If there is any team out there that I had to say matched the Nanooks, it's Western Michigan. They've got a roster full of talented upper-classmen, and nine freshmen primed to make an impact for the Broncos this season.
Junior goaltender Nick Pisellini returns to his spot between the pipes, so far going 1-0-2 backstopping a blowout, and two back-to-back ties against a talented team in Union. Last season, the Nanooks clashed with WMU right out of the holiday break and caught a fresh and hot Jerry Kuhn in net after Pisellini found himself sidelined due to injury.
Prior to going out, Nick was pulling 2.45 goals against average by December 10th. He would go on to play one more game against Michigan in February after Kuhn was benched against Michigan after allowing 4 goals. He seems to be getting a great start thus far, a 2.4 GAA or so thus far against formidable teams; 1.90 GAA overall including the game against Alabama-Huntsville. In all facts though, I'm still not sure how solid Nick is. He has yet to play a full season in his collegiate career. He sat out an entire year from NCAA play, after going back to play for the Chicago Steel due to NCAA transfer rules after leaving Quinnipiac. And he's had some spurts of inconsistency throughout his NCAA showings.
On the offensive side, WMU brings a lot of key returning players. Chase Balisy, the stud freshman and rookie of the year candidate from last season returns for his sophomore year, and you know he's wanting to improve. Shane Berschbach, Balisy's line mate from last year had a lot of chemistry together. Balisy has scored 14 goals thus far in his career, and Berschbach has tallies on nine of them. Shane has scored 13 goals himself, and Chase has assists credited to eight of them. I'm pretty sure we can expect them to be paired together...
Also returning is a myriad of upper-classmen talent. Team captain Ian Slater, and the rest of the Bronco seniors may perhaps be making their last trip to Alaska this week (depending of course on how things pan out for playoffs). Whereas some combination of their 9 freshmen and their new head coach are making their first trip to the now-frozen north. For the WMU fans, we're floating around 25ºF or so with snow stuck on the ground right about now.
Like I said before, Alaska and Western Michigan really match up well. Top to bottom, the rosters seem very evenly matched. Trust me when I say this is going to be a good weekend for hockey. I was checking out the Broncos on the ice, and they look like not only a very good skating team, but also a very skilled team. Whats going to be interesting is seeing what 20 years of NHL coaching experience behind Western Michigan's bench does for this team, and how they perform on the ice.
I don't know about you, but I'm sure looking forward to this weekend and getting the regular season started. Points are on the line here, and the Nanooks are ready for this race to get going too.
The first coach's luncheon of the regular season will be at the Carlson Center's Pioneer room on Friday at Noon. Come meet the coaches, and possibly some of the players and get some good grub while you're at it. It's also parent's weekend, so if you're around the arena, look for name tags and feel free to introduce yourself and share some Nanook pride!