NEW TEAM MAKES ITS OWN MIRACLE ON ICE

This is a story about giving birth. Hang on. It’s a wild ride.

It starts with a man and an idea. The man is Jeffrey Docking, a one-time seminary student who became president of Adrian College.

The idea was to start a hockey team.

“I thought it would help us grow enrollment,” he says.

First problem. He didn’t have a rink. Second problem. He didn’t have a coach. Third problem. He didn’t have players. He made some calls. He raised construction money. He found Ron Fogarty, an assistant at Bowling Green.

“How would you like,” Docking asked Fogarty, “to be head coach of a brand new team?”

Fogarty came to visit. He looked around. He saw a sign in an empty field that read: “Future site of the Arrington Ice Arena.” Or as he recalls it now: “Just a pile of mud and a vision.”

Fogarty took the job. This was November 2006. He made calls. Lots of calls. He sent out mailings. He contacted coaches. He reached east and west, throughout the United States and throughout Canada. He got some kids to say yes without making a trip. Just as well. There wasn’t much to see.

Just a pile of mud and a vision. From sea to shining sea

Finally, last August, a group of young men assembled on the Adrian campus. The men wandered around. Shook hands. Almost none of them knew each other. Twenty-two freshmen. One sophomore. One junior.

The junior became the captain.

“I’d played a couple years of Division I at Wayne State,” says Adam Krug, 24, who was sitting out a year, coaching at his high school, when he heard about the start-up. “I had never even been to Adrian before.”

Neither had a lot of them. One kid, a forward named Mike Towns, came all the way from the suburbs of Vancouver, British Columbia. He committed over the phone. His friends thought he was going to Detroit. “They were Red Wings fans, so they thought it was cool,” he says.

Of course, Adrian is no more Detroit than Niagara Falls is New York City. A town of about 23,000 – where Thomas Edison once ran a machine repair shop – Adrian sits 30 miles from Toledo and a million miles from sports history.

But this was so new and they were so new, these kids from Edmonton and Chatham and Livonia and Tampa, from the Bozeman Icedogs, the Bismarck Bobcats or the Ft . McMurray Oil Barons. They spent their first month bonding and sneaking peeks inside the still-under-construction rink. And when time came to put down the ice, guess who did it?

“We took shifts holding the big hose and flooding the floor,” says Quinn Waller, a defenseman from Windsor. “We put down a couple of layers, let that freeze, then they painted the lines and logo, let that dry, then we filled up the rest of the ice …”

How many teams build their own arena?

Finally, on a Friday night last October, less than a year after Fogarty accepted the job, the Adrian Bulldogs skated out to a packed house – 500 seats, a few hundred standing room – wearing uniforms designed by “my 6- and 9-year-old kids,” Fogarty says, laughing. “They thought it’d be cool to have a doggie on the front.” The start of something big

By now you might guess where this is going. Adrian, in its first year, has become a phenomenon. The Bulldogs haven’t lost since November. They are 24-3. They have an 18-game wining streak. They already set a record for most victories by an NCAA Division III program in its first season. And they average close to eight goals!

This weekend they are in Milwaukee, trying to win their conference tournament – a conference in which their closest opponent is a five-hour bus ride and their farthest is 18.

Eighteen hours on a bus?

You scratch this team and all you find is Norman Rockwell. The players do laundry and sharpen skates to earn pocket money. (There are no athletic scholarships.) The public skates to music between practices at the rink. “You can start your own tradition here,” Towns says. “Everything in Adrian hockey here will begin from this year.”

They’ve put the bar pretty high. And next weekend, they’ll find out if they get invited to the big dance – the NCAA tournament. How could you ignore them? Twenty-two freshmen? One sophomore? One junior? A pile of mud and a vision?

“It’s a feel-good story,” Docking admits. The birth of a team. It’s amazing what a man, an idea and a really big hose can create.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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