Rested Broncos Head to Columbus

The Western Michigan (13-12-1, 11-7-0 CCHA) hockey team has taken advantage of a bye week to rest and catch up with schoolwork. The Broncos will now head to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes of Ohio State with the hope of avenging last season's playoff sweep.

With the hectic schedule hockey players go through during the season it is important to be able to take some time off every now and then to both rest and study. For the Broncos the timing of this break was both good and bad.

WMU is in the midst of a season best five game winning streak that included their first road wins since the first game of the season against Bowling Green. The week off could mean that the emotion of the recent wins may wear off a little, but the rest they received was very necessary.

The last series the Broncos played was the long road trip to Alaska, which takes a lot out of any team that must make the trip. WMU took a come from behind 6-4 Friday win sparked by Jeremy Chayne and Vince Bellissimo scoring 2 goals each. Friday's game was followed by a 6-2 win in Saturday's contest.

The Broncos took Monday and Tuesday off last week to rest from the Alaska trip, and also took the weekend off to do some scoreboard watching while most the rest of the CCHA was in action. "This time of year the guys need to get some rest, we'll catch up on our school work and catch up on our sleep and let the guys take a break a little bit. Then we'll get fired up for a stretch drive of ten consecutive games," said Jim Culhane.

The recent success of the Broncos falls on the hands of many players on the team. Line mates Jeremy Chayne, Dana Lattery, and Vince Bellissimo have lit the lamp more then any other line on the team during the current winning streak. "I think that line has done real well for us in the past couple weeks," said Culhane. "Those guys have a real good chemistry together and have played really well."

Bellissimo and Chayne have 10 and 9 points respectively during the 5-game win streak while Lattery is close behind with 7 of his own points. The CCHA and the Bronco team have honored both Bellissimo and Chayne as players of the week during the same stretch.

Goaltending has also been in top form with Mike Mantua and Scott Foster sharing time in outstanding performances. Foster made 50 saves on 52 shots (.962 SV%) in the 5 periods he played at Alaska-Fairbanks and Mantua made all but 5 potential saves in the 3 previous wins.

This past weekend the Buckeyes of Ohio State took on the slumping Notre Dame just one week after being swept by slumping Nebraska-Omaha. The results of the Notre Dame series turned out to be more in the Buckeyes favor.

In Friday's tilt, the Buckeyes took an early 1-0 lead when Doug Andress took a slap shot from the point to beat the Irish goalie Morgan Cey at 3:50 of the first period. Paul Caponigri put OSU up 2-0 at 0:47 of the second period before the Irish came back with 3 straight goals of their own. The hero of the night was Dave Steckle who put one in the Irish net with just 4.7 seconds left in the game to secure a tie for the night.

To complete to series OSU goaltender Mike Betz recorded his eighth shutout of his career by making 23 stops in a 2-0 win in South Bend. For Betz this performance earned him CCHA defensive player of the week honors. Scoring in the game came from Caponigri for his second of the weekend, and standout freshman forward Ryan Kesler. First Round NHL draft picks Steckle and Umberger each added an assist in the game as well.

For the Buckeyes R.J Umberger has been a big part of their success. Umberger leads his team with 37 points and has led his team in points at the end of the season every year he has been at OSU. Umberger also leads his team with 5 game winning goals, 6 power play goals, and only has a modest 6 penalty minutes this season. Jim Culhane complemented Umberger saying, "He's one of the best players in the league. He's got a bright career in hockey ahead of him."

Goaltender Mike Betz has been another huge asset to the OSU squad leading the league in goals against with just 2.13 goals against and has a .911 save percentage, which is the leagues fourth best.

In recent memory the away team has owned this series. OSU was able to sweep WMU in Kalamazoo in January and then return to Kalamazoo for the first round of the CCHA playoffs and again sweep the Broncos. The Broncos, in return, have won the last four meetings between these two teams when games were played in Columbus.

All time the Broncos own a 51-42-8 record with a 23-20-4 record in Columbus. Tidings would seem to be good for a pair of WMU wins this weekend except that OSU is 12-1-0 at home this season with an 8-0-0 CCHA home record.

This series, and every series left in the season will have a big impact on the CCHA title race. With the Buckeyes in second place, just 2 points behind Ferris St., and the Broncos tied for fifth fighting for home ice every point counts. The race down to the wire for positioning in the league is one of the highlights of any college hockey season. "It's exciting, not only for us but for all twelve programs in the league. You look at all the match ups… from here on out it's going to be an exciting finish," said Culhane about the title race.

The games this weekend are on Friday and Saturday (Feb. 7,8) at Value City Arena in Columbus Ohio. Face off both nights is at 7:05pm. Both games can be heard on the Bronco Hockey Radio Network led by COOL101 WQXC (100.9fm) and on Internet broadcast at www.wmubroncos.com. The games will also be televised on the Ohio News Network (ONN) both nights. For those making the road trip, tickets are available from the Ohio State ticket office at 1-800-GO-BUCKS or at www.hangonsloopy.com.

WMU ALUMNI IN THE NHL: Joe Corvo, Mike Eastwood, and Jamal Mayers have all seen playing time in the NHL this hockey season. Broncos Illustrated takes a quick glance at each of these players success.

Joe Corvo, who has been in the L.A. Kings system since leaving WMU in 1998 after just 2 seasons in college hockey, amassed 50 points and 178 penalty minutes in 64 games as a Bronco. Corvo floated around the AHL on 3 different teams before he finally got his boyhood dream of playing in the NHL when the Kings needed a defenseman to replace an injured player. After scoring 26 points in 26 games with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL Corvo joined the Kings and played in 24 consecutive games tallying 3 goals and 2 assists with a plus/minus of +3. Just in time for the All-Star break Corvo was sent back down and was able to score 2 goals in the AHL All-Star Classic.

Center Mike Eastwood has been in the NHL since the '91-'92 season with Toronto Maple Leafs. In his career Eastwood has spent time with Toronto, Winnipeg, New York, Phoenix, St. Louis, and most recently Chicago. Although never a star in the NHL Eastwood has long been a solid roll player often playing on teams third and fourth lines. Eastwood's best season was a 34 point effort in the '99-'00 season with the St. Louis Blues.

Jamal Mayers played for 4 seasons as a Bronco from the '92-'93 season through the '95-'96 season compiling 158 points on 55 goals and 103 assists. Mayers played in all 155 games as a Bronco averaging more then a point per game. He was a third round pick of the Blues in the 1993 entry draft. This season as a St. Louis Blue Mayers played in 15 games tallying 2 goals and 5 assists before multiple injuries sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

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