There is one fact about the Western Michigan Broncos that nobody can deny: the only place to go for WMU is up. With just eight wins overall and four in league play, the Broncos suffered through their worst year in the program’s history.
“We played a number of tough road games last year,” says Bronco head coach Jim Culhane. That’s no understatement. WMU was 1-16-1 on the road last season, allowing four or more goals in 10 of those contests.
So, defense is an issue.
“Goal scoring for us, at times last year, was difficult,” says Culhane. So, offense is an issue, too.
Well, first things first.
Some Bronco Numbers
Not everything about the Western Michigan defense was problematic last season. In fact, the lone light — no pun intended — was sophomore Riley Gill, who played over 1,600 minutes for WMU and backstopped them with a .902 save percentage.
Gill’s goals-allowed average was 3.26. When a goalie’s save percentage is respectable and his GAA is poor, you know he’s working hard and getting little help. Defensively, the Broncos were only -30 as a team (you might expect more), but it was the timing of opponent scoring that was killing Western, especially in the second half of the season when WMU went 2-15-3, including two first-round playoff losses. During that stretch, the Broncos were outscored 26-11 in the first period of play.
That’s a lot to overcome when you’re not scoring goals, and a lot of pressure to put on your starting goaltender for the rest of the game.
“We were last in the conference, unfortunately, in putting the puck in the net,” says Culhane. “We feel with the new guys coming we are confident that that will be something we have corrected. So look for us to score, hopefully, more goals here in the upcoming season.”
Western’s incoming rookies are of the more experienced variety, with two — defenseman Peter Kavaya and forward Kyle O’Kane — born in 1987. Forward Kevin Connauton is uncharacteristically young for a Bronco rookie, having been born in 1990.
Culhane and the Broncos are in no position to recruit youngsters who can mature; they need more experienced players who can make an immediate impact if the program is to turn itself around. Several of the newcomers look promising offensively. Lucas Isley had 26 goals in the AJHL last year; Derek Roehl (28 goals), Ian Slater (14) and Greg Squires (24) all come from successful USHL seasons.
“There has been more emphasis on our part, the staff, to recruit players that can get up and down the ice,” says Culhane, “more team speed and better puck skills, with the ability to score some goals.”
The Broncos return three of their five top scorers and their only player to produce at least 10 goals last season, Cam Watson. Patrick Gallivan, the Broncs’ top overall scorer, also returns.
Picked last by both the CCHA coaches and media in this year’s preseason media polls, the Broncos aren’t expected to improve much this season — and that can be a very good thing for any hockey team. A team that’s underestimated may be able to change its own fate.