Hockey Team Makes Long Trip North

The Western Michigan (11-12-1, 9-7-0 CCHA) will make the long trip to Alaska to take on Alaska-Fairbanks (9-9-4, 6-8-4 CCHA) in CCHA competition. Both teams are on the bubble to have home ice in the CCHA playoffs and are looking for more momentum heading into the last two months of the season.

The Broncos finished the past weekend with a much needed league sweep against a Miami of Ohio squad that was ranked #14 in the nation by the USA Today poll. The 2 wins puts the Broncos in a 4-way tie for 4th place in the CCHA along with Michigan State, Northern Michigan, and the very same Miami team they had just played.

Friday's victory was sparked by an unlikely goal from an unlikely person. Matt Ponto took a mild shot from the blue line, while WMU was down 2-1, and netted his first career college hockey goal past Miami's Mike Burleigh who never saw the shot coming. Ponto who has 8 assists on the season is defenseman known more for his defensive zone skills then his shot from the blue line. With the game tied at 2-2, freshman forward Vince Bellissimo netted his 2nd goal of the game and 4th goal in the last 2 games to provide the game winner in WMU's second straight come-from-behind victory.

On Saturday night an undisciplined Broncos squad took 10 penalties for 20 minutes and gave Miami 9 power plays, included a pair of 5 on 3 chances. The Broncos played outstanding defense and Miami went 0-9 on their power play chances and even gave up Pat Dwyer's first shorthanded goal of the season. The real stories of the game, however, came from Dana Lattery, Paul Davies, and Mike Mantua. Dana Lattery tallied his second career hat trick, Paul Davies made a surprise return to the line-up (broken wrist, cast, and all), and Mike Mantua (3.51 GAA, .875 SV%) stopped all but 1 of Miami's 27 shots on goal. Vince Bellissimo and Jeff Campbell both added a pair of assists to the effort as well that night.

For their efforts, Vince Bellissimo was honored as CCHA Rookie of the Week, and Mike Mantua was named the Broncos Player of the Week on Monday January 20. Also this week the race for the team lead in points has evened up with Brent Walton holding at 21 points while Campbell, Bellissimo, and Lattery all moved closer with 20 points each.

The Nanooks' of Alaska-Fairbanks ended this past weekend taking 3 of a possible 4 points from the struggling Lakers of Lake Superior State. In Friday's game the 2 teams skated away with a 2-2 tie with goal scoring coming from Cam Keith and Felipe Larranaga of UAF while peppering Matt Violin of LSSU with 62 shots on goal. In net for the Nanooks was senior Lance Mayes (2.94 GAA, .909 SV%) who splits most games with junior Preston McKay (3.85 GAA, .885 SV%).

The Nanooks' Saturday game took a turn for the best as UAF won quite easily 5-2. 3 goals in the second period were all Alaska-Fairbanks needed to win the game, but 2 more goals in the third, including an empty netter, gave the Nanooks some insurance while LSSU added 2 goals of their own. Sophomore Keith Bartusch (2.62 GAA, .929 SV%) made his first start in net for UAF and played extremely well making 26 saves in only his third game played this season.

The long trip up north to Alaska is always a tough one for teams to adjust to. Not only do they have a brutally long flight and many classes missed, but teams must also deal with only seeing sunlight for a few hours per day. Due to Fairbanks northern location, in mid December they only see sunlight for 1 hour a day, and that makes for a very depressing day. Jim Culhane said that the team "will be going up a day early to get acclimated to all the changes." The other hurdle to overcome for the Broncos is the Olympic sized ice sheet they must play on in the Carlson Center. WMU is 0-4 this season on the larger ice, being swept by Northern Michigan and Colorado College.

All time the Broncos lead the series with UAF 12-8-3 while posting a 6-4-3 record at the Carlson Center. Over the last 5 meetings and last 10 meetings both teams' sport identical 2-2-1 and 4-4-2 records that includes the Nanooks 2-1-1 record versus WMU last season in 4 meetings. Three of the last five meetings between these two clubs have gone to overtime, while the past two regulation wins for UAF against WMU have been for a combined 13-8 score.

The Fairbanks club currently sports a 6-8-4 record in the CCHA, but where those numbers come from is even more important than the numbers themselves. UAF is 6-0-2 against teams currently below them in the standings and 0-8-2 against teams above them in the standings. UAF is an underachieving team that is starting to reach it's full potential with a 5-0-1 record in their last five home games after starting the season 0-3-1 at home. A pair of wins for UAF would propel them above WMU in the standings, but a sweep for WMU keeps them in the mix with the other 3 teams they are tied for 4th place with along with keeping near a Michigan club that is just 1 point ahead of them in the standings.

For Alaska-Fairbanks Blaine Bablitz has been on a scoring streak. The senior assistant captain has scored a point in eight straight contests, and has led his team in blocked shots for the season. Leading the team in scoring this season is Jared Sylvestre with 19 points followed by Bablitz and Ryan Campbell each with 17. Cam Keith is the Nanooks leading scoring when it comes to games against the Broncos tallying 10 points in his career when facing WMU.

On a medical note for Alaska-Fairbanks, standout sophomore forward Aaron Voros, who was diagnosed with bone cancer this fall, has postponed his surgery until January 30 while doctors determine whether the tumor is malignant or benign. Voros is currently attending classes at UAF, but will return to his home in Vancouver for the surgery. Voros was expected to be one of the offensive stars of the team before the cancer diagnosis sidelined him for the season.

Both games will be played at Alaska-Fairbanks' 4,300 seat Carlson Center with 11:05pm ET starts. The games can be heard on the Bronco Hockey Radio Network led by COOL101 WQXC (100.9fm).

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