Photo courtesy The Denver Post
The #3 University of Denver Pioneers will be opening up conference play this weekend at home against the Western Michigan University Broncos. The Pioneers tend to start playing better as they get into the NCHC gauntlet, and the Broncos are a great early test to maintain that trend.
Western Michigan will come to Magness Arena with an impressive 3-0-1 record, with the one tie coming in a 3-on-3 win over Bowling Green.
Head Coach Andy Murray has been emphasizing more puck possession this year as it’s something they’ve struggled with in years past, especially in NCHC play. Murray is in his sixth season with the Broncos and is the former coach of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues and L.A. Kings.
A lot of their early season success has come from freshman forward Wade Allison. He’s has been on a tear to start this year, scoring three times and also adding two assists. Last year he had 47 points in 56 games for the USHL’s Tri-City Storm. He was also drafted in the 2nd-round of the NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Allison and company have given a major boost to Western’s offense after last year. Of course, it’s a small sample size, but after scoring a paltry 2.2 goals per game last year, they’re scoring at a 4.5 goals per game clip through four games this year. Most of those goals (12 out of 19) have come on the power play where they have an impressive 30% conversion rate (contrast that with DU’s miserable 12.5% PPG rate). The Pioneers will have to stay out of the box this weekend, which is something they’ve struggled with this year.
The Broncos are captained by senior Sheldon Dries, who had two goals in Western Michigan’s visit to Denver last year. He led the team in scoring his sophomore year and was second on the team last year with 11 goals and seven assists.
This Western Michigan team has six NHL draft picks, which is the most they’ve had since 1991-92. They’re a team that most people were surprised that they was included in the NCHC, but they are beginning to show everyone why they belong in this conference.
This is an intriguing matchup for the Pioneers as they open up conference play. The Broncos looked very imposing in their first two series against two teams that were ranked at the time in Ferris State and Bowling Green. If Allison and the electric Western Michigan offense get too many power play opportunities, it could be a long weekend for the Pioneers. But if the Pios can stay out of the box however, they should be able to notch a couple of victories to start the 2016-17 journey through the NCHC meat grinder.