Hockey Team Goes Falcon Hunting

The Western Michigan (13-16-1, 11-11-0 CCHA) Hockey team hopes to rebound from four straight loses in a home and home series with the Falcons of Bowling Green (7-19-2, 4-16-2 CCHA). Broncos Illustrated looks at the third and fourth meetings between these two teams this season.

The Broncos are yet again trying to recover from a pair of loses to one of the top teams in the conference. WMU posted a 2-1 Saturday loss on the road followed by a 5-3 home lose on Sunday.

Saturday's game was a defensive battle that saw WMU try to come from behind in the third period after Ferris St. got goals from Phil Lewandowski and Derek Nesbitt in the first period. Mike Mantua played exceptional in net for the Broncos stopping 39 shots including three 5-on-3 opportunities for the Bulldogs. The Bronco comeback try was sparked by Dana Lattery and Andy Townsend who skated in on a 2-on-1 chance and beat FSU goalie Mike Brown for Townsend's fourth goal of the season.

The comeback attempt ceased when Dave Cousineau took an uncharacteristic game-misconduct penalty late in the game for slashing that would force him to sit out Sunday's game as well. "Usually you try to do whatever you can to nullify the guy going in to get a clear opportunity on the net," said Jim Culhane about the penalty. "Unfortunately [Cousineau] got him up high, and got him up near his head and the official made the right call, but it was real untimely on Dave's part." More late penalties for WMU that led to a pair of FSU 5-on-3 chances forced the Broncos to play on the penalty kill instead of fighting for a last minute goal in the comeback effort.

Undisciplined was also a good word to describe both games as the Broncos took 15 penalties for 41 minutes and Ferris took 13 penalties for 26 minutes in Saturday's game. Sunday the Broncos were a little better, but still sub-par, with 10 penalties for 20 minutes while FSU equaled their totals of the previous night.

On Sunday the two teams traveled to Kalamazoo for the rematch. WMU struck first with an early Brent Walton goal that was followed by a Greg Rallo goal for FSU to send the game into the locker room tied 1-1 after the first. The Bulldogs then took control of the game in the second period with 3 more goals by Trevor Large, Matt York, and Derek Nesbitt (who also scored the fifth and final goal for FSU).

Defensive breakdowns was the name of the game Sunday as the Broncos missed assignments and allowed Ferris St. skaters to move into the Bronco zone untouched several times. "It's just the exicution in our systems," said Culhane. "Three out of the five [Ferris St. goals] are just assignments that we missed in our coverage." The Broncos were without the services of Cousineau for his aforementioned game-misconduct and Matt Ponto sat out Sunday as well due to an injury he suffered in the first period of the previous game.

On the M*A*S*H side of things the Bronco locker room continues to look like a triage unit with numerous players nursing nagging injuries including Lattery and Paul Davies who will not fully heal from their hand and wrist injuries until the season ends and they can get some extended time off. Ponto who was injured in the shoulder Saturday is expected to heal fairly quickly, but in still listed as questionable for this coming weekends match-up with Bowling Green. Pat Dwyer is continuing to heal from his knee strain and has taken to the ice to skate without equipment on for the first time this week. Dwyer is still expected to back for either the series with Notre Dame or with Michigan State, but a return this weekend, although possible, is doubtful.

He is a junior not a sophomore. Goaltender Mike Mantua, who has been listed as a sophomore much of this season, is really a junior in both academics and athletics. Mantua graduated high school as an academic non-qualifier per the NCAA academic clearinghouse. Instead of sitting out a season all together Mantua was able to play another year in Junior Hockey while taking classes at a local college as to gain playing time while sitting out a season at the college level. After that season Mantua came to WMU having already sat out his required Prop 48 year and with 3 years of eligibility remaining.

Turning our attention to Bowling Green. The Falcons are also recovering from a pair of losses this past weekend, in the form of two 3-2 losses to Notre Dame. Roger Leonard, Steve Brudzewski (2), Tyler Knight provided the goals this weekend for the Falcons who sit eleventh in the CCHA.

Goaltending has been fairly solid for BGSU despite giving up well over 4 goals per game. Top goalie Jordan Sigalet has a .908 save percentage that ranks him among the top goalies in the conference, but the Falcon defense also gives up more scoring chances than any other team in the conference which accounts for the modest 3.41 goals against average Sigalet maintains. Tyler Masters is the senior goaltender and has been sharing some of the duties with Sigalet. Broncos coach Culhane said, "we saw [Sigalet and Masters] early in the year and I thought they both played outstanding. Both kids are very, very good."

The Falcons have a fairly balanced scoring threat from Brudzewski, Mark Wires, Kevin Bieska, and team captain D'arcy McConvoy who have anywhere from 20 to 22 points on the season. Scoring goals has been a big problem for BGSU this season as they sit near place in all conference scoring statistics. This is a team that also gives up more goals per game than any other team in the CCHA.

First year Coach Scott Paluch is building a strong team for the future. The Falcon's squad only features 2 seniors, neither of which are among the top scorers on the team. One of those seniors is in fact goaltender Tyler Masters who is passing duties down to his sophomore counterpart Sigalet. Fans of the Falcons who are disappointed with this season can rest assured that things will only get better.

This weekend's series is another cluster series for the Broncos and Falcons who have already met twice this season. In the previous 2 meetings WMU posted a pair of wins anchored by a pair of Vince Bellissimo game winning goals. The first meeting at BGSU went to overtime before Bellissimo was able to put in the game winner just 25 seconds into overtime. The second game featured a pair of first period power play goals for WMU followed by a pair of second period goals for BGSU and finally the game winner by Bellissimo early in the third period.

The Broncos will need to turn their game around to find success against Bowling Green. "I talked to the team," said Culhane about the keys to winning this weekend. "I think our competitive level needs to increase." Culhane added, "discipline, we took some undisciplined penalties [against Ferris St.] and we seem to shot our selves in the foot when we do that."

All time these teams have met 108 times with BGSU leading the all time series 62-43-3 and the series at WMU 28-23-3 and at BGSU 33-16-0. The Falcons haven't beaten the Broncos in the last five meeting and haven't won in Kalamazoo since the 1999-2000 season. BGSU brings a 1-10-0 road record to Kalamazoo while the Broncos will take a 3-11-1 road record to Bowling Green. At home the Broncos have been a solid 10-5-0 while the Falcons sport a respectable 4-5-2 record at home.

The games this weekend are February 21 and 22 (Friday and Saturday) with WMU hosting on Friday and BGSU hosting Saturday. Both games can be heard on the Bronco Hockey Radio Network (100.9fm Allegan, 98.5fm Kalamazoo, 92.1fm Niles/ South Bend, 1570am Grand Rapids), and on Internet broadcast at www.wmubroncos.com. Tickets for Friday's match-up at WMU are available from the WMU ticket office, at 1-888-4-WMU-TIX and at www.wmubroncos.com. Tickets for the road trip to Bowling Green are available at the BGSU Athletic ticket office (Memorial Hall), at 1-877-BGSUTICKET, or at www.bgsufalcons.com/onlinetix.

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