Skaters to Take on Irish

The Western Michigan (14-16-2, 12-11-1 CCHA) hockey team will take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (13-13-6, 11-10-3 CCHA) in a home and home series this weekend. Home ice in the playoffs is on the line and Fox Sports Detroit will be broadcasting the Friday match-up live from Lawson Ice Arena.

This past weekend the Broncos took 3 of a possible 4 points from Bowling Green with a 3-3 tie at home followed by a 4-2 win on the road. Freshman Scott Foster, who got both starts in goal, stopped 59 of 64 shots (.922 SV%) in an effort that earned him CCHA Rookie of the Week honors. Junior captain Dana Lattery, who got WMU team player of the week honors, extended his points lead to 29 with 2 goals and an assist on the weekend, while Vince Bellissimo chipped in for 3 assists of his own.

Scoring on the weekend was balanced as 6 different players scored goals and 7 players chipped in assists on the weekend. Discipline was in top form for WMU, which is a pleasant change, taking only 11 penalties for 22 minutes with only 4 of those penalties coming in Friday's match-up.

The Irish of Notre Dame are in the midst of a 4 game win streak that includes 2 wins over WMU's last opponent Bowling Green and last weekends sweep of Lake Superior State. The Irish posted 3-2 and 6-3 wins over the Lakers that propelled them into the 3-way tie for fifth place in the CCHA with the Broncos and with Northern Michigan.

Notre Dame also got balanced scoring last weekend with 8 different skaters scoring goals including freshman Mike Walsh who scored his first career goal in the first game of the series. Sophomore netminder Morgan Cey stopped 47 of the 52 shots he faced in the wins.

The injury bug still plagues the Broncos who are hoping for the healing of sophomores Pat Dwyer and Matt Ponto who were both missing from last weekend's line-up. Dwyer's knee strain continues to heal well allowing him to practice with the team. Ponto's shoulder is still giving him pain, but Matt has also practiced this week. Both players are listed as questionable for the weekend, but don't be surprised if both players see action this weekend.

There has been another bug plaguing the Broncos as junior goalie Mike Mantua had to be taken to the hospital last Saturday with an upper repertory problem that kept him out of a game the coaches were considering playing him in. Not to worry about Mike, he is just fine and was practicing Monday showing no signs of the previous illness. Lucas Drake, however, was not at practice Monday as he was suffering from illness. Drake is not expected to miss any games this weekend. "We've been watching the news there's a lot going on with the flu… It's hit our program too," said head coach Jim Culhane. "We got guys out with injuries in Ponto and Dwyer and we've got guys battling the ailments of the lovely Michigan winter."

One player filling in for injured players this weekend has been Rob Yamashita, who hasn't seen action since the Colorado College series back in December. Yamashita is a senior walk-on that has seen limited playing time his entire career, but has not been daunted by his roll on the team, and brings a strong work ethic to every practice session. When asked, Culhane said of Yamashita, "Robbie is a super individual. I am real pleased with how he has played. It's great to see him make a strong contribution in a couple of games in his senior season."

Head coach Jim Culhane does have the pleasure of one of the toughest jobs a coach can have; deciding between goaltenders Mike Mantua and Scott Foster, who have both been solid in net of late. Foster is 3-1-1 in his last 5 games played, and although Mantua has been in net for several of the most recent loses he had great outings in those games that would make any coach proud.

Looking at Notre Dame, they have been led in scoring by Rob Globki; Globki however has been slumping lately having scored just 1 goal in the last 8 games. The Irish have a strong corps of forwards that include John Wroblewski, Connor Dunlop, and Yan Stastny who all have more then 20 points this season.

Another strength of the Irish is on the blue line. Notre Dame has defensemen that are very active, skate well, and shoot well. Not surprising that 3 of the top 8 scorers on the team are defensemen, led by junior Neil Komadoski with 20 points. Offensive success is only one facet of the blue liners success. The Notre Dame defensive corps has held opposing teams to just 2.4 goals per game in their last 9 games. "I think they have a defense corps that can really skate and really get up ice, these guys can really move around," said Culhane. "We're going to have to really prepare for this week, and have to be aware of on our back-check is picking up their D because they're really active."

Iron men Evan Nielson and John Wroblewski have recently streaked to #1 and #2 all-time for consecutive games played at Notre Dame. Nielson is at 106 games played and broke the previous record of 103 on February 15 against Bowling Green. Wroblewski is close behind, just one game back of Nielson at 105 straight games played.

These games will be a rematch of an October 18 and 19 series that saw the Irish sweep the Broncos that weekend. In the first game Notre Dame scored 3 times in the first 12 minutes en route to a 4-2 win led by Rob Globki's 2 goals. Ben Gagnon scored both of the Broncos goals in that Friday match-up. The following night Aaron Gill registered a hat trick leading to an 8-5 win in Kalamazoo in front of a near sell-out crowd.

These 2 teams have a 51 game history that includes a 28-19-4 advantage for the Broncos with a 16-7-3 home ice advantage. The Fighting Irish have an advantage of 12-11-1 at the Joyce Center.

As mentioned earlier the Broncos and Irish are in a 3-way tie for fifth place in the CCHA along with Northern Michigan. The games this weekend will go a long way in deciding who gets home ice in the first round of the play-offs. It will take only 1 more Bronco win to equal last seasons win total (in conference action) and 2 more would be a seven year high. If the Broncos catch up with and pass Michigan State, who is just 4 points ahead of the Broncos, for fourth place that would guarantee the highest finish in the standings since the 1995-'96 season.

This weekend the Broncos will be on TV for the seventh time this season. Friday's game will be on Fox Sports Detroit and will be the first televised game viewable throughout Michigan. "The guys are looking forward to it," said Culhane. "My only concern here is with the student body being gone and being on spring break. I'm concerned about with us having potentially the lack of student support, how were going to make sure we have 3500 in here on television." The marketing department will, as they always do when the students are on break, give away free tickets to youth hockey players from Battle Creek and Kalamazoo to sit in the student section among the WMU students who stay in town for the game.

The games this weekend are Friday and Saturday February 28 and March 1. Friday's game is at Lawson Ice Arena with a 7:35pm start, and Saturday's game is at the Joyce Center with a 7:05pm start. Both games can be heard on the Bronco Radio Network (100.9fm Allegan, 98.5fm Kalamazoo, 92.1fm Niles/ South Bend, 1570am Grand Rapids), and Friday's game will be broadcast by Fox Sports Detroit as part of their CCHA game of the week feature.

Tickets for the home game Friday are available from the Bronco ticket office, at 1-888-4-WMU-TIX, or at www.wmubroncos.com. Tickets for the Saturday match-up in South Bend are available from the Notre Dame ticket office, at 1-(574) 631-7356, and at Ticket Master.

ACADEMIC SUCCESS

The CCHA recently received WMU's list of hockey team members that they would like to have considered for the annual All-Academic Team. 17 members of the Bronco hockey team have a GPA of 3.00 or better with Paul Davies (3.69) and Dave Cousineau (3.70) leading the way.

Academic Success is something that Jim Culhane stresses with his players from the time they are recruited and throughout their college careers. Culhane made a point of stressing academics earlier this season when he suspended a group of players for 1 game after they admitted to having skipped class. Culhane has in fact stressed academics during his entire tenure as head coach at WMU and the results speak for them selves.

Broncos Illustrated Top Stories