Denver Hockey Series Preview: Western Michigan

Photo courtesy of NCAA.com

The No. 7 Pioneers welcome first NCHC opponent, Western Michigan

After a long bye-week, the Denver Pioneers are back this weekend hosting Western Michigan in their first NCHC matchup of the season.  The Broncos are 3-3 but are putting up an average of almost four goals per game.  With no timetable in place for the return of Pioneer’s freshman goaltender Filip Larsson, the pressure will again be on Devin Cooley to carry the Pios in a potentially high-scoring series.

Denver should have swept the University of Alaska two weeks ago, but got caught flat-footed in the second game of the series.  The Pioneers fought back and managed to earn a tie which showed great team resiliency.  But the Broncos present a challenge that is familiar to many returning Denver players.

It was also early in the season last year when the Pioneers traveled to Kalamazoo Michigan and were upset twice by the Broncos despite an offensive outburst that included a hat trick from Henrik Borgström.  When NCHC teams play, records tend to go out the window which could happen again this weekend.

It looks like the Broncos will be without one of their star players in Wade Allison who continues to get healthy from a season-ending knee injury last year.  But Allison isn’t the only player that can make an impact on the Pioneers.

Western Michigan Broncos

The Broncos feature several playmaking forwards with great face-off ability and puck-moving skill.  Although they may tell you they have had to play some difficult teams to start the season, the Broncos are still competing in every game and have put up the points to show it.  They’ve had a nice win against Michigan already along with a sweep of Ferris State.

Head coach Andy Murray spoke to the media Monday and offered some early praise for head coach David Carle and the Denver Pioneers:

“They have some real quickness on their team this year, they’re younger.  They lost some of their bigger bodied guys that have moved on to the National Hockey League but they’re real quick and real fast.  They’re a team that’s going to challenge for another championship in the NCHC so it’s a great challenge for our guys.”

One line the Pioneers need to be aware of is the Cotter-Conrad-McGing line.  Conrad and McGing have combined for 11 points already this season and Paul Cotter could be on his way.  A 4th-round pick of the Vegas Golden Knights last year, Cotter brings some size and will start to benefit from playing with a pair of playmakers.

The biggest question mark for this team is their goaltender play.  The net is currently shared by Austin Cain and Trevor Gorsuch, both of whom are struggling.  The Pioneers will need to pepper the Broncos goaltenders all weekend just like they did against Air Force.  They’ll need to create their own chances and be in the right spots to cash in.

Who to watch

#16 – Forward – Hugh McGing – 6GP, 3G, 3A (2018 5th – STL)

#29 – Forward – Colt Conrad – 6GP, 2G, 4A

#28 – Defenseman – Cam Lee –  6GP, 4G, 2A

#29 – Defenseman – Mattias Samuelsson – 6GP, 1G (2018 2nd – BUF)

#1 – Goaltender – Austin Cain – 2-2, 4.17GAA, .826 SV%

Prediction – Pioneers sweep, move to 5-0-1

David Carle expects the pace and intensity to ramp up this weekend and it will.  Western Michigan hasn’t visited Magness Arena in two years and it’s likely they won’t be welcomed by a rejuvenated student section with open arms.  It will be interesting to see the physicality in the Pios’ first NCHC matchup of the season, but Denver needs to keep it as clean as possible, especially against a Broncos team that doesn’t have the cleanest reputation.  They will be successful this weekend by being quick to pucks and cycling in the offensive zone per usual.  Look for Les Lancaster and Ian Mitchell to have big impacts offensively.

Twitter Follow – @WMUHockey

Where to Watch/Listen

Friday – 7:07pm MT, Altitude 2, 104.3 THE FAN

Saturday – 7:07pm MT, Altitude 2, ESPN DENVER 1600