Broncos Take on Fighting Irish

Western Michigan (4-4-0, 2-4-0 CCHA) will face Notre Dame (1-5-3, 0-4-2 CCHA) in a hockey rematch of last year's first round playoff series. The Broncos will be looking to avenge their early playoff exit against the team they lost to only twice last season… twice at the wrong time.

"I have a lot of respect for Notre Dame, they're the ones that ended our season last year," said Bronco head coach Jim Culhane. "They got the overtime goal to end our year and for them to move on and go to the NCAA [playoffs]. But it's a new year and a new season."

Despite the playoff exit the broncos did have a pair of spectacular regular season wins against the Irish last season that left the crowds at Lawson craving more. The 8-6 and 6-4 wins were the highest offensive output for the Broncos all last season.

This season the Irish are struggling to find ways to win with their only victory a last minute win over Boston College. "I've looked at who they've played and they've played a hell of a schedule," said Culhane. "They're all ranked teams."

Putting the puck in the net has been an issue for Notre Dame too as not a single player on their roster is averaging over a point per game compared to WMU who has five players over a point per game.

The Irish leading scorer is defenseman Wes O'Neill with eight points (3 goals, 5 assists) followed by Cory McLean at seven points (2 goals, 5 assists). Beyond the leaders the scoring for the Irish is few and far in between.

At the other end of the ice is senior goaltender Morgan Cey who is averaging 2.42 goals per game with a .931 saves percentage. Sophomore David Brown (4.33, .877), who was one of the top freshman goaltenders in the nation last season, has struggled early allowing Cey to garner the bulk of the playing time.

For the Broncos there are a few stories unfolding as the season progresses.

First off is the play of freshman netminder Daniel Bellissimo who seems to get better with each passing week. Stopping 78 of 82 shots against Niagara last weekend Bellissimo's stats are catching up with his solid play. Now at a 3.47 goals against average and a .894 save percentage the numbers are starting to reflect the player.

The next unfolding story is how Brent Walton has quietly moved into the nation's lead in points with 17. Scoring a remarkably consistent two points per game – with one three-point game snuck in – the assistant captain has been leading by example early in the year.

"The puck just seems to be going in right now. It's all because of my teammates," Walton told Broncos Illustrated after last weekend's games.

"He's off to a fantastic start," said Culhane. "He's just on a terror right now and as a goal scorer you get in one of those groves and everything is going in for you and that's what is happening for Wally right now. The other thing is he's working real hard at it right now too."

Young forwards for the Broncos have been adding their contributions lately as sophomore Paul Szczechura won team Player of the Week honors last weekend and freshman Brian Bicek the weekend before. Over the last two weekends those two players have combined for nine points after early-season scoring had been led by top line veterans.

"We got tremendous leadership from Brian Bicek on Saturday scoring shorthanded," said Culhane. "We need leadership form everyone."

Finally Vince Bellissimo, who received a game disqualification for a fight last week, will be forced to sit out Friday night's game this weekend and will be a coach's decision for Saturday. This week in practice Bellissimo has been skating on the fourth line along side Brett John and Trevor Cook.

The games this weekend are at Lawson Ice Arena on the WMU campus with Friday's face-off at 7:35pm and Saturday's face-off pushed back to 8:05pm to accommodate football traffic. Both games will be on the Bronco Radio Network (led by 100.9fm) and Comcast Local will televise Friday's game live. Tickets are available at the WMU ticket office by calling 1-888-4-WMU-TIX or at the Lawson Arena doors beginning two hours before game time.

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