So you think you know a little about college hockey. Each September, you accurately assess your favorite team’s chances, predict the eventual conference winner, and rate the Hobey Baker possibilities. Michigan will take the CCHA. Someone named Potulny, Schwabe, or maybe Tambellini or Eaves will tear up the stats charts.
Yeah, you know a lot about college hockey. We all do.
Okay, this season is one for the records. Guys from Vermont, Rensselaer, and Nebraska-Omaha are flirting with the national scoring title. And then there’s this one guy, from a little city in Michigan called Kalamazoo. You know, home of the Western Michigan Broncos.
Home of Bronco Brent Walton.
Walton has led the nation in scoring or has been tied for the lead for the last month, and shows no signs of slowing down. Currently, his 22 points (10-12) tie him with Vermont’s Scott Mifsud (11-11–22). In WMU’s home sweep of Alabama-Huntsville last weekend, Walton distanced himself with a goal and an assist from UAH’s Jared Ross, who entered the series second in the nation in scoring but was held pointless on the weekend.
Don’t worry if you didn’t see this coming. Neither did Walton.
“I’m not actually too sure why I’m scoring so much,” says the Elmira, Ont., native. “This year, it seems that every time I shoot, it’s going in. I got a couple of goals early, and the confidence builds from that.”
With a 7-6-1 overall record, the Broncos are tied for eighth in the CCHA standings but are fourth in goals per game (3.21) and power-play percentage (.198), and although Walton says he can’t take all the credit for the competitive offense, the junior has five power-play tallies and is the only Bronco with double-digit goal production.
“It seems like my teammates look to me,” says Walton, a right winger who started the season on line with Paul Sczcechura (2-11–13) and Mike Erickson (6-6–12), but plays now with Erickson and Daryl Moore (2-5–7).
“The players I’m playing with really put my stats out,” says Walton, by way of explanation. “And our power play is working really well.”
Walton’s bio reads like many so many other guys in college hockey, especially those from Ontario. Learned to skate at two, to play hockey at three. Likes country music. Loves the Maple Leafs.
In fact, other than his impressive abilities with the puck, Walton is normal, says his head coach, Jim Culhane.
“I think he’s just a typical hockey player. He’s humble in his abilities on the ice. He enjoys life, enjoys his teammates and the whole college atmosphere. I think he’s just enjoying the journey right now.”
Even though Walton seems to have taken the CCHA by surprise this season, Culhane says that he knew before the season began that Walton would have a breakout season. “He can attribute his success to two things: he’s a very talented player and he’s elevated his work ethic this year. He has offensive instincts, puck skills, skating ability. This season, there’s been more consistency in his play.”
It’s the beginning of December, and Walton is just four goals shy of total from last season, one goal short of his total from his freshman year. And yet Walton remains nonplussed by his progress this season and the attention he is suddenly attracting.
“My life is hockey and school,” says Walton. “There isn’t much else that I do around here.”
Walton is majoring in management, and would like to run his own business when he’s done with professional hockey. His favorite movie of all time is Slap Shot. The last good movie he saw was Saw, which he rates as “really creepy.”
He’s upset with the NHL strike. “I think they really need to get things sorted out. It really does mess everything up. Even the minor system is clogged up.”
Why did he start skating? “Being from Canada, everybody needs to learn how to skate.”
Why Western Michigan? “It was the perfect fit for me.”
What does he do during the summer? “I golf with [former teammate] Dave Cousineau.”
He’s just a typical college kid, doing atypical things with the puck. But his life isn’t without heartache, history, and controversy.
For example, his Ontario Junior B Elmira Sugar Kings once lost a charity ringette contest — to a women’s team. “They were like 20, 21 years old,” Walton says.
And his father, who first taught Walton to skate, “never played hockey and had never been around the game.”
And then there’s the metal vs. country locker room showdown. Walton, one of WMU’s three captains, is pushing for more country music in the stalls. Fellow captains Vince Bellissimo and Pat Dwyer — both metal fans — don’t budge much. Walton claims that the team is split evenly between the genres — “There are a lot of guys from Detroit” — but that on game days, “We are not allowed to listen to country. Some guys say it puts them to sleep.”
Walton looked at Northeastern as well as Western, but said that the coaches at WMU made the difference. He says that Lawson Arena is his favorite rink of all time. “Our students really get revved up. We have the best fans in the league.”
His favorite hockey memory? “Probably coming back from a two-goal deficit against Michigan at home.”
His favorite CCHA opponent? “I won’t lie to you. I hate all of them equally.”
Can he cook? “I eat out a lot.”
“We spend a lot of time talking about how are kids shouldn’t get caught up in the product, how they should just enjoy the ride,” says Culhane, who seems to have gotten through to Walton. “There’s plenty of time for the real world out there. Just enjoy this experience. He’s one of those kids who’s … looking ahead to his senior year, and that’s made a big difference in his play this season. He knows [college hockey] won’t last forever.”
Now that Walton has established his presence with the puck, Culhane says, “I don’t think he’s going to surprise anybody. Now what happens is that maybe he gets checked a little tighter, and we’ll see how he handles that. He’s definitely earned it with his play this season.”