Broncos Add Size and Depth

Jim Culhane and the Western Michigan hockey program have added great size and depth to the fall 2004 roster and even an NHL draft pick. Broncos Illustrated has in-depth information on each recruit.

Western Michigan has added forwards Mike Erickson (Des Moines – USHL), Jeff Kyrzakos (St. Mike's – OPJHL), Mike Lesperance (Newmarket – OPJHL), defenseman Nathan Ansell (Sarnia – WOJHL), and goaltender Daniel Bellissimo (St. Mike's – OPJHL) to scholarship for the fall of 2004. In addition Broncos Illustrated has learned that right-winger Jeff Pierce (Petrolia – WOJHL) will be a walk-on for the Bronco squad in 2004.

The addition of those players leaves open one roster spot for a defenseman to be added later in the recruiting process. The Broncos have lost the battle for a couple solid defensemen recently with highly regarded Kyle Radke (Grand Prairie – AJHL) to North Dakota in June and 2003 NHL draft pick Jay Rosehill (Olds – AJHL) to Minnesota-Duluth just last week. "We would like to get a kid that is maybe more of a stay at home type defensemen that has good size," said head coach Jim Culhane. "We will reevaluate and see what's out there… we'll be going everywhere."

Mike Erickson is a third round draft pick of the Minnesota Wild from 2002 that has already played college hockey at the University of Minnesota. The 6 foot 3 inch 202 pound winger suffered a broken bone in his foot that sidelined him 9 games into his freshman season. Even after recovering he saw significantly reduced playing time. Midway through the 2002-03 (sophomore) season both Erickson and Minnesota decided that playing time in junior hockey with the USHL was what was best for him.

As a prospect Erickson was list by Red Line Report as the top high school prospect out of Minnesota. Playing for Eden Prairie High School the forward racked up 86 goals 69 assists for 155 points in his high school career. The NHL prospect was named all-conference three times by the time he had graduated high school.

Early in this season Erickson has 12 goals 10 assists for 22 points in 20 games. He committed to WMU in late October verbally, and at the time Broncos Illustrated had interviewed Jim Culhane, the Eden Prairie Minnesota native had not gotten his letter of intent to the hockey office. As a result NCAA rules prohibited any comment from Culhane about Erickson.

In Erickson's bio for the Des Moines Buccaneers he says, "I think the college education was important to me. So much can happen in bettering your skills and developing as a player. I thought this would be the best route for me." Erickson added about being an NHL draft pick, "It's definitely something I'm proud of. Unfortunately, it serves as quite a bit of pressure. Every game you expect so much of yourself. It's kind of a lot of pressure because you want to be the best player on the ice every night. You make sure you stand out every night and help your team win."

Because of the transfer from Minnesota Erickson will only have 2 years of eligibility left when he arrives at WMU. His skill and experience all but guarantee that he will be a big contributor for the Broncos the moment he arrives on campus.

Jeff Kyrzakos is another big player with good skills. At 6 foot 2 inches and 195 pounds this right-winger out of the St. Mike's Buzzers junior A program had put up great numbers so far this season. His line of 18 goals 28 assists for 46 points in 30 games ranks third on his team. The gritty forward has 50 penalty minutes on the season and is the most consistent scorer on his team.

Kyrzakos was originally convinced to defer his arrival at WMU to the fall of 2005 due to roster space available, but things changed in a real hurry just a week and a half ago. Having verbally committed on November 3, within days his situation changed due to the unexpected departure of freshman Luke Dubbin. Dubbin left the Broncos to play major junior hockey in Canada opening up a roster spot for Kyrzakos in 2004.

Another forward coming out of the OPJHL is Mike Lesperance from Newmarket. With a 6 foot 1 inch 195 pound frame Jim Culhane was quick to compare him to current Bronco Kevin Labatte. "The things that really attracted us were his skating ability and his size," said Culhane. "His puck skills are good, we expect him to be an up and down winger, physical.

"He'll be a physical presence on the ice for us with his size. I think he could play on a line like a grind line, but he could also play on a line with a bunch of high end skill players."

Second on his team in scoring Lesperance has a 6 goal 18 assist for 24 points line in 26 games played. Lesperance is a quick play-making forward that has aspirations of a professional hockey career. He signed his letter of intent this summer having already graduated from high school, and is looking forward to the college game.

On defense Nathan Ansell is the smallest and youngest recruit this season. Playing for Sarnia of the WOJHL, Ansell is a puck control defenseman with a big shot that could be compared to current Broncos Ryan Mahrle and Kyle Bushee. Culhane said, "Nathan's got a big shot, he skates well, he has good puck skills to make a good first pass out of the zone, and he has good defensive awareness." At 5 foot 11 inches and 195 pounds Ansell is a bulky player that has good play making abilities.

In the current season Ansell has 2 goal 10 assists for 12 points in 23 games. He is also a very disciplined player with only 14 PIM this year. "He'll come in and compete for a spot in the line up as Ryan has and as Kyle has," added Culhane.

In goal is a player with a name familiar to Bronco fans. That name is Bellissimo, and no not star forward Vince but, goaltender Daniel. As may be guessed the two are brothers and they share a great passion for the game of hockey. The Toronto native is a slender 6 foot 2 inches and 175 pounds.

Bellissimo is now playing on his third team in two seasons having joined St. Mike's 14 games ago. In 14 games Bellissimo has 8 wins, a goals against average of 3.01 and a save percentage of 91%. Taking the roster spot that will be vacated by Mike Mantua, Bellissimo has a very similar athletic style of play, but is very composed emotionally like sophomore goaltender Scott Foster. Culhane added about Bellissimo, "he's very athletic, he's very composed in [net] too, he doesn't get rattled. We like what we've seen of him the last two years now. We look for him to come in and challenge the guys right away."

Walking on to the squad in 2004 will be Troy, MI native Jeff Pierce who plays for the Petrolia Jets of the WOJHL. Because he will not be signing a letter of intent Culhane is unable to comment on him per NCAA rules. Pierce is tied for first on his junior team in scoring with 15 goals 12 assists for 27 points in 22 games. Pierce is similar to Erickson, Kyrzakos, and Lesperance in both playing style and in size with a 6 foot 1 inch 186-pound frame.

The coaching staff is very happy with the results of their recruiting efforts for the fall of 2004. "With the resources we have, with the dollars that we have I think its worked out really well," said Culhane. "We have to be pretty price sensitive to where we're [traveling to recruit], and I think we've done a good job of getting the kids we want, who play our style of hockey, to commit."

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