KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Josh Passolt was born in Hayward, Wis., and then his family moved to Minnesota and he played bantam and high school hockey at St. Louis Park High School and then Maple Grove High School.

His father, John, played college hockey at Minnesota State University-Mankato and his uncle, Jeff, played at St. Cloud State. So he was well aware of the teams in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association growing up.

But playing junior hockey for the Sioux Falls Stampede in the United States Hockey League, he started to learn more about Western Michigan from then-Broncos assistant coach Dave Shyiak.

"I had never really heard of Western Michigan, to be honest. Before then, I was used to watching the old WCHA schools with Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota," Passolt said. "It was kind of a new school for me and they showed a lot of interest at the end of my first year of junior.

"I kept in contact with them over the summer and then, going into my second year, I went out for a visit and met (head coach) Andy Murray and got to see the campus and the opportunity that was available at Western. I couldn't pass it up."

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Shyiak was an assistant coach for the Broncos from 2014-20. He left Western Michigan in May to become an assistant coach for St. Cloud State. The Broncos and Huskies will open the 2020-21 season at 7:35 p.m. Dec. 1 in an NCHC game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Neb. It will be the first of 10 games for the two teams in the hub.

Shyiak admits that it will be a bit odd to be on a bench opposing Western Michigan to begin the game.

"It's kind of unique how that came out with the schedule where we're playing Western Michigan," Shyiak said. "It will feel a little different right now and maybe when we get down (to Omaha) and you're on the other side of the bench. But once the puck drops, it's a game and we're doing our best to put our team in the best position to win."

Shyiak remembers when Passolt caught his recruiting eye when he was playing for Sioux Falls.

"There was a game that I went to, to watch one of our committed kids and (Passolt) grabbed my attention," Shyiak said of the 6-foot, 194-pound forward. "He's Minnesota kid and we didn't get many of those at Western, but he is a character kid.

"What I noticed about him was that he could skate, stickhandle and shoot," Shyiak said of Passolt, who had 33 goals and 64 points in 118 USHL regular season games. "We just started building a relationship ... He's just a great kid, loves the game, real personable."

Passolt said that he has a close relationship to Shyiak.

"He's such a good guy and we have a good relationship and I was sad to see him leave Western," Passolt said. "But I'm certainly excited for him for the opportunity he has in St. Cloud."

And Passolt is excited to be back playing hockey and healthy. As a sophomore in 2018-19, Passolt had 16 goals, 34 points and was a team-leading plus-14 in 36 games. Last season, he got injured in early November, missed four games and had five goals, 16 points and was a plus-6 in 32 games.

"My sophomore season, I was putting a lot of pucks in the net and leading the NCHC at Christmas in scoring," he said. "But I had a good offseason, despite the (pandemic) challenges and I'm back to my old self and made some big improvements to my game.

"I had some offseason surgery in May to repair a shoulder injury and I'm fully recovered from that and I feel great on the ice."

Passolt said he still consults about his play with his dad, who is in the MSU-Mankato Hall of Fame and coached him throughout youth hockey. He has also heard the stories of when his dad played against his uncle in college.

"My dad played at St. Louis Park and then he went to Mankato State, when they were Division II, and he won a national championship with the Mavericks in 1980," he said. "Jeff was usually stirring the pot and was in the (penalty) box a lot. My dad was on the power play. So they had some good battles."

A finance major on track to graduate in the spring, Passolt is one of seven seniors on a roster that also includes 11 freshmen.

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