At the halfway point of the 2012-13 hockey season, Western Michigan seems poised to make another run at the CCHA Championship.
Last season, half way through the season, the reigning CCHA Champions were 9-4-5 overall. This year, WMU is 13-5-4 with an impressive 9-1-1 at Lawson Ice Arena.
Although the Broncos entered the Great Lakes Invitational (GLI) over the holiday break as the only team in the tournament with a winning record, they were unsuccessful in overcoming the hype. WMU squeaked by in the quarterfinals against Michigan State by beating the Spartans with the help of senior Mike Leone’s lone shootout goal.
The following night, WMU could not convert any of their power play opportunities and eventually lost the GLI final to Michigan Tech, 4-0.
Prior to the GLI, the Broncos were one of the hottest teams in the country. WMU won six straight contests before losing to Michigan on Dec. 15 in Ann Arbor, Mich. During that streak, the Broncos beat Alaska, Northern Michigan, Michigan and the nationally ranked Ferris State team.
The Broncos have relied heavily this year on help from their tri-captains, seniors Dane Walters and Luke Witkowski, and junior Danny DeKeyser. Walters leads the team in goals (11) and points (18). Witkowski and DeKeyser have helped lead WMU to the fourth best CCHA scoring defense. DeKeyser capped off the first half of the season by being named to the GLI all-tournament team along with teammate Leone.
When watching the Broncos, be sure to check out their striking power play. Prior to the GLI, when they went 0-13, WMU had one of the best power plays in the country. Before their three game winless streak, the Broncos had not gone more than a game between power play goals.
Other bright spots for WMU include sophomore goalie Frank Slubowski, freshman defenseman Kenney Morrison, and junior defenseman Dennis Brown.
Slubowski is following up an impressive rookie season with an equally impressive sophomore campaign. He has started every game this season and has compiled an incredible 1.78 goals against average and a .922 save percentage.
Morrison was signed this year to fill the void left by Matt Tennyson when Tennyson was signed to play professionally in the San Jose Sharks organization. Not only is he wearing Tennyson’s old number 7, he also provides one of the hardest slap shots on the team. Morrison has four goals on the season, including three on the power play. One highlight this year was on Dec. 15 when Morrison took a slap shot and it broke the glass behind the Michigan goal.
Last season, Brown finished the season with 20 assists, tied for third on the team. This season, Brown has already amassed 12, including several on the power play. Brown is the quarterback of the Broncos primary power play unit comprised of himself, Morrison, Walters, Chase Balisy, and Shane Berschbach. Not only has Brown helped out his teammates with his crisp passes, he also has proven to have one of the craftiest shootout moves in the league.
On Friday nights, Western Michigan has averaged 3.1 goals per game and has a 6-2-1 record. The only time WMU was not able to score three goals was Nov. 16, prior to a six game win streak, when the Broncos lost 6-1 to Alaska.
Under Andy Murray, the Broncos are 32-17-8. Murray is hoping to lead WMU to their third consecutive CCHA tournament championship game and also earn them their sixth NCAA tournament bid since the program was founded in 1973.
Coming into the second half of the season, WMU has to improve their offensive output if they want to raise the Mason Cup in its last season being awarded (the CCHA will disband when the Big Ten conference is created next season and WMU will join the newly founded National Collegiate Hockey Conference).
WMU’s 2.3 goals per game average ranks seventh in the CCHA. The Broncos have been shut out three times this year. Last season, en route to their second CCHA tournament championship, the Broncos were only shut out once, coming against Miami (OH).
WMU will split a home-and-home series with Bowling Green this weekend. Earlier in the season, the Broncos won 3-1 in Kalamazoo, Mich. and tied 2-2, eventually winning in a shootout in Bowling Green, Ohio.
On Jan 25-26, WMU will host rival Michigan for two nationally televised games. The teams split their series prior to the GLI.
Other match-ups include Feb. 01-02 at Ferris State, Feb. 08-09 at home against Miami (OH), and Feb. 15-16 at Ohio State.
The Broncos final home series of the season will be against Notre Dame on Feb 22-23. On Friday, Feb. 22, WMU will be televised nationally in their Ice Ducenne’s game.
WMU will finish the regular season on the road against Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich. The Broncos will play the following week in the first round of the CCHA Playoffs pending their finish to the season.
While Western Michigan may have lost some of their offensive productivity from a season ago, the Broncos still have the talent, defense, and goaltending that should garner their way towards another strong post season run. With the program under the leadership of Coach Murray, Bronco fans should have plenty of faith in the team. While players may have changed, and the offensive numbers are not quite there yet, the team still plays with enough heart, strength, determination and enthusiasm that eventually get the job done.
Follow @Wenzel_Herald on Twitter for scores, news and updates regarding Western Michigan University Bronco Hockey.