Western Michigan released the 2012-13 hockey schedule on Tuesday, and while most details were already known, the buzz for the season can now begin.
The Broncos look to defend their 2012 CCHA Championship, and will get started Oct. 12 and 13 against St. Lawrence of Atlantic Hockey. The non-conference portion of the schedule is notably less challenging than past seasons with the exception of the Great Lakes Invitational, which will be played outdoors at Comerica Park in Detroit as part of the NHL's Winter Classic festivities. This year's GLI will also include Michigan, Michigan State, and Michigan Tech. WMU will also host Canisius of Atlantic Hockey and travel to Bemidji State of the WCHA. Western Ontario will also come to town Oct. 6 for an exhibition tilt.
In the Broncos' last go-around in the CCHA, they will face Michigan, Notre Dame, Ferris State, and Bowling Green four times and the rest of the conference twice. Michigan will visit Lawson Ice Arena for a series for the first time since 2010, playing in Kalamazoo on Jan. 25 and 26.
Considerable hype is already surrounding the 2012-13 edition of WMU hockey, with Inside College Hockey ranking the Broncos fifth in the country in their early top ten. WMU loses captain Ian Slater and solid point producer Greg Squires, but returns their three leading scorers, starting goalie Frank Slubowski and five defensemen including Danny DeKeyser, who surprised some by announcing he'd stay for another season in March rather than sign with an NHL organization.
Overall, this is certainly a manageable schedule for a potential CCHA title contending team. The CCHA slate offers a mix as Michigan and Notre Dame are expected to contend, but Ferris State may drop off significantly from their magical 2011-12 run and Bowling Green, though improving, should be a bottom-half team. WMU should run through the non-conference portion with a solid record, excluding two tough matchups in Detroit.
Much can happen between now and October, but it would appear that WMU is primed to make a run at 25 wins this year, and another CCHA title is possible. The Broncos say farewell to the CCHA after this season, and will join Miami, Denver, Colorado College, North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, and St. Cloud State in the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
The full schedule can be viewed on the official WMU athletics site here.