The Western Michigan Broncos continue to be a league enigma. During the 2001-02 season, Lawson Arena was one of the fiercest places to play in the CCHA, and the Broncos defeated six nationally ranked teams at home last year.
But early in January, WMU was swept by Ohio State at home — and then the Broncos drew the Buckeyes in the first round of the CCHA playoffs, in Kalamazoo.
Every Western fan knows what happened next.
If Western Michigan is to improve on its sixth-place performance of last season, the Broncos are going to have to learn to play consistent defense. There’s more to this game than scoring goals.
What Is The Sound Of One Hand Clapping?
In Kalamazoo, that is an imponderable question. Lawson arena is a loud, tough place, and the Broncos themselves rarely limit themselves to single-hand contact with opponents.
While significantly reducing their penalty minutes last season, the Broncos remained one of the most physically punishing teams in the CCHA. That kind of aggressive forecheck led to many Bronco offensive opportunities — but also allowed for mistakes and turnovers in their own end that led directly to opponent goals.
— WMU coach Jim Culhane
Western Michigan allowed as many goals as it scored (3.29), hardly a formula for success.
Jim Culhane said he will rely heavily on senior Dave Cousineau at the blue line, but Cousineau — who led all defensemen in the CCHA in scoring last season — finished -13 in conference play, -12 overall. The Broncos, as a whole, finished -38 in league play (-40 overall).
“We’ll continue to play an up-tempo game with an emphasis on forechecking,” said Culhane in preseason. Perhaps the strategy is to create opportunity to score just one more goal than each Bronco opponent registers.
He Who Completely Masters One Thing, Understands Everything
Of course, there are many things worse than winning every game by just one goal. The Broncos may be onto something, and the crash-the-net style they play makes for exciting watching.
Jeff Campbell and last season’s Rookie of the Year, Pat Dwyer, will augment Cousineau’s offensive punch.
Other than creating offensive opportunities from opponent mistakes, making the most of the forecheck, cultivating an effective power play, and crashing the net, there’s little else to say about Western’s offense.
There is one thing the Broncos would like to do this season that the Buckeyes denied them last year: make it to the Super Six.
“What we’re looking to try to accomplish this season is obviously to improve upon our sixth-place finish from last year,” said Culhane. “Hosting a home-ice playoff series against a terrific Ohio State club in Kalamazoo was something.”
In this case, “something” means “motivating.”
“We’d like to improve upon that,” said Culhane, “and hopefully win a playoff series and get the Broncos again down to Joe Louis Arena.”
The way in which WMU ended its 2001-02 season will sit with the Broncos for some time to come.
There are several things upon which the Broncos can meditate to improve their season. I’d suggest asking their fans to behave like civil human beings, but that might detract from the “atmosphere” at Lawson Arena.
Here’s a Zen saying that may help Western Michigan see its way to the Joe.
“Knowledge is more powerful than any force. The mind is the ultimate weapon.”
How about a modification just for the boys in Kalamazoo?
“Play smart hockey, Broncos, but carry a big stick.”