WeldieBlog: Turns Out Western Michigan Is Good!
I admit it. I was wrong.
It doesn't happen often (as long as you don't ask my wife). Usually my thoughts and analysis are rock solid.
Western Michigan is good.
Last year I was a huge fan of the Broncos. I loved Matheson Iacopelli, Griffen Molino, and Sheldon Dries. All of them finished double digits in goals and ended up making the Frozen Faceoff and NCAA tournament.
As the offseaon progressed, all of those players moved on. Dries graduated, Iacopelli signed with Chicago and Molino signed as a free agent with the Canucks. Sure, they still had players like Wade Allison and Colt Conrad, but I didn't think Western Michigan had the ability to score. I felt like that was too much firepower to lose. Because of that, at the beginning of the year, I thought the Broncos would challenge for the cellar of the NCHC.
They proved me wrong.
The Broncos come into St. Cloud this weekend to take on the St. Cloud State Huskies this weekend at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The Broncos are 11-8-1 on the season and looking add the first blemish to the men's team at home, where they sit a perfect 10-0-1 and 13-3-3 overall.
To be effective this season, the Broncos needed Allison and Conrad to step up mightily. They answered the call and currently sit with 28 and 24 points, respectively. Another
big reason for their season has been due to Hugh McGing and Dawson DiPietro. The sophomore pair both have combined for 43 points and 15 goals.
Consistency has been the rock in the Bronco's shoe. After a mediocre 2-3-1 start, the Broncos won seven of the next eight games, including a surprising sweep of the Denver Pioneers and a dominating sweep of Omaha. However, they followed the strong showing with four straight losses. They seem to be coming back on the upswing, winning its last two contests.
They will be well-rested. The Broncos haven't played in over two weeks and haven't even made the trip to St. Cloud since January of 2016. In that series, the Huskies steamrolled the Broncos by a combined score of 15-5. The Huskies lead the overall season 8-3-3.
We will see if the rest helps or hinders the Broncos, as the Huskies are fully back into the routine. While the Huskies are only 1-1-2 since coming back from the break, the team hasn't looked out of place. Last Saturday's game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers was one of the best games the Huskies played all year and they were a little snake-bitten at 3M Arena at Mariucci the next night.
The constant in last Sunday's game and the two ties in Princeton were the ability for the teams to block shots and not allow chances in high percentage areas. Western Michigan is the fifth heaviest team and fourth tallest team in the country. Look for them to do the same against the Huskies. The Huskies need to create chances and open up lanes. They will have to great some greasy goals off second or third chances.
These games are critical for the Huskies chances at the Penrose Cup. The Huskies are currently tied with North Dakota at 22 points with two games in hand. The Fighting Hawks are in a non-conference tilt next weekend against Bemidji State. Denver is close behind at 21 points and has a home series against Omaha. The Broncos sit at 18 points, good for fourth.
Expect Huskies coach Bob Motzko to keep with the goalie rotation. It has been working this season, so there is no reason to stop it now. You'll never know when you'll need both goalies ready. While Jeff Smith has the better record at 8-1-3, it's hard to sit David Hrenak's stellar 1.71 goals against average and .948 save percentage.
The Huskies have been riding depth all season. Jimmy Schuldt leads the team with 22 points on the season (Allison, Conrad and McGing all have 22 or more points). Mikey Eyssimont leads the team with eight goals (Allison, Conrad and DiPietro each have more). But once you shut those guys down, you can easily see were the Huskies have the advantage. The Broncos only have seven players in double digits for points, compared to a staggering 12 for the Huskies.
Because of this, I have a feeling this is the game where you need to mix out the Jack Poehling-Judd Peterson-Nick Poehling line against some of the third- or fourth-liners for the Broncos to get Peterson comfortable shooting the puck. That line has been tremdous controlling play, but has been a little snake bitten as of late. Peterson only has one goal on the season when a goal occupies the net. He has the shot and the ability, but needs to get it picked up. I expect that to come this series.
I do believe this series will be a battle for the Huskies. The Broncos haven't beaten the Huskies since the 2014-2015 season and come in well rested. Considering the Broncos are just 2-5 on the road, it will take a lot more than 15 days off to knock off the team that is undefeated at home,
Not going to be wrong about that.
This blog is the opinion of Travis Weldon, College hockey fan and frequent guest on Granite City Sports. You can read more from Travis on Twitter @MoarClappers.