College Hockey Series of the Week: No. 4 Denver vs. No. 20 Western Michigan
From top to bottom every season, the NCHC is one of the most complete and competitive hockey conferences at the collegiate level. This year is no exception, as all eight of the teams are legitimate contenders to make the NCAA Tournament.
No. 4 Denver (8-2-2) and No. 20 Western Michigan (6-4-2) are two programs that are consistently at or near the top of the NCHC standings. This series will be held in Denver and the Broncos will have a chance to send Denver to 0-4-2 in conference play if a sweep were to occur.
The Broncos have the No. 13 scoring offense in the country averaging 3.37 goals per clip and they are led by junior forward Paul Washe. The Clarkson, Michigan native leads Western in goals with seven and in points with 14.
Aside from Washe, Ethen Frank, Drew Worrad, Dawson DiPietro and Kale Bennett are other names that stand out on this Western Michigan team. The trio of Worrad, DiPietro and Frank have combined for 12 goals and 28 points.
Bennett is a strong skating defenseman that only has 11 points in his career, but his impact in 69 games played go far beyond what is on the stat sheet. He leads the Broncos in plus-minus with a plus-seven and that is expected to go up as the season progresses.
Between the pipes, freshman goalie Brandon Bussi has stepped in and performed at a satisfactory level thus far. In 12 games, Bussi holds a record of 6-4-2 to complement a goals-against-average of 2.64 and a save percentage of .907.
After last weeks 0-1-1 performance against conference leader North Dakota, the Pioneers are in unfamiliar territory with just three points through the first few weeks of conference play.
The Pioneers slipped to No. 16 in scoring offense with 3.29 goals per contest and only scored twice against North Dakota last weekend. If they want to climb back up in the standings, they will definitely need to get more quality shots on goal.
Denver’s offense relies heavily on a number of players with no established No. 1 option and it could prove to be detrimental later on. Liam Finlay has 11 points through 12 games played and is tied for the team lead in assists with eight alongside Emilio Pettersen.
The trio of Tyson McLellan, Kohen Olischefski and Booby Brink have lit the lamp a combined 12 times with each player having four goals respectively, which is tied for the team lead.
Defenseman Ian Mitchell and forward Brett Stapley are two other reliable scoring options as the two have teamed up for 19 points through 12 games, but none of them have separated themselves from the pack.
Goaltending, on the other hand, has been strong as Magnus Chrona remains a steady presence in-net. The Tampa Bay Lightning draft selection has a save percentage of .917, a goals against average of 2.16 and a record of 7-2-2.
This series is a major turning point for Denver’s season as they could slip into a serious hole in the NCHC standings should a sweep occur. Denver, however, won't let a sweep happen so easily.
The Pioneers will avenge that embarrassing performance last weekend against North Dakota on home ice and flip the script. Western Michigan is an extremely talented team and has some serious potential. It’ll be a tall task to enter a hostile atmosphere and come out with two wins.
That veteran leadership will be on full display and the Pioneers will be able to get back onto the right track. Although it may not necessarily be pretty, two wins would go a long way.
Prediction: Denver sweeps 2-0
Game 1: Denver 3, Western Michigan 1
Game 2: Denver 4, Western Michigan 2
Christopher Hess is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.