The most interesting thing about the Broncos so far this year are the preseason remarks of head coach Jim Culhane.
“It’s an exciting time at our university; it’s our centennial anniversary. We were founded in 1903, and it’s a very exciting time for us on campus.”
“We have a new president, Dr. Judith Bailey, who comes to us from Northern Michigan University and we have a number of activities planned throughout the course of the year.”
“What we’ve planned [is that] we have changed our jersey style with our home and away jersey. We have gone back to the block lettering on the front of the jersey. We will be wearing those throughout the centennial season.”
All righty then.
“We have an interesting situation in our schedule this year. We do have a break at Christmas. We play Notre Dame the first week in December, then we don’t play again until January first and second.
“We’ve come up with a foreign tour; we will play three games in southern Ontario against Canadian universities. We are playing Brock University, Western Ontario, and Sir Wilfred Laurier, so hopefully through that stretch with a month off, getting those games in will keep us sharp.”
Sounds like a plan.
WMU is a team that is nearly impossible to define. For the past couple of years, the Broncos have had a high-flying offense but have paid little attention to defense, seeming to hope that scoring enough goals — no matter how many they allowed — would be the formula for success.
That didn’t work. While WMU finished the season fourth in goal scoring (3.29), the Broncos were ninth in goals allowed (3.61). Not necessarily undisciplined and mediocre on special teams, the Broncos never seemed to project a unified team image, never seemed to show anyone what they were all about.
The added bonus features that Culhane mentioned to the press at the league’s media day — the university’s centennial, the new president, the throwback jerseys — are nice but intangible. The institution deserves kudos for the 100 years, and the season-long celebration is great if it motivates players, but there’s little to suggest that WMU will score more goals, stop more opponents, finish higher than the predicted eighth (media poll) or ninth (coaches poll) place.
This year does, however, represent Culhane’s final year with the first group of players he recruited. “I really want this group of guys to win,” says Culhane, “because they’ve worked so hard and done everything we’ve asked of them.”
Those guys include seniors Jeff Campbell, Paul Davies, Lucas Drake, Mike Mantua, and Brian Pasko, all of whom have made an impact on Bronco hockey.
The Broncos return their top four scorers from last season — Vince Bellissimo, Dana Lattery, Campbell, and Brent Walton. There’s no question that this is a team that has a potentially explosive offense.
Given the power up front, if the Broncos were to shore up the defense and improve in net, this could be a team that contends for home ice.
Jeremy Cheyne, Dana Lattery, and Vince Bellissimo.
There are two, actually: goaltending and youth.
If WMU is going to become competitive again, someone — anyone — has to get hot (or at least solid) in net. Mantua finished the season with a .880 save percentage in 26 games; Scott Foster, who played 21 games, was slightly less effective (.868).
Then there’s the youth of the squad. The Broncos have 15 freshmen and sophomore on their roster, many of which show much promise. They’ll have to emerge sooner rather than later to lift WMU from a regular-season finish in the bottom third.