More than two full years later, January 13, 2018 is still a date that looms over Western Michigan’s program. The Broncos came into a Saturday evening tilt that night at St. Cloud State ranked in the top-10 in the Pairwise Rankings and playing great hockey, having won the previous night’s game. But their season would be effectively over before the first media timeout of the game. Star forward Wade Allison, who at the time, was probably the front-runner for the Hobey Baker Award, was involved in a collision behind the play and hobbled off the ice. He did not return and the Broncos went on to lose the game. The following week, it was announced that Allison had torn his ACL and would not play the rest of the season. Western Michigan finished the season with a 3-10-1 record once Allison went out with the injury and ended up losing in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, finishing with a losing record, and missing the NCAA Tournament.
Allison returned to the ice last season, but clearly was not the same player. His recovery took longer than expected and he suffered some unrelated injuries, which forced him to miss some games, and be less effective when he was on the ice. He only played in 22 of Western Michigan’s 37 games, scoring only 15 points. The Broncos put together a respectable 21-win season, but again, did not advance in the NCHC playoffs and missed the NCAA Tournament.
Allison said he was still feeling some lingering effects of the injury this past summer, and into this season. And once again, he got off to a rocky start, where he did not look like the former Hobey Baker candidate he was pre-injury. He had just three points in his first seven games of the season, before being forced to miss a stretch of five games.
It’s perhaps overly simplistic and unfair to say that as Wade Allison goes, so goes Western Michigan. There are some other really good hockey players on their team. But the numbers do kind of bear out Allison’s importance as a difference-maker for the Broncos.
Last season, Western Michigan was 15-6-1 in the games that Allison dressed, while 6-9-0 when he did not play. In the 10 games that Allison scored a point for the Broncos, they had an 8-2-0 record, while they were 13-13-1 when he did not show up on the scoresheet.
The trend has continued into this season. Western Michigan is 11-5-3 with Allison in the line-up, and 3-5-1 in the nine games he has missed. They are 9-2-0 in games that he scores a point, and 5-8-4 in games which he does not.
That could be good news for Western Michigan, because it looks like Allison may finally be back and playing his best hockey since he was first injured over two years ago. On January 17th, Allison scored a goal in a 5-2 win over Colorado College. It was his fifth game back from injury and the Broncos were at a season-low 30th in the Pairwise Rankings.
Counting that game, the Broncos have now won seven of their last eight games, with Allison scoring 13 points over that stretch, which is tied for the national lead for most points over that stretch. That has vaulted them into a tie for third place in the NCHC with Denver, and sitting three points ahead of fifth-place St. Cloud State, with Western Michigan having two games in hand. They’ve also climbed onto the NCAA Tournament bubble, currently sitting at 18th in the Pairwise Rankings.
Their remaining schedule is interesting. A home series against #4 Minnesota Duluth and a road series at #1 North Dakota are sandwiched between a pair of series against last-place Miami. According to the their PWR forecast, they probably need at least five wins to push themselves onto the right side of the bubble. Sweeping Miami and then stealing one game from the Big Two seems reasonable, or three of four from Miami and splitting with the Big Two. Regardless, they’re in terrific position for home ice in the NCHC playoffs, and if they can advance to St. Paul, they could find a way to sneak into the NCAAs by either winning the conference tournament, winning a game and edging onto the right side of the bubble.
It’s pretty clear that Western Michigan is an NCAA Tournament-caliber team when Wade Allison is in the line-up, and especially when he is able to produce. They’ve been one of the hottest teams in the country over the past month, could quite possibly continue that through the rest of the season.