Broncos Hope to End Drought

The Western Michigan (8-11-1, 6-6-0 CCHA) hockey team will take on the University of Michigan (14-5-1, 8-3-1 CCHA) in a return to CCHA action. The Broncos are only 1-14-4 dating back to the 1996-97 season and hope to turn the tide against the Wolverines.

The Broncos capped off 5 straight non-conference games with a 4-1 win over CHA opponent Findley. Pat Dwyer had one of his best games of the year that started off with an unassisted goal just 14 seconds into the game. Vince Bellissimo came out of his slump with a 1 goal 2 assist effort in the game versus the Oilers. The Broncos scored 3 goals in the first period and never looked back. Jim Culhane said of the game, "I was very pleased with our effort, there was a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of jump in our legs. For us to score three goals on our first four shots — I was very pleased with that first period and our play throughout the game."

WMU is now 2-5-1 in non-conference action this season after having played 3 of the top 4 teams in the nation in Cornell, Maine, and Colorado College. The 2 wins came at the expense of CHA opponents Findley and Niagara. Coach Culhane is hopeful that what the team has learned from the games with the nations elite and that they will help the Broncos in their home stretch of the CCHA season. "I think it could have been easier for us to play a lesser non-conference schedule, and for us to have a winning record at 13-6. But would that actually help us in the evaluation of our program and where we want to go? It's been a good test for us to see the things that we need to do to improve upon and hopefully become a national power," said Culhane.

Scoring on the Bronco squad has been balanced this season with 8 players in double figures in points and are separated by 9 points. Freshman Brent Walton leads the way with an impressive 9 goals and 10 assists for 19 points while junior captain Dana Lattery and junior Jeff Campbell each have 15 points. Freshmen have played a big part in the scoring success of the Broncos with Brent Walton tied for first in the nation with 3 shorthanded goals and Vince Bellissimo holding fourth on the team in scoring with 14 points. "They're no longer freshmen, the first semester is over. They've been through the league here; they've seen how we do our preparation on a daily and weekly basis. We need them to elevate their play, because they are playing integral roles on our team," said Culhane.

Michigan is coming off a weekend sweep of Miami with 3-2(OT) and 5-2 wins at Yost Ice Arena. Hot-handed freshman Jeff Tambellini scored goals in both games including the game winner in Sunday's 5-2 win and the overtime winner in Saturday's thriller. Young freshman goaltender Al Montoya (2.21 GAA, .916 SV%), who has played in every single Wolverine game this season, made 47 saves on 51 shots for the weekend to improve his home record to 9-1-0. "To score some goals against Montoya or any of the better goaltenders in the league, you have to have traffic in front of them, and hopefully capitalize on some rebound opportunities," said Culhane.

Players to watch on the Michigan roster include sophomore forwards Eric Nystrom and Dwight Helminen who are returning from the World Junior Championships for this weekends games. Just like the Broncos, U of M has had the help of some tough freshman forwards with Jeff Tambellini and Brandon Kaleniecki who have 12 and 9 goals respectively. The Wolverine scoring is even more balanced than the Broncos with the top 12 scorers only separated by 6 points. The WMU defense, which has been inconsistent this season, will have to be in top form to put a lid on the scoring forces of the Wolverines.

So far this season WMU has just a 1-7-1 record on the road and has not won a game at Yost since a 7-2 win in the 1995-96 season that was followed up by a 5-0 home shutout a month later that season. The Saturday game at Lawson Ice Arena be one that the players and fans have been looking forward to for quite a long time as the CCHA's toughest place to play is expected to be sold-out with a deafening student section that always reeks havoc on opposing teams.

Friday's game is at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor with a 7:35pm face-off and Saturday's game is at Lawson Ice Arena in Kalamazoo with a 7:05pm face-off. Both games can be heard on the Bronco Hockey Radio Network led by COOL101 WQXC (100.9fm) and on Internet radio at www.wmubroncos.com. Friday's game can also be heard on the east side of the state on the Michigan Radio Network led by WTKA (1050am) and on www.mgoblue.com. The Friday game will also be televised by WOLV-TV (UMTV Comcast channel 22). Tickets for Friday's game are available from the U of M ticket office at Yost, at (734) 764-0246, and at www.mgoblue.com (only obstructed view and single seat tickets remain). Tickets for Saturday's game are available from the Bronco Ticket Office in Waldo Stadium, at 1-888-4-WMU-TIX, and at www.wmubroncos.com (only scattered single seats and standing-room-only tickets remain).

Saturday's game at Lawson is part of the second annual "Black-out Saturday" with men's basketball hosting Eastern Michigan (2pm tip-off), women's basketball hosting Miami of Ohio (4:30pm tip-off), and Hockey hosting Michigan. All fans are encouraged to wear black to the games on January 11, 2002 (black shirts available at the WMU Bookstore). The first 1000 fans through the gates at Lawson will be given a pair of Thundersticks.

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