Adrian College knows a thing or two about hockey.
In only a decade, Adrian has gone from a school in a county without an ice rink, to one of the biggest, if not the biggest, powerhouse in the college hockey world.
With six different teams not just competing, but thriving and excelling at five different levels, Adrian College has become a premiere destination for the best hockey players at the NCAA and ACHA level.
This year, the Bulldogs captured five regular season league titles and five teams went and competed at their respective national tournaments.
Pretty good for a program whose rink was just a pile of dirt 10 years ago at this time.
Arrington Ice Arena now has no shortage of banners hanging from its rafters.
The Men’s NCAA team has won eight MCHA(Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association)/NCHA(Northern Collegiate Hockey Association) regular season titles, seven MCHA/NCHA playoff titles and made seven appearances in the National Tournament, including three trips to the Frozen Four and one to the Big Dance.
The Women’s NCAA team has won two NCHA regular season titles, three playoff titles and made three National Tournament appearances, including a trip to the National Championship game this season where they hosted the Frozen Four. The Women’s NCAA team has also produced a former NWHL player in Hannah McGowan, who made history as part of the first group of professional women’s hockey players to be paid to play last season.
The Men’s ACHA D1 (MD1) team has won five Great Lakes Collegiate Hockey League (GLCHL) regular season titles, three GLCHL playoff titles and made seven straight appearances at the National Tournament and this season made it to the National Semifinals for the first time in program history.
The Women’s ACHA team has won one regular season league title and made four appearances at the National Tournament in their five season history, including three trips to the National Semifinals.
The DIII Gold team is the only Adrian College team to ever win a National Championship title and the only ACHA DIII team to win three straight titles. They’re also only the fourth team in all of college hockey history to win three straight. They’ve won the MCHC East regular season title three times and the MCHC playoff title three times.
Now, a decade later, there are quite a few alumni leading the hockey program to continued success that they knew firsthand as student-athletes in the program.
Men’s NCAA Head Coach Adam Krug knows about success. As the inaugural captain for the Bulldogs, Krug led the team to back to back Harris Cup titles and back to back regular season titles in the first two seasons of the program before becoming the first of 14 professional players to come from the NCAA team. He came back as the Bulldogs’ bench boss in the 2014-15 season and has led the Varsity team ever since.
"Seeing the program grow from a pile of dirt, where Arrington stands today has meant the world,” Krug said, “To be part of it from essentially day one is something I'm extremely proud of."
Women’s NCAA assistant coach Shawn Skelly was also a part of that inaugural team and the inaugural graduating class that reached the National Championship game in 2011. Skelly came back to Adrian this season after playing professional hockey for five seasons to help coach the Women’s NCAA team.
“Ten years ago I came on a visit and there was nothing but dirt where the rink is and to come back as a coach to see what has changed [is great],” said Skelly at the start of the season. “[It’s also] good to see former members of the program who understand the tradition that has been instilled.”
DIII Gold head coach Max Gavin was a four year member of the ACHA Men’s D1 team, including the first team to make an appearance at the National Tournament back in the 2010-11 season.
“When Phelps (MD1 head coach ‘08-’14) was recruiting me, his expectations were to be a solid, competitive program,” Gavin said, “At Christmas time that year, we won a bunch of games in a row and started to believe we could contend for a National Championship. Once we made our first tournament and got a taste of it, it wasn’t good enough to just be there. The goal and the expectation was to win. That starts with the support we get from the school, the alumni and the coaches that came before us and we’re just trying continue to build on that success and bring a National Championship to Adrian College.”
WACHA Head Coach and former DIII Gold Head Coach, Brett Berger, never played for the Bulldogs, but was a part of the program from the beginning.
“I came to Adrian College the second year of the hockey programs,” Berger said, “I came in as the Men's ACHA DI Assistant Coach. Since then we had added two more Men's ACHA programs and two Women's ACHA programs. I took on the head coaching responsibility of the ACHA DIII Gold program and was on board when we won the first ever National Championship in school history. I left Adrian for a little over a year and returned as the Head Coach for the Women's ACHA DI program. Since my return, we have appeared in four consecutive National Tournaments and three consecutive National Tournament Final Fours. It has been amazing to see the growth at the ACHA level at Adrian College. Every program has continued to achieve new heights and have helped Adrian College become a hockey powerhouse.”
Men’s ACHA D1 Head Coach Gary Astalos is the lone newcomer to the Bulldog hockey program, coming to the program last May, who credits his fellow coaches and his players for his success with the MD1 team.
“Coach Sunde and Gavin made the transition to Adrian College very easy for me. Both of them being alumni of the program, showed me the traditions of Bulldog hockey that I enjoyed learning about,” Astalos said, “There was also many people I reached out to for help and support coming into Adrian. You also want to work your hardest knowing the previous coaches put in so much work to get it to the point it is currently at. The players on the team are the reason for our success. We have a great group and I could not be prouder of them.
The Laflamme siblings know a thing or two about that legacy as well, all three attended Adrian College and played hockey for the Bulldogs and two of them won one national championship each with the Gold team.
“My time at Adrian College was unforgettable. It is a great school run by an astounding person in Dr. Docking,” ACHA DIII Black and Gold alum Joey Laflamme ‘13, who was the oldest and first of the Laflamme kids to come to Adrian, “The reason I came to Adrian was because of the hockey program.”
“It was a great experience being able to play for Adrian,” Mitchell Laflamme ‘14 who played goaltender for DIII Black and Gold as well as the NCAA team, said, “On top of that being able to play for three of the four men's teams was also a lot of fun. Winning a national championship my senior year wasn't too bad either. Being able to play the game I love for free was a huge part in coming to Adrian along with the great business program.”
“Adrian was a temporary home for me, the transition and choice was fairly easy for me with all the opportunities I was presented with,” Nichole Laflamme ‘16, the youngest Laflamme, who spent time with the Women’s NCAA and ACHA teams as well as the NCAA Lacrosse team, said, “Ultimately being a duel athlete (hockey & lacrosse) while pursuing a degree was the reason I chose Adrian College.”
The Bulldogs have another person to thank though for the very beginning of the hockey program. President Docking played perhaps the biggest part in getting hockey to Adrian College as part of his plan to make Adrian College thrive once again when he took over as college president in 2006.
"Personally, I think most of the credit goes to Dr. Docking for bringing the idea of ice sports to Adrian College, and to Ron Fogarty for laying the foundation of success,” Krug said, “It's been easy for me as a coach to just keep the ship afloat. You also have to tip your hat to all of the players that have come through the doors. We've won a lot of hockey games, at all levels."
"Our hockey program has exceeded my expectations from top to bottom,” Docking said, “I never imagined we would achieve this level of success so quickly. It illustrates what can be accomplished when hard working and talented people come together to build something great."
But what’s the secret to the success of Bulldog hockey? BlackSquad coach and former MD1 captain Kevin Sunde (assistant captain ‘09-’11, captain ‘11-’13) just might have the answer.
"Most people look at our hockey programs--both NCAA & ACHA, men's and women's alike--and say things like 'it is amazing what you have accomplished in 10 years' or 'in only your tenth year you guys had four teams ALL make the final four.'” Sunde said, “We--as coaches, players, and alums--all certainly look at the past decade with pride and gratitude. I have the honor to have that pride as all three--along with coaches Gavin, Krug, Skelly, and before that, Dovey (former NCAA assistant coach and captain of the Men’s NCAA team). But there is a part of every one of us that hasn't won the last game of the season that thinks 'well, we still got work to do.' And that is the mentality that keeps us a successful hockey school from the BlackSquad to the Brotherhood, WACHA to whatever those wonderful NCAA gals call themselves.”