It could be
that, because of the top-to-bottom parity of the CCHA this season,
it’s not difficult to overlook one team at the expense of
others. Maybe it’s due to the prevailing attitude in Michigan
that hockey is played in three arenas – Joe Louis, Yost
and Munn. Maybe it’s just pure ignorance.
reason, we’re ready to address the question: Who are the
Western Michigan Broncos, and where did they come from?
question is a two-parter. The Broncos (13-9-3 overall, 9-6-2 CCHA)
are one of three teams tied for second place in the conference
standings, one point behind league leader Miami, thanks to a 7-1-1
record in their last nine league games dating back to a win against
Bowling Green in late November. But more important, they’re
an experienced club with 10 or 11 juniors and seniors in the lineup
on a given night, and a confident group that rarely seems rattled.
Michigan's Vince Bellissimo is tied for seventh in the CCHA
with 26 points.
have seven seniors on this team,” coach Jim Culhane said.
“I think that’s helped out with the leadership within
the four walls of the locker room. And all our forwards and our
defensemen have come up big when they’ve been in a position
to make a contribution.”
response begins to explain where his team came from. The Broncos
are an incredibly balanced group up front – nine players
have more than 12 points heading into this weekend’s home-and-home
series with Michigan. Balance, however, doesn’t equate a
lack of talent.
Lattery, one of the conference’s top two-way forwards, leads
the team with 27 points. Sophomore Vince Bellissimo, a Florida
Panthers’ draft pick, scored 36 points as a freshman and
is on his way to eclipsing that total this season. Senior Jeff
Campbell, who’s scored 137 points in his college career,
snapped a mini-scoring drought last weekend with three assists
in a sweep of Nebraska-Omaha. Highly regarded freshman Paul Szczechura
(pronounced shuh-HER-uh) owns a three-game goal streak and has
five points in his last four games.
trying to get as many scoring opportunities as we can,”
Culhane said, “and we’ve been getting those second
and third opportunities.”
will have to continue to capitalize on those opportunities in
order to maintain their current position in the CCHA standings
because they work with a razor thin margin of error most nights.
While they’ve scored 87 goals, tops in the conference, WMU
has allowed a league-high 86 goals.
act will be put to the test this weekend against the Wolverines.
Working in Western’s favor, however, is their success at
home. They’re 9-3-1 at home this season and 2-1-3 in their
last six games against Michigan in Kalamazoo. The Broncos will
be buoyed by a raucous, standing-room only crowd of 4,500 at Lawson
Ice Arena – or is it the Broncs’ Zoo? – that
rarely sits on its hands. Still, Culhane believes the series will
be business as usual for his team.
preparation is not going to change at all,” he said. “We’re
going to focus on the weekend ahead.”
be in focus, of course, than be overlooked.
AND HEARD IN THE CCHA
JORDAN RULES – Last weekend was really no different
than any other for Bowling Green goaltender Jordan Sigalet. Two
games, 79 saves, three goals allowed…and a split.
we’re just one step away from being a winning team,”
Sigalet said Friday after making 39 saves in 1-0 loss to visiting
Michigan State. “It’s frustrating, but…I think
we’re right there. It’s just gonna take a little more.”
to fathom that the junior netminder could give much more, because
he's been nothing short of spectacular for the young Falcons this
season. Unfortunately, the primary statistics fans use as an indicator
of a goalie’s play – won-loss record and goals against
average – don’t bear out Sigalet’s excellence
this season. He’s 6-12-6 with a 2.78 GAA, but a closer look
at his numbers reveals much more. To wit:
.915 save percentage ranks fifth in the CCHA, not bad for a guy
who’s seen more shots than a Coyote Ugly bartender. Sigalet
has made 734 saves this year. Only two other goalies in the nation
– Northern Michigan’s Craig Kowalski (688) and Ferris
State’s Mike Brown (626) – have stopped more than
13 of his 24 starts, Sigalet has made 30 or more saves, including
56 in a 5-3 win at Notre Dame in October and 85 in a two-game
series with Ferris. BGSU, fourth from the bottom in the nation
in scoring offense at 2.21 goals per game, earned just one point
in that series even though the Bulldogs scored a total of five
goals on the weekend. His one shutout this year was in a scoreless
tie at Lake Superior State.
has played every minute of every game for the Falcons. With 1469:14
of playing time, only Brown (1438:18) is close. Massachusetts’
Gabe Winer is third on the list, a full two games behind Sigalet.
not too worried about my numbers or anything,” said Sigalet,
whose NHL rights are owned by the Boston Bruins. “I’m
just glad I get the chance to play every minute. I just like to
With his skills
and work ethic, Sigalet gives the Falcons a chance to win every
night. He’s solid in just about every phase of the game
– he squares his body to the shooter, waits out opposing
attackers with incredible patience until the last possible moment
before committing to the shot, steers the puck away from pressure,
stands his ground in traffic and plays bigger than his listed
height of 5-11½. He could stand to improve his puck-handling,
but he’s not a liability when playing the puck.
day we see it,” Bowling Green coach Scott Paluch said of
the junior goalie’s talents. “He can pick up the puck
extremely well…and he has the unique ability to smother
the puck and not let it get away from him for rebounds. And he
can do that through traffic, too, which is a really good skill
rock-solid consistency is important for a number of reasons, but
two stand out as particularly crucial. First, he’s able
to cover up the mistakes of the young skaters in front of him
(11 of the 18 players in the Falcons’ lineup Friday were
freshmen or sophomores). Second, his reliability allows the team’s
defensemen – most notably, his brother, Jonathan, a freshman
– to join the rush in accordance with Paluch’s desire
to play an up-tempo style.
a guy that’s played every minute so far, clearly he’s
going to be in the spotlight on the team,” Paluch said.
“And what makes it a healthy situation for our team is that
he’s a leader, he works hard and he’s a tremendous
person off the ice. He can’t hide, because he’s out
there all the time.”
no doubt that, if the Falcons are to make the transition from
a team that keeps games close to one that wins close games, Sigalet
will spearhead that effort. And he’s ready – and willing
– to face any challenge opponents throw his way.
you’re making big saves, it gets your adrenaline going,
it gets your team going and it gets the crowd going,” Sigalet
said. “I don’t have a problem with it. I kind of like
it in a way.”
Great Weekend Getaway
at Western Michigan (Fri.), Western Michigan at Michigan
(Sat.): We’re not ready to anoint the Broncos
as a sure-fire contender for the CCHA regular season championship
– this is a team that lost three of four points at
Lake Superior State less than three weeks ago, mind you
– but they can take a giant leap toward solidifying
their position against the Michigan this weekend. The Wolverines
have their work cut out for them in Kalamazoo Friday; the
Broncos are notoriously tough to beat at home. The scene
shifts to Yost Ice Arena Saturday, where WMU hasn’t
won since 1995.
While you’re there: If you’re making the
drive on I-94 from Kalamazoo for game two of the series,
swing into the town of Chelsea. Located just west of Ann
Arbor, it’s widely regarded as Michigan’s cultural
center and is anchored by the Purple Rose Theatre, a not-for-profit
professional theatre company founded by actor (and hometown
boy) Jeff Daniels. As far as we know, there has yet to be
a stage adaptation of “Dumb and Dumber.” We’d
love to see Cam Neely reprise his role as Sea Bass. Speaking
of sea bass, a Friend of INCH says the Common Grill is arguably
the best restaurant in the area. Pasta and seafood are the
• Ask anyone who attended
Friday’s Michigan State-Bowling Green game,
and they’ll tell you it was as entertaining a game
as they’ve seen in some time. Both goalies brought
their “A” games to the rink that night, there
was plenty of physical play, each team had quality scoring
chances numbering in the double digits and both sides played
with a high level of enthusiasm and energy. Just a fantastic
Bowling Green, a bastion of equality in northwest Ohio, has
Falcon mascots in both male and female form. The male bird
looks like a cartoonish falcon, while the female appears to
be a steroid-laced turkey. Whatever. The beef here is that
mascots that take to the ice should actually be able
to skate. The BGSU birds didn’t do too badly
but, for the love of Bucky Badger, don’t wear rentals
from the arena skate shop while you’re out there. Pick
up a pair of CCM 152’s, maybe.
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• With series against Notre Dame and Michigan State launching
the second half of Bowling Green’s conference schedule,
Paluch had the opportunity to assess the games of the
CCHA’s three 17-year-old defensemen – the
Irish’s Wes O’Neill, the Spartans’ A.J. Thelen
and his own standout blueliner, Jonathan Sigalet. He says the
trio of talented rearguards are a credit to the quality of the
“Here you have
three 17-year-olds – playing defense, no less – who
are really doing some fun things,” said Paluch, a former
defenseman. “They’re all kind of multi-dimensional.
They understand the [defensive] zone, they get involved offensively.
With our guy, he plays a lot of hockey for us and he’s handled
every situation well, as it looks like with the other two. They
just keep getting better and better.”
week after bemoaning his team’s lack of effort in a 3-2
home loss to UMass Lowell, Michigan State coach Rick Comley
lauded his troops for their perseverance despite finishing
on the short end of a 3-2 decision at Bowling Green Saturday.
had some poor efforts in second games of series, but this was
not a poor effort tonight,” Comley said to Neil Koepke of
the Lansing State Journal. “I thought our kids
played their hearts out.''
The Spartans haven’t
recorded a series sweep since taking a pair from Ferris State
in a home-and-home set Oct. 31-Nov. 1.
oddity from Saturday’s NHL game between Edmonton and Nashville:
not only were four Michigan State alums on the ice that night,
but all four were members of the same team. Oilers Mike York and
Shawn Horcoff and Adam Hall and Andrew Hutchinson of the Preds
were on the 1998-99 Spartan squad that advanced to the Frozen
Four in Anaheim. We sent the boys at the INCH Institute for Hockey
Research to the books and the only similar instance we could find
of this occurrence came in 1991-92 when four members of the 1984-85
Wisconsin team – Scott Mellanby and Dave Maley of Edmonton
and Calgary’s Gary Suter and Paul Ranheim – squared
off in the Battle of Alberta. If we overlooked another quartet,
let us know.
than five months into his professional hockey career, former
Ferris State All-American Chris Kunitz made his National
Hockey League debut – on Hockey Night in Canada, no less
– in Anaheim’s 2-1 win against host Vancouver Saturday.
One of the finalists for the 2003 Hobey Baker Award, Kunitz was
credited with four shots on goal and logged seven minutes of ice
time. Coincidentally, former Ohio State standout Ryan Kesler returned
to the Vancouver lineup that same night for the first time since
helped the U.S. team to the gold medal at the World Junior Championships.
once told me the difference between Anchorage and Fairbanks
– I’ve been to both places on hockey trips in the
past – is that the former is a city, while the latter is
an outpost. Make that a frozen outpost. Northern Michigan braved
the bitter cold when visited UAF for a two-game series last weekend.
The high temperature during their visit: one below zero. The low
temp occurred Saturday: 46 below zero. Fortunately for us, a Fox
Sports Net Detroit crew was in Fairbanks last weekend. They’ll
share their travelogue with us on the next edition of CCHA Weekly,
which airs prior to Friday’s Michigan-Western Michigan game.
making the trip to Ohio last weekend, I’ve learned that
the Obscure Bowling Green Note of the Week is
one of the most popular features of this notebook according to
a sampling of people wearing brown and orange. This week’s
gem: Bowling Green and Michigan are the only two teams to win
the CCHA regular season trophy and the MacNaughton Cup, which
is currently presented to the WCHA regular season champion. Michigan,
a WCHA member from 1951-81, won the MacNaughton Cup in 1953 and
1956. The Falcons, meanwhile, won the MacNaughton from 1982-84.
Michigan Tech – the custodian of the trophy – was
a member of the CCHA for those three seasons.
of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.
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