Like all the other sports in the NCAA, the Broncos hockey season came to an early abrupt end this month due to the threat of the COVID-19 virus.
WMU ended its season going 11-4-1 in its last 16 regular season games and seemed to have momentum going into the NCHC Conference Tournament before it was canceled.
Western Michigan concluded the 2019-2020 campaign with an overall record of 18-13-5 with an NCHC record of 12-9-3. The Broncos also ended the season ranked No. 16 in the United States College Hockey Online Poll and ranked No. 18 in the PairWise rankings.
This was head coach Andy Murray’s largest senior class with nine seniors on the Bronco roster, consisting of seven skaters and two goalies. The Broncos do have a bright future with a ton of talented youth, but it was the seniors who did a great job of putting the hockey program in the best position to be successful.
The seven senior skaters on Western Michigan scored a combined 47 goals along with earning 88 assists totaling 135 points on the. That is nearly half of the Broncos offensive production on the season.
As a team, the Broncos fought through some struggles early in the season before finishing strong to end the year. During the first half of the season, the Broncos faced some adversity with injuries and struggles on the ice. Before the three-week winter break at the end of December, the Broncos compiled a record of 7-7-2.
One of the things that hurt WMU early was the struggle with penalties, but they were able to slightly fix the problem in the second half. Despite getting a grip on the issue, WMU was the second most penalized team in the NCHC, spending 468 minutes short handed.
Getting pucks in the back of the net during the first half of the season was another achilles heel for Western Michigan. The Broncos only managed to score 46 goals off of 538 shots during its first 16 games of the season.
However, after a slow start to the second half of the season where the Broncos went 0-2-2, it was able to find its groove and started to win games.
During its mid-January series against Colorado College, WMU had a resurgence and dominated on both ends of the puck. The Broncos scored 11 goals and only allowed four over the two game series in what seemed to be a breakthrough series.
Western Michigan continued to dominate after manhandling the Tigers as the Broncos would go on to win three more games in a row to put together a five-game winning streak. Those other three games featured two dominating wins over St. Cloud State and one win over Omaha.
The Broncos only had one hiccup during the second half of the season and that was when it dropped three games in a row at the end of February. WMU would go on to lose one game to Minnesota-Duluth and get swept by North Dakota.
Western Michigan exploded on offense during the second half of the season, playing ten games where it scored five or more goals and allowed two goals or less.
Statistically, the Broncos had eight players with 20 or more points on the season, with senior Hugh McGing, who recently signed a contract with the St. Louis Blues, leading the way with 35 points on 13 goals and 22 assists. Fellow senior forward Dawson DiPietro was not far behind with 29 points while junior forward Austin Rueschhoff ended with 26 points.
Going into 2020-21, Western Michigan will have some nice pieces to build around, including promising freshman goaltender Brandon Bussi, who secured 18 wins on the season between the pipes for the Broncos. Rueschhoff signed an NHL contract with the Rangers as a junior, but Paul Washe and Ethen Frank among others will provide some experience and goal-scoring ability as the Broncos attempt to move forward.
But like many other teams, the 2019-20 version of the Broncos are probably wondering what could have been, especially while playing its best hockey toward the end of the season.
And while the Frozen Four was set to take place in Detroit this year, that has to make this abrupt ending sting just a little bit more.