Adam Krug remembers the opener against Utica a little more than five months ago and how his shorthanded team battled through two overtimes on the road only to fall 3-2.
There was still one more game to go that Saturday on Halloween, and the Bulldogs, missing some of their top players because of COVID protocol, found a way to grind out a 4-3 win and a series split.
No one knew at the time, but it was about to be the start of a memorable run of 31 consecutive wins that would end with Adrian (31-1) topping Geneseo 5-2 to win the national championship for the first time in program history.
“Our group was demoralized by Covid. We had like 11 guys or something like that in protocol,” Krug said. “For those guys to rally together and figure out a way to win was big. That win really set us up. If this group didn’t believe then, it believed now.”
Krug would guide his team through a challenging schedule on its way to a national title, much of the season carrying the weight of being the top-ranked team in the nation, and for that success, he has been the USCHO NCAA Division III Coach of the Year.
He’s honored by the recognition, but knows coaching a team to a title isn’t all on him.
“What that says to me is we had group all in on the vision,” Krug said. “My assistant coach, Adam Phillips, is the best assistant in country. He makes things around here run on daily basis, doing a bunch of dirty work, doing things I can’t because we have a small staff. It’s a group effort. I get my name on the award, but I really appreciate staff and the players.”
Krug played at Adrian. He was there when the program began more than a decade ago. He took the head coaching job in 2014 and hoped to carry on the tradition that had already been established.
“I was here in 07-08 as a player. I remember us starting out with a lot of wins and making a lot of noise as the new kids on the block,” Krug said. “We didn’t have the AQ at the time in the old MCHA, but those teams were right there.”
Including the 2008-09 team that Krug played on. It went 28-1-1 and won 27 consecutive games.
“That team was the best one I was a part of as a player,” Krug said. “We beat Neuman and that team won the NCAA championship that season. The goal from day one in this program was always to win a national championship. This one stems back 15 years in my opinion.”
Krug said the fact that his team was able to play games last season when a lot of programs didn’t amid the COVID-19 pandemic helped set the stage for this run. The Bulldogs went 16-6-1, with the schedule including games against Division I opponents Bowling Green and Lake Superior State.
“We were fortunate to play as many games as we did. It allowed us to get work in, and the experience of playing was invaluable,” Krug said. “When the guys got here in the fall when practice started, to see them out there, you felt this group was special.”
The team was relentless with its forecheck, according to Krug, and the depth of this team was vital to its success.
Focus was also crucial. A lot of people outside the program talked about the streak, often in the media. Krug said there were parents who pulled him to the side once and joked that Adrian might want to lose one here at some point to shake things up.
But the Bulldogs never lost.
“Our guys did a great job staying in the moment,” Krug said. “And then we reached the point of no return. We had two games against Aurora, a top 15 team, and then we had to play St. Norbert to win the NCHA. And then it was the playoffs. There was never a time where we could get tripped up at that point that wouldn’t hurt us.”
Adrian won the NCHA crown and then marched through the playoffs, scoring five or more goals in every game on the road to history.
“That celebration was different than any other,” Krug said. “To get the trophy that 83 teams were playing for at the start of the season was special. The guys didn’t rush to get through the celebration. Each guy had his moment with the trophy.”
For Krug, getting a championship means a little more to him.
“Being an alum, it does make it extra special,” Krug said. “The support from the school and alums has been great.”
Krug wasn’t ready to talk potential repeat quite yet, but he does know the potential is there for another successful season. For now, its all about enjoying this title.
“We’re appreciating this one because we don’t know when the next one will be. We know how hard this is to achieve,” Krug said. “But I’ll tell ya, it’s not lost upon us that we have a pretty good roster coming back.”