Last season ended on somewhat of a sour note with a pair of loses to Northern Michigan in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. "They were the better team Friday night," said Jim Culhane. "Saturday night, we played very well. 3-3 game late, and they were able to get that next one on the power play. The game could have gone either way, we pulled our goalie late and they get an empty net goal, so it was basically a 1 goal game."
"It shows the importance of home ice," added Culhane. "All the home teams except Miami won their series." Home ice in the playoffs is a goal that was just missed by 2 points. The Broncos only managed to secure 5 points in their last 10 games of the regular season with a possible 20 points available.
Despite the way the team finished this season the program as a whole is in much better shape then it was when Jim Culhane took over as head coach. "I think we've come a long way. The one thing we haven't done, which we're all disappointed in, is we haven't won a playoff series."
This years senior class has been instrumental in the progress of the program, having been through a coaching change during the recruiting process and in the last 3 years been ranked nationally and hosted a home ice playoff series. "They've done a lot for this program to bring it back to respectability."
No matter who the most talented players are the senior class is the heart and soul of any good team. The Broncos will have the first senior class next year of all Culhane recruits. "Next year's senior class will play a lot of key minutes and key rolls for us," said Culhane. "I think those guys in their leadership positions will need to take the team under their wing and in their command and show on a daily basis and every night what it's going to take to compete in the CCHA and nationally. These guys have been through those games and know what it takes to get it done. Now it's time for them, as seniors, to lead the way."
When Culhane was hired as head coach he made a 5-year proposal that included goals the team was expected to achieve over those 5 years. "The only thing we haven't done when I made my proposal was to win a playoff series. Everything else I put in front of them has been obtained."
One measure of a program's success is how well they do playing the traditional elite programs from across the nation. This season the Broncos tested themselves as much as anyone could be tested playing Maine, Colorado College, and Cornel. "It's a learning experience for us. I did that to see where we stack up and for us to learn what it's going to take to be successful against those elite teams," said Culhane.
"We didn't fair well the first nights, we played pretty well the second nights, yet we didn't win those games. It comes down to all the little things in the games: executing on special teams, executing in your systems, playing disciplined, all the little things that can push you over the top. Those are the things we need to do better to compete against those teams. It was good for us to play those teams to see where were at."
Culhane doesn't like to put too much pressure on incoming recruits, and declined to make much comment about hose recruits much the same as when Bellissimo was recruited and won the Top Forward award in the USHL. "Obviously they're outstanding junior players, they've had great junior careers, but I think it's unfair and I'm very cautious. What I did last year with Vince [Bellissimo], and Brent [Walton] is not put a lot of pressure on them coming in. I think there is enough anxiety coming in from junior to college that you don't need coaches putting expectations on kids right away and putting pressure on them."
Over the summer the returning team members continue to condition themselves for the next season and for the Broncos that started a week after their season ended. "Right now we're on an 8 hour work week right now," said Culhane. "We're lifting [weights] 3 days a week and running 2 and the weekends are off, and we'll do that until school breaks. The strong majority of the team's going to stay here for spring semester and take a class and stay here and work out with Bob Vezeau and Tom Herrmann and the strength and conditioning people over at Waldo Stadium. Summer, some will go home, others will stay."
"On ice for them there is really nothing that is controlled by [the coaches per NCAA rules]. They'll play their shinny pick-up hockey on their own. We're talking to each individual player, what his role is going to be going into next year, we'll evaluate his year this year, what he needs to do to improve himself as a player. We're doing that right now."
After the Bronco season ended rumors started to fly around about players leaving and coaching changes. There is some truth to these rumors according to Culhane.
"I talked to Nic [Boileau] on Friday [March 21], and talked to him about his roll on the team next year. I gave him the weekend to think about what he wanted to do," said Culhane. "He called me last night [March 23] and he decided that going into his last year… that he wasn't going to return."
Boileau only needs 20 more credit hours to graduate, and he made graduation a priority over hockey in part because of his limited roll on the team. More school is on the horizon for Boileau as law school is a goal of his.
The rumor about a coaching change is one that fans should be excited about. Allen Avery, who coached the goaltenders this past season, is leaving the program to make way for an exciting change. WMU alumnus Matt Barnes, who has been playing stellar hockey in the CHL, agreed to join the Bronco coaching staff as goaltender coach.
Barnes was originally scheduled to join the staff for this past season, but decided to play one more year of professional hockey. Barnes delay in joining the WMU staff is why Avery was hired as goaltender coach almost last minute. After Barnes has finished his coaching duties in a year or two Avery may come back to fill that roll once again.
Barnes will be working on his master's degree during his stay on the Bronco coaching staff. A stay that is expected to last a year or two.
Although next years schedule isn't officially released yet, Jim Culhane was able to let Broncos Illustrated have some insight into the 2003-04 schedule. Opposite of what has been rumored Colorado College will not be making a trip to Lawson for next season. "Colorado College was just a one year deal, they didn't want to reciprocate back here. We're also done with the home and home with Maine," said Culhane.
"We'll go to Cornell this year for 2 games at their place. We'll play 1 on the road at Niagara, and at home during thanksgiving we'll play 2 against Colgate. We'll play 2 against Mercyhurst at home, who has won the MAAC championship, and then we'll play 1 against Findley at home."
"Our cluster opponents obviously Ferris again as travel partners, UNO and Alaska-Fairbanks. Then we'll play at Northern twice, at Lake State twice, home and home with Michigan, home and home with [Michigan] State. We have Notre Dame home for 2, Bowling Green home for 2, Ohio State home for 2, and at Miami for 2. That's just off the top of my head. By the end of April that all gets done so we'll get that information out by late April, early May."
As of right now there is no holiday tournament again this year, but the staff is working on doing an exhibition game tour in Ontario against Canadian colleges between the Notre Dame series at the beginning of December and the next series at the beginning of January. There is no word yet as to whether or not a Brown and Gold game will be played next fall, or any other possible preseason exhibition games.
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