Western Michigan jumped from seventh in the NCHC to third in 2018-19, but Colorado College won a best-of-3 series over the Broncos in the opening round of the conference tournament, ending WMU’s season.
But the main core of that team remains intact for this campaign, and the Broncos have added quality talent as they look to again earn one of home-ice spots first that all-important semifinal series of the league tournament.
View From the Glass takes a look at Western Michigan in final of its seven-part 2019-20 preview series.
WESTERN MICHIGAN BRONCOS
NCAA TITLES: None.
COACH: Andy Murray (ninth season, 139-131-35, .513 winning percentage).
2018-19 RECORD: 21-14-6 (13-10-1 NCHC).
2019 POSTSEASON: Lost to Colorado College in a best-of-3 first-round NCHC Tournament series.
RINK (capacity): Lawson Arena (3,667).
MIAMI VS. WESTERN MICHIGAN LAST SEASON: 0-4.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Miami leads, 68-67-11.
SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: Feb. 14-15 – at Miami; March 6-7 – at Western Michigan.
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Josh Passolt, F Hugh McGing, F Austin Rueschhoff, F Ethen Frank, F Wade Allison, D Cam Lee, D Mattias Samuelsson, G Ben Blacker.
KEY NEW FACES: G Brandon Bussi, F Jason Polin, D Scooter Brickey, F Ronnie Attard.
KEY LOSSES: F Colt Conrad, F Jade McMullen, D Corey Schueneman, G Trevor Gorsuch.
NOTES: Western Michigan returns six of its top seven scorers from 2018-19, and all four incoming freshmen posted quality stats in the USHL last season, so the Broncos appear in line for a successful season.
WMU had four forwards finish with at least 25 points last season, and four are back – Josh Passolt, Hugh McGing, Austin Rueschhoff and Ethen Frank.
Passolt and McGing tied for the team lead in goals with 16. Passolt is the top returning points producer with 34 and was tops on the Broncos with a plus-14 rating, and McGing – a St. Louis draftee – ended the year with 30 and a team-best six power play goals.
Rueschhoff went 13-14-27 and Frank netted 15 goals including four game winners.
Senior Dawson DiPietro took a major step forward, picking up 23 points in 33 games after logging just 37 games his first two years combined, and often-injured Wade Allison is a wildcard, as the Philadelphia draft pick has undeniable talent but has been limited to 80 games in three seasons.
Cam Lee led all defensemen in goals (7), assists (19) and points (26), as the senior has dressed 111 times in his career.
Fellow classmate Luke Bafia has logged 98 career games, notching five goals and 30 assists.
Senior Kale Bennett and sophomore Jared Kucharek played in a combined 71 contests, racking up 14 assists between them.
In net, Ben Blacker has never returned to that freshman form, as he was between the pipes for just 230 minutes of action last season and stopped just 88.0 percent of the shots he faced.
Neither of WMU’s other returning goalies – Austin Cain and Will Massey – were particularly impressive in 2018-19, which may open the door for freshman Brandon Bussi.
Bussi posted a 2.44 goals-against average and .915 save percentage with USHL Muskegon.
Goaltending appears to the only question mark for Western Michigan, which should certainly has the talent to finish in one of the top few spots in the league standings.
Having journeyman NHL coach Andy Murray behind the bench for his ninth season can only help the Broncos.