WMU offense is potent, defense inexperienced

By Derek Berry

Some teams can score goals. A few here and there, some timely ones will
help. Oh, and then there’s Western Michigan. The Broncos make up in offense
what they might lack everywhere else – a bevy of scorers who can get the
job done.

In exact contrast to the Northern Michigan Wildcats, the Broncos have
plenty of offensive punch and need some help on defense. If they had
Northern Michigan’s defense (or conversely if Northern Michigan had
their offense) somebody would be pretty hard to stop.

But, consider what Western Michigan has in the way of returnees and
you’ll be astounded.

For starters, four of their five leading scorers from last year’s squad
are back and all of them were in the top 50 in the league in overall
scoring. Out of that, WMU returns 17 letterwinners. Not too shabby.
The top scorer coming back into the league this season is senior forward
David Gove (18 goals, 28 assists, 46 points in 1999-2000 season). By
virtue of the top two scorers in the league last year leaving (Shawn
Horcoff, MSU and Mike Comrie, U-M) Gove is the key man and a big part of
the Broncos offensive machine.

Head coach Jim Culhane knows the Broncos firepower will continue into
this season.

“We got some timely goals last year no question and for that to continue
this year we need to improve upon our goals against and goals for this
year,” said Culhane, in his 3rd season at WMU.

Gove says the power play will be enhanced because of the offensive

“Our power play was very good last year and there’s no reason we can’t
improve upon it,” says Gove, speaking of a WMU power play ranked 2nd in
the CCHA in 1999-00. “We’ll be playing more of a wide-open, offensive
type game, but still have to keep defense in mind too.”

In other words, don’t put yourself in the box against WMU.

Coach Culhane knows about the top-ranked power play, but he also knows
there will be personnel changes on it too.

“Different guys, especially on defense, will be rotated in and out of
the power play, so it’s very important that we maintain a high level of
excellence on it,” said Culhane.

The major area for concern for the Broncos is the defense. There is no
senior leadership on the blueline and that can be tough. “We’re pretty
young there,” says Culhane.

The defense in fact carries mostly freshman and sophomores, which may be
a strength for WMU in a couple of years, but not this year. One thing
the Broncos do have, to support that young defense, is a strong, sturdy
goaltender with playoff experience-Jeff Reynaert (12-19-3, 3.76 G.A.A.
last season).

“Jeff Reynaert is our mainstay in net and will be a key for us,” says
Culhane. “He may have to carry us defensively at times, at least until
the young guys get up to speed on defense.”

Reynaert will also have to be strong on the penalty kill too. It’s an
area that both Gove and his coach agree needs work.

“We were last in defense last year, so it’s no secret that our defense
is not our strength going in,” says Gove. “But, we have one of the best
goalies in the league and he’ll help us with any defensive problems.”
Part of that inexperience does come on defense and that can be tough
especially in some of the early games on the road.

“All 6 of our freshman are strong…it’s a strong class for us,” says
Gove, assured that the future of WMU hockey will be in good hands after
he leaves. “I think you’ll see great things from these guys in the
future,” he says, referring to defensemen Mike Jarmuth and Brian Pasko
and forwards Paul Davies, Dana Lattery, Jeff Campbell and Lucas Drake

In fact, Gove works with Davies one-on-one in practice to help him out.
“The young players are learning right now…we’re taking them aside and
teaching them, right there at practice,” says Gove. “We even spend
time, as upper classmen, with the freshmen, especially on the road, just
so they’ll feel part of the team and don’t get down if things aren’t
going well.”

Culhane is extremely happy with his scorers that he has coming back and
tends to dwell on that a bit more.

“I’m excited that we have four senior forwards returning for us this
season,” he says. “With David Gove, Mike Bishai (18-19-37), Steve
Rymsha (10-10-20) and Anthony Battaglia…that bodes well for us. Not a
lot of teams can say they have that much senior experience up front.”
But, can those seniors carry their experience on the road and make it
work, especially in tough places like Alaska-Fairbanks, a long trip
early in the season?

“We start off on the road and we have a trip to MSU in November,” says
Culhane. “The second half we get all of the perennial powers-MSU, U-M,
NMU-on the road no less.”

Gove likens the schedule to that of a Big Ten football schedule. It’s
not easy at all, and everybody beats up on everybody else.

“‘So-called’ is exactly right,” says Gove. “That’s a tough travel
adjustment (to Alaska) right off the bat, so it’s important for us to
get off to a good start. We only have six home games in that first
stretch, so it’s a big key for us.”

But, if WMU gets it together, a lot of teams won’t want to get into a
shootout with them. That’s not a good idea with a high-flying, scoring

Burning questions about the Broncos in 2000-01?
*Can the offensive depth make up for defensive inexperience?
*Can they handle the tough schedule at the end?
*Will Jeff Raynaert produce big games?
*What happens on the penalty kill?