Broncos Hope to Feast on Lakers

Western Michigan's (5-7-1, 4-6-0 CCHA) hockey team will follow up their thanksgiving meals with a pair of games against the Lake Superior State Lakers (3-9-0, 0-8-0 CCHA). A pair of wins this weekend could move the Broncos into a tie for fourth in the CCHA.

The Broncos played a single game this weekend against Collage Hockey America team Niagara to a 7-3 win. Mike Mantua (3.32 GAA, .885 SV%) was once again the Perani Cup #1 star of the game making 32 saves on 35 shots and adding an assist to his now 2 game points streak. Offensively WMU played a good game with scoring from 13 different players including Vince Bellissimo (1-2-3), Paul Davies (2-0-2), and Brent Walton (2-0-2) who shares the league lead with 2 short-handed goals.

Defensively the Broncos did not play up to their potential allowing 35 shots and 2 power play goals. "I wasn't pleased with our effort defensively, I think we gave Niagara too many opportunities to score. We took some needless penalties in the first period," said Jim Culhane, "without the performance of Mike [Mantua] in net I think the score could have been easily 7-5 rather then being 7-3." Niagara's Joe Tallari added 2 goals to his NCAA leading total, which is now at 15. "I think Joe Tallari has positioned himself pretty well and is a prolific goal scorer not only in College Hockey America, but in the country right now," added Culhane.

For the Brown and Gold freshman Brent Walton has caught up with Jeff Campbell to lead the team with 12 points, and Dave Cousineau and Vince Bellissimo have tied the injured Dana Lattery at 10 points each. NHL draft pick Pat Dwyer is close behind them with 9 points on 3 goals and 6 assists and juniors Paul Davies and Lucas Drake are each at 8 points. One aspect of the game that the Broncos have confidence in is the goal scoring abilities of the forwards, and after the past two games confidence in the goaltending of Mike Mantua. "As he continues to play well he gains more and more confidence and so does the team, and I think his play the last two games has been exceptional," Culhane added.

Team defense and staying out of the penalty box are what the team expects to continue to work hard on improving this week. Monday's practice was full of drills and situations to work hard on the team's defense. "I think it's just a commitment to defense is what we need to do," said Culhane. "Everybody from the forwards down to our defensive corps needs to work on [defense] to improve." Penalty Minutes are also a concern for the Broncos who average 18.15 minutes in the sin-bin per game. If they intend to make a trip to Joe Louis Arena in the CCHA playoffs at the end of the season the team's weaknesses will need to be worked out.

Lake Superior took a break from regular season action with an exhibition game against the US National Development Program U-18 team. The two squads skated to a 1-1 tie with goals from University of Denver recruit J.D. Corbin of the U-18 team, and Colin Nicholson of LSSU. Both goals came in the first period of action while both teams took only 3 penalties for 6 minutes and both were blanked on the power play. Laker goaltender Matt Violin stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced in 65 minutes of action.

Laker head coach Frank Anzalone has his hands full with a team that finished in last place in the CCHA last season and who hasn't won a conference game yet this season. The only wins for LSSU so far are a win over Quinnipiac in the Black Bear Classic on October 11 and a sweep of Mercyhurst the following weekend. Scoring has been a big problem for the Lakers who have been shutout 3 times and have scored only 1 goal another 3 times. The team has been outscored 44-17 this season and has yet to score more then 3 goals in a game. For the Lakers to have any success in Kalamazoo they will have to stay out of the penalty box to avoid the 34% success rate other teams have had against them on the power play. The Lakers must also improve their own power play since they are 0-31 in their last six games.

One issue LSSU must contend with is being a very young team. The squad is made up of just 3 seniors, 2 juniors, 6 sophomores, and 14 freshmen. All three seniors, Chris Peterson (6 points), Jeremy Bachusz (5 points), and Aaron Davis (5 points) are leading the team in scoring. Davis is also the only LSSU player with a plus/minus above 0. After the three seniors the scoring drops off quickly with only freshman Colin Nicholson also at 5 points. The team took a big loss this past summer when Adam Nightingale decided to transfer to Michigan State and Andy Contois left for Northern Michigan to complete their college careers. Other transfers from the LSSU team include Jeff Mushalak to Maine and Chad Dahlen to North Dakota.

Don't expect the Broncos to be unmotivated for the series with LSSU. Despite LSSU being the last place team in the nation, Culhane's club will be well prepared for the weekend series. "I think motivation wise, that comes from within," said Culhane. "I think you should be motivated for every weekend you come out to play. You only play them two games and I expect them to be motivated and excited to play, I don't think you have to do anything special coming into a conference weekend, or any weekend." Culhane about the teams Thanksgiving Day, "just the regular routine, there's no holidays around here."

Both games this weekend are at Lawson Ice Arena with face-offs at 7:35pm each night. The games will be broadcast on the Bronco Hockey Radio Network led by WQXC COOL101 (100.9fm) and on internet broadcast at www.wmubroncos.com. Tickets are available at the WMU Ticket Office, at 1-888-4-WMU-TIX, and at www.wmubroncos.com for $12 and $16.

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