The Adrian Bulldogs are more than ready to take the national tournament by storm this weekend. Since the program at Adrian went to the Division III level in the 2007-08 season, the Bulldogs have won the MCHA league regular season championship each year. Head Coach Ron Fogarty has led the Bulldogs to five MCHA Harris Cup titles, as well as three NCAA tournament appearances. They made it to the national championship game in 2011 and fell to St. Norbert 4-3.
Last weekend, the Bulldogs defeated Northland College, 8-0, en route to their sixth consecutive Harris Cup championship game appearance. Saturday’s contest sealed the deal for the Bulldogs, as they took down Milwaukee School of Engineering with a 4-1 win. The Raiders had defeated Adrian in the 2012 championship game to take the trophy from the team for the first time since Adrian entered the conference.
Josh Cousineau is a junior forward who earned the MCHA Tournament MVP honors with his three goals and two assists over the weekend. Cousineau is currently third on the team in scoring, having 12 goals and 24 assists on the season. The humble skater gives most of the credit for his honors to his team.
“We really played as a team this weekend,” Cousineau said. “Everyone was playing hard; they helped me earn the MVP honor.”
Another player on the Bulldogs roster who humbly gives his team the credit for his success is freshman forward Shaquille Merasty. He is second on the team in scoring with a 21 goals and 16 assists. He earned MCHA All-Freshman team honors, as well as a spot on the MCHA All-Conference team. Merasty scored the game-winning goal in Saturday’s championship game.
“I give a lot of credit to my linemates, Shelby Gray and Josh Cousineau, for setting me up on big plays,” Merasty said of his rookie year success. “The coaches gave me a real chance to succeed and I wouldn’t have had this chance without being given the opportunity to make big plays.”
Merasty is fourth in the nation for goals per game, averaging .78. He leads all rookies in averaging 1.37 points per game. He is 12th in overall scoring, which makes him the highest-ranking rookie; the next freshman does not appear in the rankings until the 29th spot. He is looking forward to bringing those numbers to the ice this weekend in the tournament.
“The boys will have an extra jump in their step; we are amped up,” Merasty said. “We had a feeling we were going to be rewarded for our hard work this season.”
This Saturday, the Bulldogs will host Oswego in the NCAA quarterfinal round at the Arrington Ice Arena in Adrian, Mich. They are bypassing Wednesday’s first round of the tournament.
Adrian currently holds a 23-1-3 record, and remained unbeaten in the MCHA throughout the season while boasting a 17-0-3 record. With that much success, it’d be plausible that a team could lose focus on their next mission. However, Fogarty says that is not the case with these young men.
“It’s easy to keep them focused right now. They are ready and excited for this weekend,” Fogarty said. “We’re going to concentrate on this Saturday and getting past Oswego.”
Fogarty is confident in the Bulldogs’ game plan and that their execution will be the same this weekend in NCAA tourney action.
“If you are changing your preparation this late in the season, you are in trouble,” Fogarty said. “We are playing well, so we are going to keep with our preparation and our game plan going into this weekend.”
Senior forward and assistant captain Zach Graham leads the team in scoring; he has scored 14 goals and assisted on 24 this season. For a second season, Graham was given the MCHA Player of the Year award. He was also named to the MCHA All-Academic team. Graham is a strong presence for his team on and off the ice.
“It is great to get personal accolades,” Graham said. “But if someone were to ask me if I would trade all of those awards for a national championship, the answer is yes, no question.”
Graham credits the team’s collective leadership for doing well this season.
“We are going to lead the team the same as we have been doing. The guys respect us (the seniors) on the ice, and that trickles down to the younger guys.” Graham explained. “It is the collective team leadership; if we aren’t doing well, the young guys let us know as well.”
This weekend will be a test for the Bulldogs, as they practically breezed through the regular season. Adrian is facing a 23-4-0 Oswego Lakers team, but cracking under pressure hasn’t been an issue for the Bulldogs so far this season.
“I imagine the rink will be packed,” Fogarty said. “It is a playoff weekend, we are going to play hard for 60 minutes, possibly more, but we are going to play our game.”