Frank the Tank
Slubowski, WMU Aim to Defend CCHA Title
by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer
Western Michigan enters the final weekend of the CCHA regular season looking to catch fire just as it did a year ago, when the Broncos put aside an up-and-down second half to cruise to their second CCHA tournament title in program history.
This year, the Broncos enter the final weekend – a series on the road at last-place Michigan State – with just one win in their last seven games and none since a 2-0 shutout win on February 8 against Miami. Still with a slim chance of finishing in first place but with a more realistic chance of finishing second, the Broncos will be relying first and foremost on the sophomore goaltender who led them to their title as a rookie last year.
“Once you get a championship, teams recognize you more and come after you more,” said Slubowski, the affable Prince Rupert, B.C., native who has started all 34 of the Broncos’ games this season. “It’s that much harder to keep the championship with your team. It’s a great challenge for our program and for myself.”
Slubowski – whose teammates call him any of three nicknames (Frank the Tank, The Big Slubowski, and Deuce) – has already bettered his statistical numbers from a season ago, improving his 2.03 goals-against average as a rookie to 1.87 currently and his .911 save percentage to .922.
But the sophomore netminder – far from invincible, as evidenced by recently allowing six goals before getting pulled in a game at Ohio State – has different goals.
Said Slubowski, “Last year I was a freshman. I just came in and wanting to win as many games as possible. This year, I set higher goals for myself, to get a national win on the belt.”
Last season, Western Michigan defeated Michigan in the CCHA championship game, before falling to North Dakota, 3-1, in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This season, the march is on not only to a potential run at a repeat CCHA title, but a repeat NCAA tournament appearance. Ranked No. 9 in the Pairwise, the Broncos are on pace to appear in the NCAA tourney again – barring a collapse and poor showing in the CCHA stretch run.
“We just have to come into the games playing our game, and be physically and mentally prepared,” said a focused Slubowski, who once – in March 2012 – earned himself the No. 1 spot on Sportscenter’s Top Plays with a memorable skate save against Miami’s Austin Czarnik.
“That’s our mentality, coming in strong to the playoffs.”
Slubowski, evolving as a goaltender, has also focused heavily on one area of his game that he admits was a weakness last year – playing the puck.
“I’ve been feeling way more confident coming out of the net,” said last season’s CCHA Tournament Most Valuable Player. “And the defensemen have felt way more comfortable with me coming out too. That was sort of a pretty weak point in my game last year. I’ve been practicing a lot.“
Slubowski will be in net, as he is always is, for both games this weekend against Michigan State. If the Broncos have a better weekend than Notre Dame – with the Irish playing Bowling Green – Western Michigan would finish as the second seed in the upcoming CCHA tournament.
Either way, no matter the results this weekend, the Broncos will enjoy a first-round bye – giving Slubowski and his teammates an extra week of rest. And an extra week to prepare for a defense of their CCHA championship.