This is how I started the 2005-06 Bronco season preview:
Have you heard the one about the team that can score from nearly anywhere on the ice but allows goals from nearly anywhere as well? Of course you have. It’s the recent history of the Western Michigan Broncos.
Tell me, children, what have we learned?
In 2003-04, the Broncos scored 123 but allowed 136. The team’s overall plus-minus was -31.
In 2004-05, the Broncos scored 105 goals, allowing 134, with a team plus-minus of -188.
Last year is even uglier: 97 goals for, 160 goals against, -233.
I’m no genius, but even I know these aren’t steps in the right direction.
I don’t even know how to characterize this. I don’t even know what to say.
“We’re looking to improve upon … our playoff run from last year,” said head coach Jim Culhane, “using that as a positive experience and going up and playing against a very difficult opponent at Lake Superior State. We had a good run our last 10 games, played really solid.
“We’re trying to build off of that momentum. We had a great spring and summer in improving on our athleticism and our strength.”
The Broncos did string together three consecutive wins toward the end of last season, their longest win streak of 2005-06 and only the second time all season they’d put together back-to-back wins of any kind.
Two of those wins were very positive, a first-round road elimination of Lake Superior State, earning the Broncos the right to play regular-season champion Miami in the old Goggin Arena’s last-ever playoff series.
And the Broncos played with suitable desperation while facing elimination in Oxford, coming from behind in the third period of the second game to take a lead before Miami’s Marty Guerin scored late in the stanza to force overtime.
And it did take 17 minutes of OT for the RedHawks to finally end Western’s season.
I don’t know if that’s enough to build on going into 2006-07, but if that’s what WMU has, that’s what WMU has.
The team will be bolstered by a $2.5 million renovation of the footprint of Lawson Arena, which Culhane called “a very rewarding experience” that indicates that “a lot of dedication and a lot of time” have been “allocated” to the hockey program.
Culhane said that the Broncos will be led by their seniors and that junior goaltender Daniel Bellissimo “continues to improve.”
Senior forward Paul Szczechura is the only returning 10-goal scorer and the team’s leading returning scorer. Senior defenseman Ryan Mahrle “will continue to log 20 to 25 minutes a game for the Broncos,” said Culhane.
Perhaps the best and most optimistic way to look at Western Michigan is this: last year, they weren’t as bad as the 2004-05 Fighting Irish, and this year the only way for them to go is up.
I don’t know what kind of hold Jim Culhane has on his job — and I never actively advocate that a coach lose his job, because I understand that coaches have families, and coaching changes often affect more than one family — but I cannot imagine that he’s not feeling serious pressure in Kalamazoo, especially after the investment in his building.
One thing is for certain: every aspect of Western Michigan’s game must improve this season for the Broncos to improve.
It’s all well and good to have experience returning, but if those returning players cannot learn from experience, the season will be very, very long for Western Michigan.