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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Walton Returns to Lead Broncos to Improvement

Senior WMU forward Brent Walton

Western Michigan Preview 2005-2006

The Western Michigan hockey team is not known for striking fear into the hearts of its opponents. With last season's record of 14-21-2 (8-18-2 CCHA), the media and coaches of the CCHA appear to believe that trend will continue, ranking the Broncos 10th and 12th in their respective polls.

Head coach Jim Culhane had this perception of his team in mind when he recruited Matt Clackson, a tough enforcer who struck plenty of fear into the hearts of his USHL opponents last season: he amassed the all-time league record in penalty minutes. "Matt possesses one of the elements we need to improve upon as a team, and that's grit and determination," reflected Culhane. "He's a big, physical player who is willing to pay the price in front of the net and battle in the corners to provide scoring opportunities for his teammates."

Clackson anchors a freshman class of nine--four defensemen, five forwards, and goalie Ryan Mensing--who will look to integrate themselves into the Bronco unit.

The rookies have some significant shoes to fill: an offensive void will need to be filled following the graduation of Vince Bellissimo, who contributed thirty-seven points (17-20), including seven power play goals and two short-handed goals. The Broncos will also doubtlessly miss playmaker Pat Dwyer, who contributed twenty-two points (6-16) to the Broncos last year.

Fortunately for Western, they have some of last year's standouts back for another go. None is more valuable that senior Brent Walton, who amassed a team-leading fifty points last season (21-29) and finished 6th overall in NCAA scoring. "[Walton] had a tremendous offensive season for us last year, nationally and within the league," comments Culhane. Walton was also recently named to the CCHA preseason All-Conference second team.

Other returning Broncos of note include assistant captain Paul Szczechura, a junior who excelled last season with six goals and twenty-three assists. Additionally, sophomores Brian Bicek and Jeff Pierce may be factors on special teams: Pierce had six power play goals last year; Bicek contribute three power play goals and one shorthanded goal.

A final key factor for the Broncos, considering their large freshman class and desire to become a more prominent and respected CCHA team, will be leadership. Culhane speaks highly of senior captain Mike Erickson: "I think Mike has outstanding leadership qualities and he will be called upon quite frequently this upcoming season due to the fact that we have a very young team." In addition to setting a consistent off-ice example, Erickson will also look to be a scoring leader, building on last year's twenty-four point season.

While the Broncos will have their hands full with their usual CCHA foes, they will also have tough games against Bemidji State and Colgate. Further, they will compete in the Badger Showdown this December; they anticipate facing University of Wisconsin in the first round. Another season highlight will be the season opener, when the Broncos host Robert Morris. This game will have special significance for the Broncos as former WMU defenseman Derek Schooley will be behind the bench for Robert Morris.

Vince Bellissimo F (AHL, Carolina Hurricanes system)
Pat Dwyer F (AHL, Chicago Wolves)
Jim McNamara D (ECHL, Phoenix)
Kyle Bushee
Mat Ponto
Trevor Cook
Jeff Kyrzakos

Ryan Mensing G (MJAHL)
Chris Frank D (BCHL)
Steve Silver D (Brighton) (NAHL)
Tyler Ludwig D (NAHL)
Kevin O'Connor (Trenton) (USHL)
Matt Clackson F (USHL)
Dave Krisky F (BCHL)
Jeff Lovecchio F (USHL)
Patrick Galivan F (NAHL)
Sean Weaver F (BCHL)

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