2001-02 Western Michigan Season Preview


When the Bronco skated into the box,
He marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

What to say about a team that flew out of the gate last season, only to stumble through January and limp through February and March?

When 2001 began, the Broncos were 14-3-2, and seemed to be riding the hot sticks of seniors Dave Gove and Steve Rymsha into hosting a first- round series.

That was, however, before WMU saw the meat of its schedule. Facing Michigan, Miami, Northern Michigan, Nebraska-Omaha, and Michigan State proved to be the downfall of the Broncos, who finished sixth in the CCHA and lost a best-of-three, first-round playoff series in Northern Michigan.

The Broncos discovered late last season that it takes more than a couple of goal-scorers to win games, especially when you average more than 20 minutes in the penalty box.

The Sound of the Goals

Last season, the Broncos led all CCHA teams in goal production, averaging 3.82 per game, and fielding a deadly power play effective over 20 percent of the time. This is a bad-news-semi-okay-news situation; while departed seniors Dave Gove and Steve Rymsha tallied 47 of Western’s 149 goals, returning forwards Mike Bishai and Jeff Campbell scored 49 between them.

Can Western Michigan replace the nearly 50 goals lost with any two other returning or new players on the roster? Unlikely. However, what this may mean for the Broncos is that they simply return to terra firma, rather than mounting an out-of-this-world offense for a second consecutive season.

Something Resembling Warmth, and Ice

While the Broncos were industrious around opponent nets last year, they were certainly busy — in a different, less productive way — in front of their own. The top offense in the league was mirrored by the second-to-last defense; scoring 3.82 goals per game is nice, but allowing 3.31 per contest is hardly the way to win games.

Goaltender Jeff Reynaert was no slouch in net, posting a save percentage of .898, but his goals-against average was 3.12.

A telling statistic about Western’s Jekyll-and-Hyde team personality is individual players’ plus/minus ratios. While the team finished at +30, half the defensive corps finished on the minus side of things, with the notable exception of Ryan Crane (+6), and the astounding exceptions of Andy Townsend (+16) and Austin Miller (+13).

The Need to be Versed in Discipline Things

Jim Culhane gives his captains, Bishai and Dana Lattery his vote of confidence, adding that he’s “pleased with how the team handled the selection process.” Bishai and Lattery are both clean, disciplined players, and can set a good example for the rest of the Bronco squad.

The Broncos have a good chance for a fast start again this season, with 13 of their first 16 games at home, but hosting Michigan for one, Maine for two, and Nebraska-Omaha for a pair in that stretch will require more than just the boisterous Lawson faithful to ensure victory.