Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray was a head coach in the NHL from 1999-2010, and this year's Western Michigan team very much looks like a team from that era. They're big, they're physical, they like to cycle the puck on offense and play zone-to-zone rather than skating up-and-down the ice with teams and they play a lot of very low-scoring hockey games. It might not be the prettiest hockey to watch, but it can be brutally effective.
|Justin Kovacs, So||Will Kessel, SR||Colton Hargrove, JR|
|Sam Mellor, rJR||Josh Pitt, JR||Aidan Muir, FR|
|Kyle Novak, SO||Nolan LaPorte, JR||Sheldon Dries, SO|
|Aaron Hadley, SO||Frederik Tiffels, FR||William Nong-Lamber, FR|
|Extras||John Carpino, FR||JT Osborn, JR||Michael Rebry, SO||JT Osborn, JR|
|Kenney Morrison, JR||Chris Dienes, SO|
|Scott Moldenhauer, FR||Taylor Fleming, SO|
|Thomas Nitsche, SO||Mike McKee, SO|
|Extras||Paul Stoykewych, FR||Matt Stewart, SR||Neal Goff, FR|
|Lukas Hafner, JR||Frank Slubowski, SR||Sam Bloomberg, JR|
NHL Draft picks: McKee(DET), Muir(EDM), Hargrove(BOS),
Free Agent targets: Morrison, Pitt, Kessel, Stoykewych
Western Michigan didn't score a lot of goals last season. Their 2.58 goals per game only bettered Colorado College's dreadful offense in the NCHC, and was 38th nationally. And this year's team lost the only two real scoring threats off of last year's team in graduated seniors Chase Balisy and Shane Berschbach. So don't expect to see the Broncos lighting up the scoreboard this season.
But what the Broncos lack in flash, they'll more than make up for in toughness. They might have one of the most physical top two lines in college hockey, and that's a perfect fit for Andy Murray's system, which values puck possession in the offensive zone, and grinding down the opposition with their cycle.
Will Kessel and Josh Pitt gives the Broncos two big, strong centermen that will make them tough up the middle. Freshman, and NHL draft pick, Aidan Muir will fit in nicely with this group. It's rare to see someone with Muir's size play with the type of energy and aggressiveness he does. But the Broncos will sorely miss recruit Matheson Iacopelli, a third round NHL Draft pick that didn't make it into school for this year, who would have given the Broncos a legitimate goal-scoring threat.
The Broncos have a lot of size on the blueline with 6-2 Kenney Morrison, 6-2 Chris Dienes, 6-2 Paul Stoykewych, 6-3 Thomas Nitsche, 6-4 Scott Moldenauer, and 6-5 Mike McKee. Morrison will be the key on the blueline. Despite his size, he doesn't play with the physicality of the others, but he's a strong puckhandler and will quarterback the Western Michigan power play. The Broncos will need all the offensive help they can get, and Morrison could help that.
If there's a potential downfall with this group, it might be that people didn't appreciate just how good Jordan Oesterle was last year, and how much his absence, after a surprising departure to the pros, will be felt. Oesterle was an excellent puck-mover and logged a lot of minutes in key situations.
Senior Frank Slubowski feels like he's been around forever, but after Slubowksi played nearly every game in his first two seasons, Lukas Hafner started to take playing time away from him last year, and tended to perform much better. Slubowski gave up three or more goals in eight of his last nine starts last season, and Western Michigan just isn't gong to win many games if they have to score four or more goals to do so.
Hafner meanwhile, put up the type of stats--2.06 GAA, .925 save percentage--that Western Michigan needs in order to be successful. Hafner should see most of the time in goal this year, and if he keeps his goals against that close to 2.00 for the whole season, the Broncos could surprise people.
This won't be a fun team to play against, and they'll find ways to win a lot of ugly hockey games. It wouldn't be a huge surprise to see the Broncos hang around with the middle of the pack for most of the season, but eventually, I think the lack of scoring catches up to them and they'll end up shuffled down to the bottom of that group in the middle of the conference standings. There's enough skill in the upper echelon of the NCHC that teams will find ways to score goals, and Western Michigan doesn't have a consistent scoring threat to match.
The good news for the Broncos is that the long-term health of the program is very strong, with some very good recruits scheduled to come in two to three years from now. But in the meantime, there might not be a lot of excitement in Kalamazoo.