It’s that time of year again. Each day (or so) for the next couple weeks TCHB will be unveiling its preseason top 16 teams in the country. 16 of course because 16 teams make up the NCAA tournament field. Today’s team is the #9 Western Michigan Broncos
Last year Western Michigan made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years and made it to their first CCHA title game since 1986. They narrowly lost to Denver in the first round of the tournament, losing a double OT heartbreaker. And what’s more, they did it with a pretty young roster. Coach Jeff Blashill is gone but almost every important player is back and the Broncos are legitimate CCHA and Frozen Four contenders.
Forwards: Leading scorer Max Campbell (18-17–35) is gone but Western returns its next 10 highest scorers from last year’s team. The best of the bunch is easily Chase Balisy, who had 12 goals and 30 points, and is doing extremely well at the WJC evaluation camp (sweet lord I just linked to a fox news article. shoot me now). In fact if I had to pick a team now, Balisy would be on it. Fellow Sophomore Shane Berschbach had 9 goals last year, and in all Western has 6 Sophomore and Junior forwards who totaled 47 goals last year. Western scored only 2.75 goals per game in CCHA play last year, but that was good for fourth in the conference. Given that their power play was an abysmal 14.7% (9th) I bet they’ll score more this year (even without Campbell) based on sheer luck if nothing else.
Defensemen: Western’s Matt Tennyson was tied for 8th in the league with 13 points in conference games last year, and his 5 goals tied him for 4th among blueliners. Western’s 2.54 goals per game allowed was 7th in the league, but again this seems to be a result mainly of faulty special teams: the Broncos killed just 79.6% of their penalties, which ranked 10th. Returning 5 of their top 6 defensemen, Western will have some much needed experience back there. The big recruit on the blueline is obviously Garrett Haar, who, even though he was just a 7th round pick of the Capitals, turned a lot of heads at their prospect camp. Haar was originially a Northeastern commit but left when Greg Cronin left for the AHL.
Goaltenders: Western graduates Jerry Kuhn, whose .915 save percentage in CCHA games was only good enough for 9th. Nick Pisellini’s .881 mark was 14th, so clearly the Broncos are in need here. They also have recruit Kris Moore from Salmon Arm (BCHL) coming in to compete for minutes. He had a .906 save% last year, but a .921 mark the year before with Camrose.