Icers Head North

After a hard fought series with Miami the Bronco hockey team (11-14-1, 6-13-1 CCHA) heads to the great white north to take on the Wildcats of Northern Michigan (14-9-5, 12-7-3 CCHA), a team the Broncos have not had much success against. The two teams split their games last season, but NMU still holds a 17-5-1 mark against WMU since the Wildcats rejoined the CCHA in 1997.

For the Western Michigan hockey team the key will be defense. Not only their own defense but also finding a way to get the puck past a Northern Michigan defense that only yields 2.2 goals against per game led by senior goalie and Hobey Baker candidate Tuomas Tarkki.

"What I'm concerned for is for us to continue to generate shots on net," said Bronco coach Jim Culhane.

But an improved team defense will be the greatest area of concern for the Broncos as the Berry Events Center is one of only two CCHA arenas with an Olympic sized ice sheet. That would be 200' by 100' as compared to the 200' by 85' NHL sized ice sheet the Broncos normally skate on.

"That extra fifteen feet in width might not sound like much but it is… it just seems like it's so large," said Culhane.

And the Broncos will be making adjustments to their defensive game in order to handle the more open skating lanes and extra space for forwards to make plays. "We've talked about making adjustments positioning wise and in our passing lanes to make sure we're aware of those things," Culhane said.

So what are the keys to playing sound defensively on the big ice sheet? "We have to do a good job of playing our game between the face off dots," said Culhane. "You have to really clog up the middle of the rink and not get yourself caught really wide. If you're going to give up shots you want them to be from the perimeter and from the outside. We have to give our goaltender Daniel Bellissimo a chance to make those [easy] saves."

The Broncos practiced this afternoon at NMU on the big ice and will again Friday for their pregame skate to get used to the feel of the larger ice surface.

This weekend will also be the fifth regular season trip to NMU in the last seven seasons alone (not including a pair of playoff trips to NMU in that time span) while the Wildcats have made it to Kalamazoo only twice in that time; but Culhane isn't to concerned about the scheduling difficulties. "We're excited by the challenge," Culhane said. "It's just what we're dealt with when the schedule comes out from the league."

New Lines:

After the Broncos' 5-2 loss to Miami last Friday the coaching staff shuffled their forward lines to try and generate more offense.

One line was particularly effective: Brent Walton, Daryl Moore and Mike Erickson. Although Walton and Erickson have played together a lot the two are new to playing with Walton's junior teammate Moore at center. In last Saturday night's game Walton would grab 3 assists while Moore and Erickson would each get a goal and an assist in the game.

The other line getting attention is the "freshmen line" of Mike Lesperance, Brian Bicek and Jeff Pierce. Although they didn't find the score sheet in Saturday's game, "I liked the way they played," said Culhane. "They played with a lot of energy, enthusiasm, they played hard and I think that's something we're looking at [keeping together]."

The other lines include season long line-mates Pat Dwyer and Vince Bellissimo with Kevin Labatte on the right wing, and the smart playmaking Paul Szczechura centering the "grind line" of Brett John and Trevor Cook.

Culhane would not guarantee these lines would stay together though not wanting to give Wildcat coach Walt Kyle "too much of an idea of what we're going to do."

Broncos Illustrated Top Stories