over there. It’s definitely another world compared to living in the United States or Canada, but I really enjoyed it and I know both my brothers enjoyed it a lot too. We loved the German culture, we learned to speak German. We kind of learned to play hockey over there, too. I have a lot of memories of going to my dad’s games and going on the ice with him and his teammates. So a lot of good memories from there and I’m glad that it was part of my journey.
When you moved back to North America, your dad became your coach. What was that like to have him guide you through your minor hockey years?
It was great. I think he was my coach for three, maybe four years when I was younger. Once I hit 14 or 15, he kind of moved me along to another coach. I was fortunate to have him play a part in my development when I was younger, I think that was critical for me. He instilled a work ethic in me and I’m just thankful that I was able to have some great memories with him. From growing up, winning championships, being able to go in the room with him every day, and having long car rides with him, I had a lot of fun.
Why did you choose to commit to the University of Michigan? Your dad went to the rival Michigan State. How was that decision taken by your dad?
Yeah, it was a decision that I thought about for quite a bit. I was young when I made it, but it was good to have my mom, dad, and some other people help me make the decision. It was a hard decision. My dad had a great career at Michigan State and my parents met there, but I think I wanted to be able to make my own decision. I wanted to go my own route and create my path. At the time, Michigan had such a good hockey program and it wasn’t too far from home either. So I’m really glad that I chose Michigan.
How special was it for you to represent the United States at the U17, U18, and World Juniors?
It meant a lot. I was fortunate enough to play for the U.S. Development program for two years when I played junior hockey. After, I got to play in two World Juniors for the US, which is a dream come true. Those tournaments are always a lot of fun and there’s so much talent at those tournaments. I know everybody on the U.S. team takes a lot of pride in being able to play for their country on the big stage. I cherish those memories.
Take me back to draft day. You’re taken 19th Overall 2019 by the San Jose Sharks. What was that like?
It was so fun. Every kid dreams of getting drafted and everyone wants to go on the first round. More importantly, it was a fun day for my family. It was so special to have family and friends – I think I had 40 or 50 people there – my grandparents and everyone that’s helped me along the way. It was in Chicago, which isn’t too far from my hometown, only about a four-hour drive. We had a fun time and I’m really thankful for what happened.
Not long after that, you were part of a huge trade that sent Eric Karlsson to San Jose. What was that like for you? Do you remember getting the call?
Oh yeah, I definitely remember it, that was a crazy day. I was 19, so I was still fairly young and I had no idea that I was going to get traded. It was definitely a shock when Doug Wilson called me and told me. It was a weird day, but, I got a taste of the business side of the game early and I think that was good for me. I’ve had a blast since I’ve been in Ottawa. I started in Belleville and made my way up here. I think we’re putting something special together and I’m super fortunate to be here.
When you were at the World Juniors, you suffered a shoulder injury during that tournament and went on to win silver. How difficult was that for you?
When I injured my shoulder in game three or four, I kind of knew I was going to have to get surgery. But, it was good enough for me to finish the rest of the tournament. It sucked not winning a gold medal but silver’s something to be proud of. Injuries are part of the game. It was just unfortunate that it happened to me at that moment.
Right after that, you decided to leave the University of Michigan and turn pro. Was that a difficult decision to make?
I think the surgery that I had for my shoulder played a part in that decision. It was hard because I missed half of that season after the World Juniors and was deciding whether or not to go back to school for my third year or to turn pro. I had good people around me to help me make those decisions and ultimately just felt, for my hockey career, it was the best time to turn pro. I stuck with my gut and went down to Belleville. I learned so much from the coaching staff and we had such a good group with all the young guys down there. I came up with Drake and a few other guys so, I’m really happy with my decision. It’s just part of my path.
Did you know anything about Ottawa before you came here?
No, not really, I’d never been here before. I knew that Ottawa always had really good teams and they had a great fan base, things like that, but I didn’t really know too much about it. I think we’re trying to build something special here and we have a great core group to do so.
You had 31 goals in your first year with Belleville. What was the adjustment like for you playing pro hockey?
At the start, it was a little bit difficult. With my shoulder, I hadn’t played in seven months, and I didn’t have confidence in my shoulder. Ultimately, that affects your whole game. It took me a little bit longer to get going than I would’ve liked, but I guess that was just part of the process. The staff down there believed in me right from the get-go and gave me an opportunity. Once I got the ball rolling, I never really looked back. That was probably the most important development year for me as a player and I think that’s why I’m having success right now. That year in Belleville was some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey, but it also helped me developmentally, not only as a player but as a person too. It was really good for me to go through that process.
Once you arrived in Ottawa, you lived with Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle. What was that like?
It was unique (laughs). For me and Timmy, it was our first full season in the NHL. Brady was kind enough to have us both live with him. Looking back on it, we had a ton of fun. We enjoyed being in each other’s company. We weren’t able to go out for dinners or do any of that usual stuff during the pandemic, but I think it just made us come closer together. We have a good bond with each other and it was a lot of fun.
Who was the messiest roommate of you 3?
Oh, Timmy for sure (laughs). He was living in the basement of the house and we all had our own living area with a couch and TV. I guess maybe if I was down there, I would have done the same thing, but he was pretty messy. Chucky and I are pretty clean for the most part.
How weird was it to play during the pandemic with no fans in attendance?
It was really weird. I think we all got used to it, though. Once we started to get rolling halfway through the season, we felt the support from the fans and that was great. I wish that we could have had fans there during that time. It’s nice to be back to normalcy.
What do you like about Ottawa?
It’s a fairly big city, but it feels like a smaller city. You can just tell Ottawa’s a hockey town where everybody loves the team, wants to see us have success, and the people are very nice and friendly. Everyone’s very supportive of us and we appreciate that. It reminds me a lot of home to be honest with you. Detroit’s a pretty decent-sized city, but at the same time, I think it feels smaller and there are really good people there. That’s the most important thing.
What’s your game-day routine like?
I’m not too superstitious, I try to keep things loose with a typical pregame nap. I’ll have some toast with Nutella, I guess that’s one of my only superstitions, but nothing crazy. My life motto is just to keep things loose and have fun – not be so serious.
What do you love so much about this Ottawa Senators team?
I think we have a solid group and some great leaders in the locker room. On the ice, we have some really good hockey players too, we have a lot of young guys and that’s a lot of fun to all come up together. At the same time, we have some great leadership, guys who have been in the league for long periods, and that helps when we’re going through tough stretches. I think the future is bright.
Who are the best and worst dressed guys on the team?
The worst dressed, if we’re talking casually, it’s probably Brady. He doesn’t care what he looks like. He’ll wake up and wear crocs to the rink with sweatpants. Which is fine, he just doesn’t really care about the style portion of it.
Chabot’s pretty well dressed and I would probably say Formenton as well… He’s got expensive but good taste.
Who’s the funniest teammate?
Nick Paul, for sure.
What do you like to do on your days off?
Lately, I’ve been I’ve watching Ted Lasso, which is a funny TV show. I love watching TV shows – more comedy or funny things.
What other sports do you like to follow? Did you look up to any non-hockey athletes growing up?
My favorite athlete was probably Derek Jeter. I played baseball growing up and was a shortstop as well. I wore number 2, I think I batted leadoff or the second hitter, which was what he did, so I always thought I was like Derek Jeter growing up. He’s probably my favorite athlete outside of hockey… besides Tom Brady, because he’s a Michigan guy.
You have two brothers, Dalton and Coale. Who’s the most competitive out of you three?
That’s a tough one. I think we’re all super competitive. Especially in the summer when we’re all home together playing golf, we all try to beat each other’s score. My younger brother will have played and he’s like, “I shot a 77,” so then I’d go out the next time to try to beat his score. It’s so fun, I think we’re all super competitive and I’m really lucky to have them as brothers, they’re the best.
Do you have any talents that nobody knows about?
I’m a pretty good drawer so I like to do that sometimes. I speak German too.
What’s your most memorable New Year’s Eve?
My first World Juniors was in Buffalo and one of the games was outdoors at New Era Field. There must have been 40 or 50, 000 people there, it was unbelievable and so much fun. It was snowing a ton too and we ended up winning the game in a shootout. I think Brady actually scored the shootout winner. I had all my family and my brothers there, so that was a cool moment around New Year’s Eve.
What advice would you give to young hockey players?
I would say to have as much fun as you can and always believe in yourself. No matter what route you take, I think there are always going to be ups and downs, but just try to have as much fun with that as you can. Try to laugh at yourself and enjoy the process. I’m obviously very fortunate to be able to play hockey for a living and I don’t take that for granted. I just try to have as much fun as I can, when I’m at the rink every day.
Photography by Sean Sisk