Big Red Invasion of Lawson

The Western Michigan (7-7-1, 6-6-0 CCHA) hockey team has returned to the .500 mark for the first time since a pair of early season losses to Notre Dame (5-6-2, 4-6-0 CCHA). This weekend #7 ranked Cornell (8-1-0, 5-1-0 ECAC) invades Lawson Ice Arena for a pair of non-conference games.

This past weekend the Broncos picked up a much-needed sweep of Lake Superior State to move up in the CCHA standings into a tie for fourth with Northern Michigan. Toughing it out through 5, coach imposed, one game suspensions, Scott Foster (4.00 GAA, .852 SV%) made 20 saves behind scoring from Nic Boileau, Brent Rumble, Mike Jarmuth, and Trevor Cook for a 4-2 win on Friday. Saturday night was Mike Mantua's (2.87 GAA, .898 SV%) time to shine as he led the Broncos to a 3-0-shutout win with 22 saves. "Any time you can minimize the other teams scoring chances it gives you a better chance at winning the games," Jim Culhane said about the shutout, "I thought that Mike [Mantua] played well in net and stopped them on some key opportunities, and I thought that the team played good defensively in front of him."

Cornell has been off to a huge start remaining in the top-15 since the preseason polls were announced. This past weekend the Big Red knocked off Boston University with 4-1 and 5-1 emotional home wins. In game 1 of the weekend series Cornell goalie Dave LeNeveu (1.11 GAA, .946 SV%) made 24 saves on 25 shots while Sam Paolini, Matt Moulson, Shane Hynes, and Ryan Vesce all scored goals for Cornell. Sam Paolini and Doug Murray both turned in 3-point nights in the game as well. Saturday's contest once again saw Dave LeNeveu stop all but one BU shot, this time en route to a 5-1 victory.

Leadership on the Cornell team comes from senior defenseman Doug Murray and senior forward Stephen Bâby. Bâby is a 6' 5" 235lbs. Atlanta Thrashers draft-pick that was selected to be a team captain this year in no small part because he consistently leads the team in assists, and is one of the top playmakers on the team. Bâby was also named ECAC Top Defensive Forward after last season. Murray was the Big Red team MVP last season along with being an all-American, all-ECAC and Ivy athlete of the year. Doug is also one of just two returning 2002 Hobey Baker Finalists returning to the NCAA this season.

WMU has a very strong connection to Cornell with their head coach Mike Shafer spending 1990-1995 at WMU as an assistant coach. Shafer currently holds a 134-84-24 record in his eighth season as the top man at Cornell. Culhane talked about Shafer's time at WMU, "We had a great working relationship here, I learned a lot from him as a second assistant. Mike has done an outstanding job back at his alma mater at Cornell, and I wish all the best except for this weekend against us." One of Shafer's assistants, Brent Brekke, played for the Broncos during the 1990-'94 seasons and followed Shafer to Cornell when he was hired. Brekke has been recognized as one of the top defensemen to every lace up for the Broncos.

Last week in practice the Broncos worked hard on team defense and this week will be no different with the high-powered Cornell offense coming to town. Cornell also has one of the top defenses in the nation led by 2002 Hobey Baker Award finalist Doug Murray and fellow senior Mark McRae along with, the nations leader in goals against for 2001-'02, goaltender Dave LeNeveu. The Broncos' own potent offense will be put to the test as Cornell has some of the best goaltending and defensive corps in the nation and will not allow any easy goals to the Broncos. Culhane summed things up well saying, "We have our work cut out for us."

WMU did get some preparation for Cornell's tough defense against LSSU last weekend. Jim Culhane complemented the LSSU team saying, "I thought they played well… Lake State is not that far away from a conference win, I'm just pleased it wasn't against us." In Saturday's game with the Lakers Culhane's club was blanked in even strength play and in Friday's game the Broncos earned every goal they scored (except maybe Violin's gift to Boileau off the glass partition) while LSSU kept the puck in the WMU zone for very long periods of time.

WMU enters this weekend with an outstanding 13-3-2 record in non-conference play over the past three seasons. When asked about it Culhane said jokingly, "It's good scheduling maybe, I don't know." In reality "you just prepare each week for your opponent, and don't really look at that overall record you just focus on what's next on the schedule." This series with Cornell marks the start of 5 straight games against non-conference opponents before returning to CCHA play on January 10 versus Michigan. In addition 4 of the next 5 series and 8 of the next 9 games are versus teams currently ranked in the top 15 nationally giving the Broncos a tough stretch ahead of them.

Lawson Ice Arena will once again return to its old form as one of the toughest places to play in college hockey as the very vocal students have returned from Thanksgiving break. The noisy Lawson faithful will be very hopeful to see the Broncos do what only Dartmouth has done so far, and that is beat Cornell. Dartmouth defeated the Big Red by a score of 5-2 in what was really a 3-2 win with a pair of empty netters at the end of the contest. This weekends games between the Broncos and the Big Red is sure to one of the toughest and most exciting series to be seen at Lawson Ice Arena this season.

The games this weekend are Friday and Saturday December 6 and 7 with face-offs at 7:05pm both nights. The games can be heard on the Bronco Hockey Radio Network led by COOL101 WQXC (100.9fm) and on Internet broadcast at www.wmubroncos.com. Tickets are available from the WMU Ticket Office, at 1-888-4-WMU-TIX, and at www.wmubroncos.com for $12 and $16. If you haven't already purchased tickets bring canned or dried food for the Greater Kalamazoo Holiday Food Drive and receive a free ticket with the purchase of one or more tickets at regular price.

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