Rewarded For His Hard Work

Mike Erickson, a junior transfer on the Western Michigan hockey roster, has something new on his jersey. The letter ‘A.' And that letter represents the new title coach Jim Culhane just added to Erickson's resume, that of assistant captain. Read on to find out why Western Michigan has another hockey captain and what Erickson thinks of the situation.

It all started when Jim Culhane noticed that Michigan had three assistant captains in addition to captain Eric Nystrom on their roster. "I had thought the rule was one captain and two assistants," said Culhane. So the coach did some checking around and found it is well within the rules to have more then the traditional captain with a pair of assistant captains.

Enter Mike Erickson, a big forward with a hard shot, who joined the Bronco roster this season as a junior after transferring from Minnesota. Erickson was named assistant captain in time for last weekend's series with Michigan State. "That was a surprise to myself," said Erickson. "It's just a great honor to be named as an assistant captain from the coaching staff. It's something I'll wear with pride."

"I didn't want to send the wrong message here at all," said Culhane. The coach wanted to make it clear that this was a reward for Erickson. "I made sure with the captains and with the team that I'm very pleased with the leadership from [the three captains]. It was a decision that I made that I wanted to reward Mike Erickson for what he's done for our hockey program."

For Erickson this is a chance to add a wealth of experience to Pat Dwyer, Vince Bellissimo and Brent Walton. "Jordan Leopold was the captain [at Minnesota] my freshman year and to see how a program like that is run and see what it takes day in and day out and how everyone has to be one big family unit was important. Going though that helped me as a leader; it opened my eyes."

This is an honor for Erickson and a way for a coach to thank one of his hardest working players, but little will change for Erickson for the rest of the season. "I'm doing the same things as I have before," said Erickson. "Obviously I feel a little bit more responsibility, but I've always been pretty vocal in the locker room and on the bench in games. I also like to lead on the ice as well with my play."

This will not be the first time Erickson has taken on a leadership roll either. The Minnesota Wild draft pick was named captain of his junior team last season when he led his team in points with 61 in 58 games.

Currently Erickson has 20 points in 20 games for the Broncos with 10 goals and 10 assists. On the power play is where Erickson has made his biggest impact scoring 7 of his goals and 7 of his assists.

All this time Erickson has been making his impact on a bum ankle. "It's something I've been battling since the first weekend of the year," said Erickson. "It'll be five or six times a game where the ankle will just shut down on me and it'll take anywhere from a minute to five minutes to get that strength back."

It was a bum foot that cut severely into Erickson's playing time while with the NCAA champion Minnesota Golden Gophers. After leaving the team to play junior hockey with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL he asked for his release from the Gophers.

Assistant coach Chris Brooks spotted Erickson at the Buc Bowl preseason tournament last season and the Bronco staff decided to offer him a scholarship for his final two seasons of college eligibility. "With the loss of Jeff Campbell and Dana Lattery we wanted to bring in someone who could fill that void," said Culhane. "He's done that."

And just over a year after accepting that scholarship Erickson is the new assistant captain on his new team.

This new team of Erickson's isn't too far away from greatness either according to the once top Minnesota high school prospect. "We've really come together as a team, we're buying into the system and everyone is starting to gel," said Erickson. "Even though we won only one of the last four games those have been the best four games we've played all year.

"The guys know this can be a good team and we need to bring that emotion to every game. Everyone has brought everything they could to these last couple games; everyone has laid it on the line for their teammates. Everyone on my [Minnesota championship] teams didn't want to let their teammates down and that's something I see here in these last few games. If we keep doing that and eliminate a few more mistakes I think Western will be a definite contender."

"Mike is a very, very special young man," added Culhane. "He gets it."

The next action for Erickson and the Broncos will be on January 28/29 at Ohio State.

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