Men’s D-III Playoff Preview: Adrian

Adrian Bulldogs
Record: 23-3-1
Ranking: No. 5 USCHO poll
Leading scorer: Shawn Skelly, 18 goals, 26 assists, 44 points
Starting goaltender: Brad Fogal, 23-3-1, 2.10 goals against, .926 save pct.
Coach: Ron Fogarty (fourth season)

After going one-and-out in last season’s NCAA tournament, coach Ron Fogarty orchestrated a change in the Bulldogs approach, evolving from a free-wheeling outfit to a more defensively-disciplined squad.

The tactic worked, especially down the stretch when the team swept rival Milwaukee School of Engineering by identical 3-1 scores to capture a fourth-consecutive regular season crown Feb. 18-19. After beating Lawrence, 9-2, in the semis, the Bulldogs blanked Marian, 5-0, in the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association final Sunday to collect its fourth-straight Harris Cup.

The team has the nation’s longest winning streak at 15-0. Fifth-ranked Adrian hosts No. 6 Elmira (17-6-4) on Saturday in the NCAA Quarterfinals.

A 4-3 loss to St. Norbert in the NCAA First Round last season left a lasting impression. The game was the program’s first national tournament experience.

“We learned a lot last year, and I learned a lot as a coach in the last four years,” says Fogarty, whose team reached the 100-win milestone Sunday in only its fourth year as a D-III program. “You have to keep growing and keep changing to get better, and we changed a lot of things this year so we would be better.

“If you stay stagnant and try to be offensive all the time, like we were for three years, teams are going to catch up.”

The defensive mindset hasn’t put a crimp in the Bulldogs’ collective scoring touch, though.

The team’s 5.04 goals per game ranks No. 1 nationally, while scorers Eric Miller (18-25-43 in 25 games) and Shawn Skelly (18-26-44 in 26 games) check in at No. 5 and No. 6 respectively in points per game.

Other solid offensive contributors include Zach Graham (14-20-34), Brad Houston (13-20-34), and Mike Dahlinger (12-21-33).

On the power play, Adrian’s 30.8-percent conversion rate (44 of 143) is second only to Bowdoin’s 32.2 percent nationally. Adrian’s 90.2 percent penalty-kill rate ranks first among all D-III outfits.

In goal, senior Brad Fogal has found his form after a midseason slump of sorts. He was spelled for 8:20 minutes in the team’s 6-2 loss to Manhattanville at the Northfield Bank Tournament on Dec. 31 and was pulled for 22 seconds in the team’s 7-5 over Buffalo State on Jan. 7.

Fogal is 4-0 with 1.00-goals against and a .955 save percentage in his last four outings, which included Sunday’s shutout over Marian. The shutout was Fogal’s first of the season, though he shared credit with teammate Jeremy Cross in a 3-0 blanking of Concordia (Wis.) Dec. 4.

“When our guys know (Fogal is) playing well, we can take more chances offensively,” Fogarty says. “He’s playing great for us.”