Broncos Attract NHL Attention

Most Bronco hockey fans know about 2002 NHL draft picks Vince Bellissimo and Pat Dwyer (Florida and Atlanta respectively), but they are only two on a long list of Broncos being scouted by NHL scouts. Two more current Broncos and two future Broncos are also being looked at along with a transfer who was drafted while with his previous school.

The WMU hockey program was filled with excitement when NHL teams drafted 2002 CCHA Rookie of the Year Pat Dwyer and incoming recruit Vince Bellissimo. They were the first draft picks from WMU since 1998 when the Islanders drafted Kevin Clauson. Prior to that WMU had a consistent run of draft picks in 15 of the previous 17 years including current NHL players Joe Corvo (LA), Jamal Mayers (St. Louis), and Mike Eastwood (Pittsburgh).

Now there is a new batch of NHL prospects gaining the much-deserved attention of NHL scouts. WMU freshmen Paul Szczechura and Ryan Mahrle are listed in NHL Central Scouting's Preliminary Rankings. Incoming players for 2004-05 Mike Lesperance and Jeff Kyrzakos are on the Players to Watch List and incoming transfer Mike Erickson was a third round pick of Minnesota in 2002.

Erickson comes to WMU with the goal of filling in immediately for holes that will be left by the talented seniors now on the team. A good passer and natural goal scorer Erickson does have skills he would like to improve upon before he feels he could move onto the NHL level. "I think skating is a huge issue," said Erickson on his team bio. "I think that's one of my weaknesses and I've been working on making it a strength."

Szczechura came to WMU as a 17-year old freshman, after being named Ontario Junior B Player of the Year, with great raw skill and hockey sence. After a slow start to the season he has come on strong now skating on the top forward line with Dana Lattery and Jeremy Cheyne. He currently holds a 4-8-12 line. Szczechura said of the attention, "I try not to focus on it right now, I'm just focusing on playing the game everyday. Whatever happens, I'm just trying to do what's best for the team, if it works out great."

Mahrle is one of the leading scoring defensemen in the CCHA and one of the leading scoring freshmen this season (6-8-14) in the CCHA. The Troy, MI native brings with him international experience playing for Team USA in the Four Nations Cup and a U-18 tournament in the Czech Republic prior to attending WMU. "It's pretty neat to have them watching [me], there have been scouts at almost every game," said Mahrle. "I'd love to get drafted."

Mahrle and Szczechura do have one issue to contend with that they have no power to change. "One thing that the guys in the NHL look at a lot is size," said Head Coach Jim Culhane. "Both kids [Mahrle and Szczechura] are not big people, that may hinder things for them."

Jeff Kyrzakos is one of the highly talented scorers in the OPJHL this season having played (and scored) several times this season with a broken finger. Currently with a 24-31-55 line in just 37 games, Kyrzakos is third on his team in points and among the league leaders in points as well. He is not at all afraid to be physical either making him not too unlike Dana Lattery with his ability to fight through checks on top of his good skating ability and knack for scoring.

Mike Lesperance currently leads his team (Newmarket) in assists with 22 and is a play making forward that is an outstanding skater. He isn't scoring as much as had been hoped for him, but is showing great leadership ability in the OPJHL.

This attention from NHL scouts isn't a guarantee that these players will be drafted or even play in the NHL, but it is the first step towards that life long goal. "They're identified as young players by the people in the NHL and Central Scouting and that is a wonderful honor for them," said Culhane. "Who knows what that will mean at the end of the day in June [at the NHL draft]?"

NHL scouts from both Central Scouting and from individual teams do in fact make it to a lot of WMU's games. "Every time you step onto the ice is a chance to market yourself and hopefully play well," added Culhane. "I feel all these kids have played well."

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