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Western Michigan looks to try to recapture the magic of last season under second-year head coach

Broncos won 26 games, advanced to their first NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game and first NCAA regional championship game under Pat Ferschweiler in 2021-22. To get close to that season, WMU will have to do it with a number of new players in key roles.

College hockey players and coaches in interviews
Captain Jason Polin of Western Michigan answers a question during NCHC Media Day on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

ST. PAUL — Andy Murray decided to retire from coaching in the 2021 offseason and Pat Ferschweiler was named the head coach at Western Michigan in August. Ferschweiler had spent the previous two seasons as the Broncos' associate head coach and spent the four seasons before that as an assistant coach of the Detroit Red Wings.

But his first season being back as a head coach of team since he led the Russell Stover 18U AAA team in 2010 turned out pretty well.

Western Michigan reached the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game and an NCAA Division I regional championship game for the first time and finished 26-12-1 overall. The university rewarded him with a new contract that runs through the 2025-26 season.

So what does he do for a sequel?

"Topping it is going to be difficult, for sure, because we set a new standard at Western," Ferschweiler said at NCHC Media Day. "That's what we're going to try to live up to every year.


"It was great to see the belief that the players had in me and the belief that I had in them paid off with a lot of confidence on the ice."

He will look to carry that momentum into this season, but he will do it with a number of new players in key roles.

Goalie Brandon Bussi played in all 39 of the team's games last season and then signed a pro deal with the Boston Bruins.

All-American defensemen Ronnie Attard (36 points) signed with the Philadelphia Flyers and defenseman Michael Joyaux (32 points), another key power-play member, signed with the AHL's Toronto Marlies.

Forward Ethen Frank led the nation in goals (26) and then finished the season with the AHL's Hershey Bears. Forward Drew Worrad led the team in points (45) and then finished the season with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins. Forward Josh Passolt (26 points) also finished his college eligibility and finished the season with the ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones.

There are eight freshmen and six transfers on the roster this season battling to fill those spots.

"It's been relatively easy for us to get to know each other," Broncos senior forward Jason Polin said. "We lost some guys, but our main core is still there. We've been doing things like team bond fires, team cookouts — stuff to get the whole team involved and get to know each other and really jell together on and off the ice."

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Perhaps the biggest question is, of the three new goalies, who is going to start in goal and can they come close to having the type of season that Bussi did in 2021-22? Cameron Rowe, a transfer from Wisconsin who has 30 college games played, appears to have the early nod.


"I think going into it, we see Cam as our main guy, but the other two have looked really good in practice," Polin said. "It's all up for grabs. It's whoever shows up that week and whoever takes ownership of the net."

Head coach: Pat Ferschweiler (2nd season, 26-12-1 overall, 14-9-1 NCHC).

Last season’s record and finish: 26-12-1 overall, 14-9-1 NCHC. The Broncos reached the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game and then reached the NCAA Worcester Regional championship game.

Last season’s NCHC finish: 3rd out of 8 teams.

NCHC preseason media poll: 5th.

Notable changes: After leading the Broncos to the program's first NCAA tournament win, Ferschweiler was rewarded with a new contract that runs through the 2025-26 season. Gone are key players like Ethen Frank, who led the nation in goals (26), and fellow All-American defenseman Ronnie Attard (Philadelphia Flyers), All-NCHC Second Team forward Drew Worrad (team-leading 36 assists and 45 points), defenseman Michael Joyaux (32 points) and starting goalie Brandon Bussi (36 games, 2.55 GAA, .912 save percentage). There are 8 freshmen on the roster and six transfers.

New faces: The transfers are goalies Kirk Laursen (Miami) and Cameron Rowe (Wisconsin), defensemen Carter Berger (UConn) and Zak Galambos (AIC), forwards Oliver MacDonald (UMass) and Jack Perbix (Minnesota). The freshmen include forwards Barrett Brooks, Cole Burtch, Ryan McAllister, Theo Thrun and Ethan Wolthers, defensemen Lucas Matta and Samuel Sjolund and goalie Will Hambley.

Outlook: There are more questions than answers for the Broncos to begin the season. Who will start in goal? Which defensemen are going to run the top power-play units? Who is going to pick up the scoring lost with the departure of the top five players in points last season? With that said, Ferschweiler seemed to keep the game fun for the players last season and they responded with, arguably, the best season the program has had. The former Detroit Red Wings assistant coach will look to build from the returning core of fifth-year senior Cole Gallant (26 points), senior forward Jason Polin (26 points), sophomore forward, sophomore forward Max Sasson (22 points) and junior defenseman Aidan Fulp (13 points).


Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com

For more coverage of St. Cloud and the surrounding communities, check out St. Cloud Live.
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