ADRIAN, Mich. – This season will have a different feel to it for the men's hockey team for more than one reason. After dominating both the regular season and playoffs in the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association (MCHA) for almost the entire last half decade, the Bulldogs lost a tough overtime playoff game that remains the team's only blemish. The team is looking to return to the form that took them to the national championship game two seasons ago, as well as add to one of college hockey's best starting program records over its first five years at 122-18-3.
"Last season, we fell short of one of our goals (Harris Cup) and by losing that we obviously didn't get to the national tournament," said Bulldogs head coach and 2012 MCHA Coach of the Year Ron Fogarty.
After claiming their fifth consecutive MCHA regular season title and looking to add a fifth consecutive Harris Cup- as playoff champion, the team suffered a 3-2 overtime loss to the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) ending last year on a sour note with a 20-6-1 overall record and 17-2-1 MCHA record. Although it was the team's only loss in the calendar year, the coaching staff felt it needed to make some changes designed to make the team better defensively.
Fogarty added, "We reassessed our shortcomings throughout the summer and established new systems in the hopes that we get back to the national tournament. We've (coaching staff) done a good job over the past few weeks heading into our first game, making sure everyone's on the same page and that the new systems have become second-nature prior to playing our first game."
"Our defense will have the most new faces and we'll obviously need someone to contribute offensively from a defensive position with the loss of First-Team All-American Chris Stansik," said Fogarty.
When asked about the new players for this year's squad, Fogarty said this, "The new defensive players will be Sam Nyberg, who sat out last year. Two players coming from juniors that should have an impact are Chris Leone and Adam Davies. Micki Mihailovich, a division one transfer who has a lot of USHL experience should help make our defense stronger this year. Up front, Pat George will add more of a physical presence and Shaquille Merasty will have an opportunity to contribute offensively right away on the top couple lines and on the power play."
"We have the best goaltending tandem in the MCHA. Both are more than capable of being a starting goaltender. Whoever has the hot hand is going to play. It's a nice problem to have," said Fogarty.
The Bulldogs are looking for some improvement in their specialty teams and may make some changes.
"We want to have a very strong power play to keep teams from being more aggressive than they want to be. Opponents will be more reluctant to take penalties and be physical, especially if we can get our power play to where it's been in the past- hovering around 30 percent," said Fogarty.
"In the past, we've struggled out of the gate with our penalty killing percentage being pretty low, but it will have to be strong. We're going to rely on a couple of seniors and juniors to solidify that right off the bat- and making that percentage very good."
"In the past, certain players had single roles when it came to specialty teams, but this year we're going to mix it up. This year, instead of just using defensive players on the penalty kill, we might put our top offensive guys out there just to add more of an offensive threat. We probably have three or four guys who can play both. I think Josh Ranalli has been great for us on the penalty kill, and he's one of those guys we want to interchange with our power play. Graham and Cousineau are two others that will see time at both," stated Fogarty.
Although the Bulldogs were once again picked to finish first in the MCHA coaches pre-season poll, Coach Fogarty forecasts some of the same things as last year, as well as some changes for this season's MCHA and the Bulldogs' schedule.
"Our conference has improved by leaps and bounds from when we started. Our league is strong with teams winning their non-conference games. I think it's going to be the usual suspects with Milwaukee, Lawrence, Marian and I think Concordia will be greatly improved. I'm looking forward to playing Alabama-Huntsville. It's a chance to play a D-I team, although we've played the U.S. and Czech national programs in the past. It's a little different than your traditional D-III game that enhances our schedule for the players and fans."
Of the teams 25 games, 20 games will be conference games. The team will play MSOE, Lake Forest and Concordia four times each, twice at home and twice on the road. Of the remaining conference games, the team will face Marian (Jan. 18 & 19) and Finlandia (Feb. 15 & 16) twice each at home after the new year, and Northland (Nov. 2 & 3) and Lake Forest (Nov. 16 & 17) twice each in the team's first four road games.
Of the non-conference games, only the Alabama-Huntsville game is on the road (Jan. 4). The team's other four non-conference games will be at home facing St. Mary's (Nov. 24), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (Dec. 29 & 30), and Geneseo State (Jan. 8).
In the pairs of games that are home-and-home, Adrian will face MSOE at home Nov. 9 & 10, and away Jan. 25 & 26. The Bulldogs get Lake Forest at home on Feb. 2 & 3, and face them on the road Nov. 16 & 17. The last home-and-home pairing is with Concordia- going there on Feb. 8 & 9, and playing them at home Nov. 30th and Dec. 1st.
The team opens the season on the road at Northland, Friday Nov. 2nd; and its home opener will be Nov. 9th against MSOE.