written by Mark Jagord
The Adrian College men's hockey team will face Oswego State on Saturday in an NCAA Division III quarterfinal contest at Arrington Ice Arena at 7 p.m. The winner will move on to the final four in Lake Placid, N.Y. next weekend.
It is a matchup between the last two national runner-ups.
The Bulldogs and Lakers have previously met twice with the last meeting in the 2011 Division III semifinals with Adrian winning 5-3. The teams first met in a non-conference game in January 2010, with then-ranked No. 1 Oswego winning 5-2 at home.
"I remember them as a very skilled team," said Adrian coach Ron Fogarty. "They're a team that if you give them time and space, they're going to capitalize."
Due to demographics, the only two teams Adrian could have faced in this opening playoff round were Oswego and St. Norbert, with the latter matchup destined to be on the road.
"The mileage rule was a big component here," said Fogarty. "There are only two teams we could have played without flying. The NCAA tries to eliminate air flights in the bracket in the quarterfinals, because of the flights that could occur with the final four."
The No. 6-ranked Bulldogs (23-1-3) have the nation's current best unbeaten streak at 17 games. They were the only team to go unbeaten in conference play, and they have the fewest losses of any Division III team. They reached the national tournament by winning the Harris Cup against the Milwaukee School of Engineering last weekend and receiving an automatic bid as the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association playoff champion.
The No. 3-ranked Lakers (23-4-0) have the nation's current best scoring margin differential at 3.19. Oswego was ranked No. 1 for four consecutive weeks in November. The Lakers advanced by winning the State University of New York Athletic Conference playoff championship last weekend against Plattsburgh State.
Saturday's game matches the two best offensive Division III teams with the Bulldogs at No. 1, averaging five goals per game, while the Lakers average 4.9.
Perhaps the most interesting statistic involves special teams. Adrian relied on its nation-leading power play (32.3 percent) last weekend, going 4-for-7 in wins over Northland and MSOE, while Oswego doesn't give many power-play chances. There are only 18 of 72 Division III teams that average less than 12 penalty minutes a game, and Oswego is one of them.
"We've been very opportunistic," Fogarty said. "We went 2-for-4 and 2-for-3 last weekend, so if we only get one or two chances, we're gonna score on those one or two chances. But I think we're better 5-on-5. We're so evenly spread out with guys who've scored 5-on-5."
More than half of the Lakers' roster is comprised of seniors, including their top nine scorers.
"This is the team we beat two years ago when most of their players were sophomores," Fogarty said. "Obviously, we've gotten better, and they have a lethal offensive attack, and we're gonna have to be strong defensively. We are going to have to play the tightest defensive game that we have, but also be the most physical we've ever been without taking penalties."
"The best thing is, we've played them at their rink and lost (2010) and got to know them a little bit. Then we got to play them on a bigger stage in the NCAA tournament two years ago, and now we have the same type of stage, but in our building and our environment. You are used to your same routine in your environment. You have your home ice, and your own dressing room and it's big."
The game pits Division III's top two active coaches against one another. Fogarty is ranked No.1 with an .864 win percentage, while Oswego's Ed Gosek is ranked second at .768. Gosek captured a national title in 2007 and has been in the final four the last three seasons.
Of the nation's top 20 scorers, Oswego has two and Adrian has four.
The Lakers had two of the top three scorers in SUNYAC Player of the Year Paul Rodrigues (44 points) and Luke Moodie (41 points). For Adrian, two-time MCHA Player of the Year Zach Graham (38 points) finished ninth, Shaquille Merasty (37 points) finished 10th, Josh Cousineau (36 points) finished 13th and Josh Ranalli (34 points) finished tied for 16th.
In goal, Oswego's Andrew Hare led the nation in shutouts with six. He finished third in save percentage (.935), and fifth in goals-against average (1.74). Adrian's Scott Shackell finished 10th in both save percentage (.931) and goals-against average (1.91).
When asked what he thought the key matchups would be, coach Fogarty replied, "I think it's gonna be an intangible matchup — the matchup of mistakes. Not only who will create less mistakes, but the team that recovers from its mistakes will win the game. You can make one mistake that can compound to two or three and result in goals against. But if you make a mistake, it's who's there in the right spot to recover to prevent easy access to the net. I think that's gonna be the matchup."
The game be carried on WLEN radio 103.9 FM. Saturday's winner will play next Friday in Lake Placid in a semifinal game at 4 p.m. against the winner of Norwich/Babson. The semifinal winners will meet for the championship the following night at 7 p.m.