New Season, New Attitude

The Western Michigan hockey team begins regular season action this weekend against the Nanooks of Alaska-Fairbanks. Following the heartbreaking end to last season the Broncos enter this season with a new captain, great team chemistry and a renewed sense of urgency when it comes to how this team wants to finish their season.

Senior captain Pat Dwyer has said it a few times already this season. "If we don't make it to The Joe [for the CCHA Super Six] it will be a disappointing season," alluding to the fact that the Broncos haven't made it past the first round of the CCHA playoffs in over a decade now.

"We are trying to build off of our experiences from that playoff series last year, being only one goal away from making it to Joe Louis," said head coach Jim Culhane talking about the overtime loss to Notre Dame in the CCHA playoffs ending the Broncos' season last year.

"This team has never not made it to The Joe," said Dwyer emphasizing that despite the programs lack of post-season success in recent years that this year's team is a new team with fresh faces.

"We have eight in our freshmen class coming in; we are hoping for those young men to step-up and provide some quality play and some quality goals for us," said Culhane.

Some of those fresh faces include Mike Erickson – a transfer from Minnesota – who is a third round draft pick of his home state Minnesota Wild. Erickson is a pure goal scorer with a heavy shot and a knack for getting his stick blade open for passes on the power play.

Other newcomers include Nathan Ansell and Jonathan Lupa on defense. Both players have made a case for regular playing time already having made the line-up against exhibition opponent Brock in place of juniors Reid Yantzi and Andrew Dwyer (no relation to Pat).

At forward freshman Mike Lesperance is already skating on the top line along side Pat Dwyer and Vince Bellissimo. Brian Bicek is centering the third line and playing with fellow freshman Jeff Kyrzakos. Jeff Pierce – a walk-on – has yet to make a case for a spot in the line-up figuring to be a work in progress much like Lucas Drake was the previous four seasons.

In goal is an increasingly interesting situation as freshman Daniel Bellissimo vies for playing time against juniors Scott Foster and Eric Marvin. Bellissimo got the start against Brock in an effort to shake loose the butterflies in his stomach before he has a chance to see an opponent in a game that counts. Jim Culhane won't give any hints as to which he favors as the starter for the beginning of the season as he continues to assert that this "is a three man battle."

Gone are the days of Jeff Campbell who scored 53 points as a freshman. Gone also is Mike Jarmuth who quarterbacked the top power play unit last season. And gone is three-time captain Dana Lattery who played in every roll ever asked of him. "We lost seven seniors from our lineup," said Culhane. "We have some big shoes to fill."

This year's team is a team filled with youth and the youthful enthusiasm that goes along with it. "We have great team chemistry this season," said Dwyer. "This is the closest our team has been together in as long as I've been here."

With only four seniors on the roster this season some of those young players will be counted on to produce in key situations and play a significant amount of minutes. Evidence can be found by looking no further then the exhibition game with Brock. There were four healthy scratches in that game and only one of them was a freshman.

Broncos Illustrated Top Stories