Jim Culhane begins his 11th full season at Western Michigan and continues the second-longest tenure on the bench in WMU hockey history.
Culhane was named to the post on March 3, 1999 and has combined an up-tempo offense with aggressive forechecking and special teams to produce an exciting brand of hockey.
Western Michigan and Culhane spearheaded the Hockey Cares charitable initiative to help raise money for cancer research during the past two seasons. In two seasons “Hockey Cares” weekend, with the help of hockey supporters and the Kalamazoo Optimist Hockey Association, has raised in over $28,000 for the American Cancer Society.
Culhane has reached out to alumni, having organized reunions for Bronco players of different eras, including those who played under Harry Lawson, Bill Neal and Glenn Weller.
During the 2008-09 the hockey team teamed up with WMU’s volleyball team to visit Bronson Hospital.
During his tenure the Broncos have developed a knack for saddling nationally ranked teams in the confines of Lawson Ice Arena. However, during the 2008-09 season they took the show on the road defeating No. 8 Michigan, No. 18 Alaska and No. 11 Ohio State.
Student-athletes have thrived under Culhane, with 13 members of the 2008-09 team posting a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Senior Dave Krisky led the team with a GPA of 3.97 and was once again named WMU’s CCHA Scholar Athlete of the Year. Along with Krisky, all six of the departing seniors graduated and received their degrees.
During the off-season, Culhane saw his ninth student-athlete drafted when Kevin Connauton was taken in the third round (83rd overall) by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The past five years under Culhane, Connauton, Luke Witkowski, Max Campbell, Ryan Watson, Chris Frank and Matt Clackson have all seen their names selected by a NHL club.
Aside from knocking off national powers, the Broncos have made other in-roads. Below is a summary of WMU’s accomplishments under Culhane:
After a slow start in the 2008 portion of the season, the Broncos rallied, moving up in the standings and eventually finishing in seventh place. The Broncos needed a home sweep of Bowling Green in the last weekend of the regular season in order to secure home ice advantage for the CCHA Tournament. The team pulled through when it was needed, beating Bowling Green 5-2 and 5-3. Western Michigan and Culhane saw senior forward Patrick Galivan win the CCHA scoring title, just the fifth time a Bronco had captured the points award. Western Michigan advanced to the second round of the CCHA Tournament after defeating LSSU in a three-game series, but the Broncos ran in to a hot Michigan team and were defeated in two games
Coach Culhane led charge in establishing WMU’s first ever Hockey Cares weekend. Bronco Hockey, Western Michigan, the Kalamazoo Optimist Hockey Association and many corporate sponsors grouped together to raise money for cancer research. Through charity auctions, a charity open skate and generous donations, the Broncos raised $18,000. Culhane also coached the Broncos to a 3-0 shutout victory over No. 11 Notre Dame in the final home-game of the season.
The Broncos struggled in the first half of the season going 6-10-1, with eight games against opponents ranked in the top 15. However, the Broncos bounced back going 11-6 in the second half, including a five-game winning streak and a weekend sweep of eventual national champions Michigan State. The Broncos also registered their first win in over a decade at Yost Arena, defeating the University of Michigan 6-3 (12/2). The Broncos produced CCHA Freshman of the Year Mark Letestu and freshman goalie Riley Gill made the CCHA All-Freshman team along with Letestu.
The Broncos won their first playoff series in 12 years and their first playoff road series in 19 years. WMU also defeated five ranked teams, playing nearly half of its schedule (47.5%) against ranked opponents.
Western Michigan compiled a 5-1 record against non-conference opponents and defeated a pair of NCAA Tournament teams in Ohio State and Bemidji State. Brent Walton finished sixth in NCAA scoring and led the CCHA in overall scoring for 15 weeks. Culhane recorded his 100th coaching win in WMU’s series-opening victory at Northern Michigan during the CCHA playoffs.
WMU notched five wins against nationally-ranked teams, highlighted by a win and tie at Cornell. The Brown & Gold earned points against nine of 11 CCHA teams and registered its first postseason shutout in 16 years. WMU also averaged over 3,000 fans at home for the second straight year.
Culhane led WMU to four wins and a tie against ranked opponents. The Broncos shared top league honors with nine short-handed goals while also compiling a 6-1 record in January. The Brown & Gold drew 55,471 fans over 18 dates, recording the highest season average (3,082) in 14 years.
The Broncos finished 14th in the final Pairwise Rankings. WMU garnered 13 home wins, including six against nationally ranked teams — among them NCAA Frozen Four participants Maine and Michigan. Freshman Pat Dwyer led all CCHA newcomers in scoring earining Rookie of the Year honors while Dave Cousineau finished as the CCHA’s top scoring defenseman in league games. The Broncos scored the third-most power play goals in an NCAA game (7) against Lake Superior State. Western Michigan earned home ice for the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons and produced three sellouts at Lawson Arena.
WMU generated an 11-game unbeaten streak and earned a top-five ranking in the national polls en route to a 20-win season. Mike Bishai finished as the nation’s leader in scoring and assists while Jeff Campbell led all freshmen nationally in scoring. Bishai and David Gove also finished as co-scoring leaders in conference play. The Broncos spent 15 weeks ranked in the top 15, led the CCHA in scoring and earned a league-high 10 CCHA Player of the Week selections. Other highlights included a Silverado Shootout tournament title and a triumph over top-ranked Michigan State.
WMU doubled its win total from the previous year and were rated as the seventh-most improved team in the nation according to USAToday.com. WMU also qualified for the CCHA Tournament for the first time in three seasons while posting three wins and a tie against nationally-ranked teams.
A native of Haileybury, Ontario, Canada, Culhane coached seven games in an interim capacity during the 1998-99 season, directing WMU to back-to-back ties against defending national champion Michigan. WMU recorded a 6-3 victory over Alaska Fairbanks in his coaching debut on Feb. 5, 1999.
Culhane, 43, began his coaching duties as a volunteer coach at WMU in 1992-93, moved up to restricted earnings status in 1993-94, and was promoted to full-time assistant in 1994-95. He became the Broncos’ top assistant in 1995-96 and is the first former Bronco varsity player to lead the WMU varsity program.
In the area of recruiting, Culhane has been instrumental in landing 10 NHL draft picks, four CCHA Rookie of the Year recipients and two U.S. Junior National Team players.
His 2000-01 recruiting class was one of the highest scoring rookie groups in the nation, generating 47 goals and 112 points. Culhane’s recruiting classes have produced NHL draft picks in Pat Dwyer, Vince Bellissimo, Mike Erickson, Matt Clackson, Chris Frank, Max Campbell, Ryan Watson and Luke Witkowski. Many former players have gone on to sign free-agent contracts with NHL teams. Mark Letestu, Paul Szczechura and Jeff LoVecchio are a few of the many Broncos grinding their way to the top.
Off the ice, Culhane involves the Broncos in community service projects and youth hockey clinics.
Culhane earned four varsity letters as a WMU defenseman from the years 1983-87. He was a member of the 1985-86 squad that won 32 games, captured the CCHA Playoff Tournament title and advanced to the NCAA Quarterfinals.
As an assistant captain in 1986-87, he helped WMU to the Great Lakes Invitational crown. Culhane finished as the WMU record holder for games played (162) while totaling 80 points (13-67).
Culhane went on to play five professional seasons, earning a stint with the National Hockey League’s Hartford Whalers in 1989-90.
Culhane also spent three seasons with the Binghamton Whalers and two years with the Capital District Islanders of the American Hockey League. He was an assistant captain with both clubs.
Culhane played junior hockey with the Hawkesbury Hawks of the Central Junior A League and his hometown Haileybury 54’s squad prior to WMU.
He graduated from Western Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in finance in 1987 and attained his master’s degree in business in 1998.
Jim and wife Susan, a WMU graduate, have a son, Travis (14), and a daughter, Tatum (12). Culhane has dual citizenship.