WMU to build new hockey arena on campus

Western Michigan University has plans to build a new hockey arena, multiple sources have confirmed.

Details are still emerging, but it’s estimated the price tag will be well north of the $16 million that was rumored two weeks ago. It’s also believed construction could begin as early as 2014.

The new building will connect to Lawson Arena and be constructed along its southeast side in what is currently a parking lot the school’s marching band uses for practice. Lawson Arena will remain in use for community hockey and skating events.

It’s unclear when WMU plans to officially announce the project – a school official denied the recent report of a new $16 million arena – but it’s believed head coach Andy Murray is already using the arena plans as a selling point to potential players during recruiting visits.

Rumors also suggest the building will be similar in style to Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Arena, though the project’s architect remains unknown.

We also don’t know:

  • Who is paying for the project
  • If all the funds have been raised
  • The seating capacity
  • What the building will be named
  • If this project replaces plans for a new downtown arena
  • If other WMU teams and the Kalamazoo Wings will play in the arena

But we do know:

This would be another major step forward for a program that has risen to prominence since 2010. It would reinforce – majorly – the school’s commitment to hockey and position WMU among the nation’s elite, particularly in terms of facilities.

Also, the NCAA recently (and smartly) lowered its seating capacity requirement for regional tournament sites. One would imagine the new arena could give WMU a legitimate shot at hosting an NCAA regional.

More as it’s available…

Would London really be best fit for McCarron? Plus, new arena talk (again)

Michael McCarron

With the 25th pick of Sunday’s NHL Entry Draft, the Montreal Canadiens made Michael McCarron the highest pick ever to play at Western Michigan.

That is, if he actually reports to Kalamazoo.

The would-be freshman is apparently deciding this week between WMU and the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.

Which, when you think about it, maybe isn’t that tough a decision after all.

The argument for the OHL is that players play more games (80 instead of 40 in college), which better prepares them for the pros. It’s a valid point. But what players don’t get by going the junior route is extensive practice, video and white board time, and workouts led by full-time strength and conditioning coaches. When you’re 6-5, 227, 18 years-old and not a dead-lock for an NHL roster right away, these things matter. Especially when the coach leading the chalk talk and on-ice drills is Andy Murray.

If he goes to London, he plays a lot… and that’s about it. The Knights are a successful franchise — he’d learn how to win, which is valuable — but what would he accomplish in London that he didn’t with the U.S. National Development team?  Usually, 18 year-old first-round picks have used the OHL to get drafted. McCarron used the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor. Now, it’s about skill and strength development.

It also wouldn’t be in McCarron’s best interest (other than financially) to sign with the Habs and report to their AHL club in Hamilton (experts don’t expect he’ll actually make the Canadiens this season). He’d collect a signing bonus, make $80,000 a season and play 80-plus games… but wouldn’t receive the type or amount of individual development that he would at Western. And word on the street is he could use a little of it, particularly in the weight room.

Sure, McCarron might play in Kalamazoo for only a year or two.

If he’s unsure about that, perhaps he can ask Danny DeKeyser how it worked for him.

ALONG THE RAIL …

  • Ineligible: Defenseman Garrett Haar will miss at least the first half of the 2013-14 season because he’s academically ineligible. This is a big blow for a team that lived and died by its defense last season, and that was counting on Haar to pick up whatever slack he could after the departures of Danny DeKeyser and Luke Witkowski.
  • From the We’ll Believe It When We See Shovels In The Ground Department: A source, citing a “heavy hitter” in the community, said there could be an announcement coming from WMU in the next month about a new $16 million arena that will — get this — connect to Lawson Arena. This rumor is on the heels of last season’s report that Andy Murray engineered an idea to build a new arena where the school’s track currently sits, not to mention the never-ending downtown arena drama. But let’s imagine this $16 million idea is true for a minute… where do they build it? Behind the existing arena? In the band’s practice parking lot to the southeast? Add a second story, ala Madison Square Garden? Pull off an imminent domain permit to build it partially on Stadium Drive?
  • Confirmed: Lawson will feature a new scoreboard and video boards this season. Here’s hoping the scoreboard is nothing like the semi-trailer hanging at Wings Stadium.

KO’d: Broncos go bust in CCHA quarterfinals

Welcome to this blog’s first ever video post.

So many story lines came to mind following the Wolverines’ weekend waylay that a regular post would’ve taken forever to write (and read).

Thus… this.

(Yes, I’m wearing sweat shorts with the dress shirt. It’s Sunday.)

Tip your cap: These RedHawks are good

We in sports love to overanalyze.

It’s fun.

It makes us feel like we’re part of the action.

Sometimes, though, sports are as simple as the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Miami was better than Western Michigan on Saturday night.

And the sun will come up tomorrow.

Plain and simple.

There’s no reason to speak of panic or concern.  The No. 3 team in the country beat the No. 6 team in the country.  The night before, the reverse was true.  And given the shot total in Friday’s game (32-23 Miami), one could argue the RedHawks should have won that game, too, had it not been for the other-worldly play by WMU goalie Frank Slubowski in the 2-0 win.

Could the Bronco power play, which went 0-for-5 Saturday, have been better?  Absolutely. (By the way, the stat about Western winning when it scores a power play goal and losing when it doesn’t bore itself out again this weekend). But an accurate postmortem of Saturday’s game shouldn’t include exaggerated observations of what Western did wrong. To pin Saturday’s defeat on the power play would be shortsighted and, frankly, unfair to the RedHawks.

Miami was just better. Better out of the gate in the first period. Better in its own end. Better along the boards.  Better in puck battles.  Remember, this is a program that’s made the NCAA tournament the last seven years in a row, has the nation’s top-ranked defense (allowing just 45 goals in 30 games) and has won five of its last six contests.

The RedHawks — who looked more like a red wave — didn’t budge Saturday.  Their freshman goaltender, Ryan McKay, was stellar in his third shutout of the season.  Their defense prevented Western from doing anything of significance around the net.  And their forwards buzzed and pestered Bronco defensemen who’ve grown used to otherwise timid opponents giving them room to operate in their own zone.

Miami wasn’t scared.

And Western shouldn’t be ashamed.

Fans who have gotten used to basking in the glow of WMU’s 13-2-1 record at home this season just aren’t used to seeing the Broncos “take it on the chin,” as defenseman Danny DeKeyser described it Saturday night.

Alas, this is what happens sometimes when two heavyweights collide.

ALONG THE RAIL …

  • Speaking of heavy, Kenney Morrison has a monstrous slap shot.  When the Broncos are on the power play, everyone in the building knows where the puck is going: to number 7 at the left point so he can wind up and crank it.  Morrison is quite capable of torching goalies from 60 feet away, but the next step in the freshman’s evolution will be the ability to judge when to let it rip and when to pump fake the oncoming defender and pass or pedal, find a clear lane, then shoot.  Right now, it appears his only setting is SHOOT. He tried multiple times Saturday to blast the puck through the approaching defender’s shin pads (hey, if anybody could do it…) and it resulted in the puck skittering onto a Miami stick or ricocheting out of the zone.
  • Coach Andy Murray said after the game that the insertion of backup goaltender Lukas Hafner to begin the third period was the result of Slubowski not feeling well.  “Frank just wasn’t well,” Murray said. “It had nothing to do with his play or special motivational tactics. He was getting worse so it was just time to take him out.”  Mind you, that was only the fourth appearance for Hafner this season. Slubowski has started all 30 games.
  • Which begs the question: does Slubowski and his career .918 save percentage have a shot at the NHL? Your comments welcome below.

It’s the power play, stupid

The post-game quotes from Andy Murray and his players lately revolve around being happy with their effort, but needing to score more goals.

They point to increased traffic in front of the net as a must.

They lament the need to skate more pucks to the doorstep.

Yes and yes.

But we’re more than halfway through the season and Murray has, for the most part, gotten max performance out of this team.  The Broncos are what they are: a talented, hard-working, defensive-minded bunch that, like it or not, lives and dies by its power play.

James Carville, hockey buff or not, would see it in the numbers:

  • The Broncos have won 15 games
  • They’ve scored at least one power-play goal in 13 of those contests
  • Their six losses?
  • No power-play goals in five of those games

Stats are boring, but hey.

The Broncos machine-gunned 86 shots on Lake Superior State’s net this weekend.  They scored just four times.  And two of those goals were on the power play.  And neither was the result of bulldozing the puck to the front of the net.

Kenney Morrison’s rocket from the point ricocheted off the end boards and onto Dane Walters’ stick at the left post in the second period Saturday.  Morrison also engineered the other power-play goal, wiring a back-door feed to an uncovered Dennis Brown that, in sweetness, ranked only behind the fake slap shot play that the Broncos tried twice earlier in the 3-1 victory.

But what’s the answer to this even-strength mystery?

How can a team with such speed and ability to possess the puck not light up the scoreboard more often?

Perhaps it’s the quality of shots, not quantity.

Perhaps it’s more patient, Chase Balisy-like plays with the puck in tight spaces around the net instead of furious rushes up the wing punctuated by nebulous slappers and wristers that count in the shot total but not for much else.

Perhaps it’s playing in the cross-currents, the nooks and crannies, and going to extreme physical lengths to not concede possession in the opponent’s end — and that includes low-percentage shots that sometimes ring around the glass and out of the zone.

We’re splitting hairs here to a certain extent.  This team is challenging for the top spot in the CCHA.  It’s a good team.  But its PairWise ranking heading into Saturday’s game was 14.  It’s now 11, thanks to the power-play-powered Saturday win.

The NCAA tournament takes the top 16.

That’s the ultimate statistic.

So the Broncos can work on getting more action to the other team’s net, but they’ll likely stay in that top 16 if they can use their work ethic to draw penalties — and then capitalize on them with the power play.

Patience pays off again for surging Broncos

Courtesy WMU

Ferris State’s strategy was simple Saturday night.

Hit anything in white that moves.

When it gets up, hit it again.

(Then back up and smash again.)

The strategy worked for 55 minutes.

The Bulldogs had a 1-0 lead.  Their goalie, CJ Motte, was holding the fort.  Their big, punishing forwards were making Western earn every square inch of ice.  As the bodies kept flying, some WMU supporters in attendance questioned the Broncos toughness.  Said they weren’t nasty enough.  A word that begins with a “P” was even suggested.

In the end, however, another “P” word prevailed.

Patience.

Instead of retaliation, instead of ignoring hockey to match Ferris pound-for-pound and punch-for-punch, the Broncos stuck to the smart game.  They defended themselves, but didn’t sacrifice puck possession and didn’t take penalties to do it.  And just like last weekend’s battle with Northern Michigan, their persistence and unwillingness to flinch in the face of a physical opponent paid off when Ferris took two undisciplined penalties in the last five minutes and WMU turned them into two power-play goals.

Game over.

Western’s 2-1 victory — its fifth in a row and seventh in the last eight games — further revealed a trait that will help this team when it faces even tougher opponents in the second half of the season: the ability to remain patient and mostly unflappable. During this five-game surge, the Broncos have come from behind to win three times. Three of the victories have been by a goal.

So it appears they know how to dig deep and protect leads late in games.  Mostly, though, they appear to trust themselves (and their coaches) enough to stick to the game plan and not get rattled.  It’s about patience and confidence.  Good teams hope to win.  Great teams expect to win despite what their opponent does, and that mindset reinforces itself with every hair-raising win.

ALONG THE RAIL…

  • Karma: Late in the second period, Ferris State’s Garrett Thompson exited the penalty box and snuck behind the Broncos’ defense for a breakaway goal to give the Bulldogs their 1-0 lead.  After he scored, Thompson peeled off into the southwestern corner of the rink, patted helmets with his teammates, and then skated across the ice toward the WMU student section with his hand to his ear, as if to say, “I can’t hear you.”  Makes you wonder what sorts of things Thompson heard – aside from the roar – when Mike Leone’s game-winner sailed into the net as Thompson sat in the penalty box with 2:14 left in the game.
  • Trevor Elias easily had the best shift of Saturday’s game late in the third period, when he killed at least 20 seconds off the clock by ragging and pinning the puck along the boards by himself despite three Ferris State monsters draped on his back. It was a tremendous effort that demonstrated the small, speedy forward’s ability to execute some of the “uglier” but just as necessary parts of the game.
  • The more you watch Chase Balisy, the more you realize why the Nashville Predators drafted him.  Aside from his foot speed and strength on the puck, both of which are better than ever, Balisy’s biggest asset is his vision and hockey sense.  He sees the east-west motion of a pro game despite playing in the north-south chaos that is college hockey.  College hockey is linear, hard, jamming, jarring.  Pro hockey is a bigger room with more doors.  It’s a kaleidoscope of geometric potential — and Balisy sees it.  Micro-movements.  Little chips of the puck here, little slips to the inside there.  It’s patient and swirling.  College hockey says, “I’m here!” and then blasts you into the end boards. Pro hockey says, “Come and get me,” and then wires a centering pass to an open teammate in a two-foot area of the ice.
  • Speaking of Balisy, his lightning bolt of a wrist shot to tie the game with 4:08 remaining was also of pro stock.  Of course, it doesn’t happen if Dane Walters doesn’t make a tremendous play to chip the puck to himself over the blue line and around a Ferris defenseman, then zing a perfect feed through traffic right to Balisy’s tape.
  • Mike Leone was playing Division III hockey his freshman year — even transferred schools — yet there he was Saturday night, on the power play for the seventh-ranked team in college hockey with three minutes left in a tie game. He has a nose for the net and it’s uncanny how things happen when he’s around it.
  • Remember the days when one section of seats would have six spectators in it?  Fans were standing three rows deep around the concourse Saturday night.  Amazing what winning does. Largest crowd of the season (4,116).
  • Longtime New Jersey Devils scout Bob Hoffmeyer watched Saturday’s game.  The former Kalamazoo Wings head coach noticed a little ploy by coach Andy Murray late in the second period. After Broncos’ defenseman Kenny Morrison was rocked by a hit that was questionable but not called, Murray waited for the next whistle and then went to work on referees Brian Pochmara and John Philo (as the student section chanted “ANDY MURRAY!  ANDY MURRAY!”).  Murray forced the referees into an argument at the bench that killed 30-45 seconds before the upcoming faceoff in WMU’s zone.  “He got his timeout,” Hoffmeyer said, smiling, as the red faced Murray ended his tirade.  “He was also able to get two of his players who were tired off the ice.”
  • Bronco sophomore Bobby Francis had an excellent game.  His drop pass to Josh Pitt during a three-on-two was the patient, east/west pro play in that situation and led to one of the best scoring chances of the game for the Broncos.  Francis also made the smart, safe play pretty much anytime the puck was on his stick. Seamless effort for it only being his third game of the season.

Pair of comebacks, one for a loss, should help Broncos’ mental game in long-run

Defenseman Garrett Haar has two goals in two games this season. He scored once in 2011-12.

On October 12, 2009, the Chicago Blackhawks trailed by five goals eleven minutes into a game against the Calgary Flames.

Then the Hawks rallied for six unanswered goals, capped by Brent Seabrook’s winner in overtime to tie an NHL record for the biggest comeback.  It was a game that said a lot.  It told opponents no lead was safe against Chicago.  It also told the young, hotshot Blackhawks they were so good that they could turn it on and off whenever they wanted — a pattern that annoyingly existed throughout the team’s run to the Stanley Cup (think Game 5 against Nashville).

A team’s ability to come back from a deficit can be its blessing — and its curse.

For Western Michigan, this weekend’s split with St. Lawrence University in which the Broncos came from behind in the third period both nights offers many psychological benefits.

Losing Friday’s game on a bad bounce in overtime was the best thing that could have happened.  WMU didn’t deserve to win that game, even though defenseman Garrett Haar’s slapper from the point with the goalie pulled might’ve suggested otherwise.  By losing that game, the Broncos realized they were mortal.  It was a mental gift, a sober reminder that they can take with them through the rest of the schedule if they so choose.

Winning Saturday’s game was equally beneficial.  It was redemption, proof that a quality effort deserves a quality result.  Proof that this team has the talent and focus to erase a deficit, take a lead and, most of all, play with a lead late in games.  Like infant children, this is the life stage of a season when mental and emotional patterns — good and bad — develop.  This early part of the season creates the narrative, the self-talk for the rest of the season.

We can’t come back from anything.

We can play with a lead.

We have to score first to win.

Any number of messages are created.  Which ones this team chooses to believe will help set the course for the rest of the season.

ALONG THE RAIL …

  • Haar also scored Saturday’s game-winner on a slapper late in the third period and was one of the more consistent WMU defensemen in both games.  The Washington Capitals draft pick attended Team USA’s World Junior Championship tryout camp this summer and, if he keeps up his strong start, should receive consideration for a final Team USA roster spot.  The WJC will be held at the end of the year in Russia.
  • Is freshman defenseman Kenny Morrison a spitting image of Matt Tennyson, or what?  Like Tennyson when he was a freshman, Morrison — who’s even wearing Tennyson’s old number — still has a ways to go.  He looked weak on his skates in the physical areas of play (corners, behind the net) and hasn’t been real sharp with the puck.  Like Tennyson, however, he has a bomb of a slap shot and huge upside.  The fact head coach Andy Murray stuck Morrison on the power play in the first two games clearly demonstrates confidence in his ability, although the team’s 2-for-13 performance with the man-advantage might force Murray to switch Morrison for Haar.
  • That was the Dan DeKeyser we know and love.  After a couple of work-out-the-kinks performances, the star defenseman was back to himself Saturday.  His presence of mind and confidence to sneak down to the back door during power play chaos in front of the net allowed for his rebound goal to tie the game.  And his celebration — a huge leap into the glass in front of the student section — looked like quite the cathartic release.
  • Freshman Nolan LaPorte now has two goals in three games if you include his slick exhibition tally.  He’s adding to an already deep crop of forwards, none of whom will run away with a scoring title, but who together can steadily wear down opponents with their speed, skill and physicality.  Murray said he felt Chase Balisy played two of his best games ever this weekend. Balisy committed to getting stronger and faster over the summer and it’s already showing.
  • There was less north and more patient east-west play Saturday, but, as Murray pointed out afterwards, the team needs to learn how to overpower teams physically without taking too many penalties.  Think puppy growing into its paws.