Pieces Coming Together

The 2003-04-hockey season has just ended with the Denver University winning wining the NCAA title just a month after WMU was an overtime goal from away from a CCHA first round series victory. But even as you read this Jim Culhane and the WMU hockey program are putting the pieces together for an exciting 2004-05 season.

The first piece to in progress is the schedule for next season, which will be officially released later this spring. The reason it won't be released is because it isn't done yet. Broncos Illustrated does have a sneak peek at some of the competition fans can look forward to. Note this schedule is still tentative.

First in conference WMU will be in a cluster (teams they will play four times instead of twice) with Ferris State, Miami Ohio and Ohio State. A highlight of the season will be early January when fans will be treated to visits from Michigan and Michigan State on back-to-back weekends. One disappointment will be another year of the Broncos visiting Northern Michigan instead of a chance to see the Wildcats in Lawson.

"I think as a fan when you look at the league and how competitive the league is this will be a pretty exciting place to be next year," said head coach Jim Culhane. "I don't think you can look at anybody [in this league] and say that's going to be 2 points or that's going to be 4 points. For example just look at what we did in the playoffs, Notre Dame had lost only one game at home and we took them to within an overtime goal to determine who goes to Joe Louis Arena."

The non-conference schedule is what hasn't been finished yet. Culhane's club will host Niagara and Alabama-Huntsville, and will make a trip to the state of Minnesota for a series with Bemidji State. All three of those opponents are from the CHA.

Captains for the 2004-05 season have been named earlier this week by the coaching staff. Pat Dwyer will be captain while Vince Bellissimo and Brent Walton will be the assistant captains. This is the first time that the coaches have named the team's captains; traditionally the players vote upon this.

There will be a change in the coaching staff for the hockey team next fall. While all the paid assistants (which the NCAA allows two of) will remain the same, volunteer assistant and Bronco alum Matt Barnes plans to return to playing professional hockey next season. Barnes will be replaced as goaltender coach by Allan Avery who held that position in the 2002-03 season.

In goal will be yet another good fight for playing time. Scott Foster played the bulk of the minutes last season while Eric Marvin showed signs of future brilliance with a 4-0 shutout of Notre Dame in the CCHA playoffs.

The new wrinkle to the equation will be Daniel Bellissimo coming in as a freshman following the graduation of Mike Mantua. "I expect that all three guys will compete," said Culhane.

Some fans may remember last fall when coach Culhane was excited that the team had in his opinion the best fall conditioning since he has been involved with the program. Expect more of the same next fall. "Expectations will be higher," said Culhane. "Right now that's the only thing we can control, fitness and athleticism, and we're going to do everything we can do to get better in that area over the summer." The team began workouts in preparations for next season just a few weeks ago and 16 of the 18 returning players will be on campus using the facilities at Lawson to train most of the summer.

Will next season's team be better then this year's? Who knows, but right now the coaching staff and players are putting together the pieces to be as competitive as possible.

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