It’s not often a brand new coach gets to take over a team fresh off winning a conference championship and making an appearance in the NCAA tournament.
However, that’s the opportunity that Chad Davis was presented with when he was hired as the new Adrian women’s hockey head coach in July, replacing Melissa Lomanto, who had the coached the team for the previous three seasons.
Under Lomanto, Adrian went 54-25-6, including winning its first-ever NCHA Tournament title in 2011 and then making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament before bowing out to RIT in the first round.
“This has been a successful program in the past,” Davis said. “My job is to continue that success, but also to help it grow and continue to progress toward the next level and the next step. There is always a process in learning how to win big games. The team going through the tournament last year can only help them grow down the road.”
Davis comes to Bulldogs Country after spending a season as a volunteer assistant coach at Division I Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania, where he worked with the Colonials’ goaltenders and helped guide them to leading the conference in save percentage and goals against average.
“I plan on bringing my coaching philosophies and trying to direct this program toward taking the next step,” Davis said.
Adrian and college hockey success have gone hand in hand ever since the university started a men’s and women’s program in the fall of 2007. The men’s program is a remarkable 102-12-2 in four seasons of play, and the Bulldogs made it all the way to the national championship game last March before falling to perennial powerhouse St. Norbert, 4-3, in Minnesota.
The women’s program hasn’t been too far behind the men’s program, and has quickly made strides in the NCHA, winning the conference tournament last year with an upset of top-seeded Wis.-River Falls.
“Being at Adrian College is a unique experience,” Davis said. “The men’s varsity program has obviously done very well, and the women’s program has been solid too. They love their hockey here in Adrian, and each team kind of supports each other. It’s a nice situation where the school and players really get behind each program.”
Last weekend, the Davis era at Adrian got off to a successful start as the Bulldogs swept a pair of nonconference games at Oswego to open up the 2011-12 season. Adrian downed the Lakers 3-0 the first night and then won a back-and-forth battle on Saturday by a score of 5-3.
“We were excited to start the season, and I was excited to get behind the bench for my first game here,” Davis said. “We’re trying to implement some new systems and work on taking this team to the next level. We went in and competed, played hard, and came out with two wins.”
Sophomore forward Danielle Smith led the way for the Bulldogs with a five-point weekend with a goal and four assists. Ashley Gniewek, Olivia Rork, Kristin Maton, and Hannah McGowan all had two points as well.
Gone are the likes of Stacey Kempson and Jessica Grubbs, who were both members of the inaugural Adrian women’s program recruiting class and rank 1-2 on the all-time program scoring list.
However, Davis still has the luxury of having 16 returnees from last year’s squad, including sophomore RBK All-American goaltender Emily Michelin and All-NCHA First Team senior defenseman Kelly Salis.
“It’s definitely a unique situation to be able to take over a successful team that has a stable of top returners coming back,” Davis said. “You have Olivia Rork, who is a good player and will be a productive scorer for us, as well as Danielle Smith. Kelly Salis is back after being an all-conference player, and I think we made some nice additions as well.”
Some of those additions made an immediate impact last weekend, with Courtney Millar and Lauren Zachwieja both scoring their first career goals. Junior defenseman Kristin Maton also had a goal and an assist after transferring in from Plattsburgh State with two seasons under her belt as a Cardinal.
“Last weekend, we had a lot of firsts, with a lot of newcomers score,” Davis said. “We have a strong base of returning players, but so far a lot of the new faces have contributed.”
The Bulldogs also brought in two Division I transfers that figure to have an impact in sophomore forward Sarah Connelly from Niagara University and senior goaltender Brittany Zeches from Wayne State.
Arguably the strongest link from last year’s squad that returns this season is Michelin between the pipes. The sophomore burst onto the scene last year with six shutouts in the first half of the season, and finished up with an impressive eight clean slates in 2010-11.
“She is a game-changer, and the team is confident with her in the net,” Davis said. “She had an incredible season last year, and so far this year it’s looked like she has picked up where she left off. We’re confident in our goaltending with Emily Michelin leading the way.”
The next two weekends, the road will get a little tougher for the Bulldogs, as they continue their six-game road trip to start the season by heading to Wis.-River Falls this weekend for a pair of conference games and then follow up with Wis.-Superior next weekend.
Joe Cranston’s Falcons will certainly be out for revenge after Adrian handed UWRF its first loss of the season in the NCHA Championship game.
“Our big message right now is to focus on what we can control, and right now that’s our everyday practices,” Davis said. “We’re just trying to be consistent in what we do. Whether we’re playing River Falls, Oswego, or whoever it is that weekend, we want to prepare the same way and play our game and if we do that, we’ll give ourselves the best chance that weekend.”