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No. 17 Michigan and its slew of NHL draft picks have the 17th-ranked WMU hockey excited for the challenge of No 1 Michigan

No. 17 Michigan and its slew of NHL draft picks have the 17th-ranked WMU hockey excited for the challenge of No 1 Michigan

KALAMAZOO, MI Pat Ferschweiler watched the University of Michigan set a new record by sending five players to the first round of the NHL draft in July.

Last weekend, he watched the Wolverines defeat fifth-ranked Minnesota Duluth, 5-1, and No. 1 Minnesota State, 3-3, at the Ice Breaker tournament in DtuluTH, so the first-year Western Michigan hockey coach knows what his team is up against when it takes the ice Friday for the start of a two-game series with top-seeded Michigan (4-0).

He also knows that the 17th-ranked Broncos (2-0) have some talent in the lineup and will not be shy about a meeting with what might be one of the most talented college hockey teams in recent memory on paper at least.

RELATED: Michigan hockey has moved up to No. 1 in the national polls.

Ferschweiler said, Were excited for the challenge. I watched them play in the Ice Breaker tournament up in Duluth this past weekend. They look like a very, very strong team. Theyre deep; theyve got talent;they skate; They work; and they're very well-coached all things that our guys are going to smile at and say, We do a lot of that. We skate, and we compete.

Were going to give it everything we have. I like our competitiveness, and I love that our guys want to face the nations No. 1 team.

Michigan (4-0) received all 34 first-place votes in the latest USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Poll and 45 of 50 first place votes on this weeks US College Hockey Online poll after the Wolverines defeated former No. 1 Minnesota State 3-2 on Saturday thanks to a pair of third-period goals.

The Wolverines have a stacked schedule this season, with five first rounders from the 2021 NHL Draft defenseman Owen Power (first overall), forward Matty Beniers (second), defensemen Luke Hughes (third),forward Kent Johnson (fifth) and forward Mackie Samoskevich (24th), as well as two more Round 1 picks from previous drafts in forward Brendan Brisson (29th overall in 2020) aswell as forward Johnny Beecher (30th total in 2019).

WMU has only two NHL draft picks on its roster in All-American junior defenseman Ronnie Attard (72nd overall in 2019) and freshman forward Wyatt Schingoethe (195th in 2020), but the Broncos have eight players who have played at least four seasons of college hockey, including fifth-year senior captains Josh Passolt, Paul Washe, and Ethen Frank.

Michigan has only six regular skaters in their fourth year in the program, while Michigan boasts only four.

Ferschweiler added, Theyre young and super talented, and our guys certainly, we have some years on them that way, but weve been in more fights at the college level than they have, as far as battles go, so we're hoping that works to our advantage." Our veterans are positioned and confident in themselves and ready to take on all comers, said the veteran.

After watching a veteran Minnesota State team give the Wolverines everything they could handle, Ferschweiler sees some similarities in his locker room.

Minnesota State is an older team; maybe not the high, high-end talent, but a lot of really good hockey players on that team, and I think we have dozens of truly good basketball players, he added. Do we have any first-rounders? Absolutely not, but, to me, when the puck drops, that disappears. I know our guys are prepared to tackle any challenge and are looking forward to the challenge.

That experience paid off in WMU's season-opening victory over Ferris State on Oct. 8 and 9, when the senior scored 6 of 8 goals and provided 10 of 14 assists in the 4-0 and 4-3 victories.

Frank, who recorded three goals and two assists in WMUs first two games, said the special offseason following the late-starting Stanley Cup Finals gave him and his teammates ample time to think about where they wanted to spend their 2021-22 seasons.

Kale Bennett, Brett VanOs, and Lukas Samuelsson, the two forwards who skated for the Red Wings in the final game, were the only regular skaters to decide to continue their careers.

It was a long process just because of how late everything was at the next level, so we just kind of played it by ear and took it slowly; didnt want to rush to make any decisions, Frank said. We all kind of talked and said, If this is something were going to do, then we're gonna do it with 100 percent effort, and we a lot of the younger guys will be excited and try to teach them how the coaches expect us to play, he added.

WMU returns its top two power play units to a team that finished second nationally in power plays last year (.303), and though theyre only 2 of 11, Michigan will want to avoid the penalty box this weekend.

The Broncos will also want to avoid playing a man down, as Michigan currently has 7 goals in 14 power play chances in the early season.

WMU is one of seven teams yet to allow a power play goal, despite giving up eight chances to Ferris State in their two-game series, and Ferschweiler credited junior goaltender Brandon Bussi for his play between the pipes.

I thought the penalty kill was exceptional, he said of the Ferris State series. Jason Herter (assistant coach) has introduced a few new wrinkles on the forecheck and some new ideas, and I thought our players picked it up well and executed it at optimum speed. Brandon was a terrific goalie back there. When your goaltender is your best penalty killer, your penalty kill is going to be pretty good, and when your goalsipper is the best, Brandon has to do it well, he said.

Bussi will most likely have to be exceptional again for WMU to beat Michigan or even split with the Cardinals, but Ferschweiler is hoping the Broncos' offense will assist him.

Were going to try to play really hard and make them defend as much as possible so they cant incite their offense, he said. We want to defend as much as possible with the puck and in the offensive zone, and put pressure on them to take it from us before they can ignite their offense, says the club. Were going to play a high-percentage hockey game that requires incredibly much work and competition, and wem really looking forward to the challenge.

Friday's game in Ann Arbor starts at 7:30 p.m., while Saturday'' s final game at Lawson Arena starts around 7:05 a. m."

Frank is looking forward to WMUs first visit to Yost Ice Arena since Oct. 25, 2019, and he's looking ahead to the trip.

That building is exciting to play in, Frank said of Yost Ice Arena. They handle it pretty well, especially against an in-state team like us, and were excited about it. We know theyre good, we know that they are skilled, and we recognize that their work is hard. We watched a lot of video, and were excited.

Weve played them before in the past, and we know how they play, but they also know our game, so it should be a good battle, he added.

Ten current Wolverines made the trip to Lawson Ice Arena for the teams Oct. 26, 2019 matchup with WMU, but for many of the young stars, it will be their first game in front of Lawsons Lunatics, which Frank called the nation s top student section.

Its an amazing experience, he said of playing in front of the Lunatics. I still treat it like its the first time Im seeing them; I love it. When Im skating out, I get goosebumps, and theyre making noise, so the intro is about to begin. They help with a lot of momentum; they have some really good chants, and I think theyre the best student section in the country, he said.

Frank said that while Michigan will emphasize composure during the rowdy Lunatics, WMU will need to avoid worrying about the Wolverines' national ranking or where some of its players will be starting their NHL careers.

We cant just let the No. 1 team and all the draft picks get into our heads and make us anxious, he said. I think we just have to approach it like any other team and go out there and play Bronco hockey, he added.

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