Spartans should be much improved
Slater will be hard to replace, though
By Matt Mackinder
Rick Comley is now in his fourth season behind Michigan State’s bench and this may be the most well-rounded team he’s had to work with since arriving in 2002.
Ranked to finish fourth in the pre-season CCHA media and coaches’ polls, Comley likes the prospects of being ranked in the top third of the conference.
"Anywhere in the top four is OK,” said Comley. “Your goal is obviously to do as well as you can do. Our goals are to finish in the top four, to get to Joe Louis and qualify for the NCAA tournament. And if we do those three things then you can raise your level of success. When an outsider looks at this team, were a team that has to get better as the year goes on and we will get better as the year goes on. We have balance and depth, and we have those question marks just like everybody else."
Replacing captain Jim Slater will be an issue as he oozed leadership and also scoring ability. A first-round pick of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2002, the Lapeer native signed with the Thrashers this past summer.
Also gone are forwards Mike Lalonde, Ash Goldie, Kevin Estrada, Tommy Goebel (transferred to Ohio State) and Adam Nightingale (Cheboygan) as well as goalies Matt Migliaccio (Wyandotte) and Rod Tocco (St. Clair Shores).
But the MSU freshmen should fill a number of holes this season. The Spartans, 20-17-4 overall and 12-13-3 in the CCHA a year ago, are bringing in nine first-year players, but perhaps none is as big as goalie Jeff Lerg.
Last year with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League, Lerg earned national junior player of the year honors and top goalie laurels. Lerg, from Livonia, will push junior Dominic Vicari (Clinton Township) for time.
Also new to East Lansing are forwards Justin Abdelkader (Muskegon), a Detroit Red Wings’ draft pick this past July, Tim Crowder, Tim Kennedy, Kurt Kivisto (Milford) and Nick Sucharski, defensemen Brandon Gentile (Clarkston) and Matt Shouneyia (Bloomfield Hills) and goaltender Steve Mnich (Northville).
"The chemistry in the room is really strong right now, everyone is pretty close and everyone is looking forward for the season to start and everyone wants to be here right now,” senior forward Colton Fretter said.
Junior captain Drew Miller, an East Lansing native, is also anxious to start the season. Being named captain as a junior, as Slater was, also carries with it pressure and expectations to help the team succeed. He explained what wearing the ‘C’ means to him.
"Getting the respect of your teammates right off the bat, being someone to look up to, someone who can lead but also is someone in the locker room to solve your problems,” said Miller. “It's not only on the ice and in the locker room, it’s also helping the freshman adjust to school, it’s different things like that."
Up front, MSU returns sophomores Bryan Lerg (Livonia), Jeff’s cousin, Zak McClellan (Frankenmuth), Jim McKenzie, Chris Mueller, Peder Skinner and Dan Sturges, juniors Tyler Howells, Chris Lawrence and seniors David Booth (Washington) and Chad Hontvet. Defensively, sophomores Ethan Graham, Jeff Dunne and Daniel Vukovic join juniors Chris Snavely and Brandon Warner and seniors Jared Nightingale (Cheboygan) and Corey Potter (Mason).
Defense should be a strong suit of MSU this year.
"I think that's one thing me and the other defensemen have been talking about, trying to have a little more grit and not letting guys take liberties around the net,” Graham said. “We want to try to make more of a presence around there and hopefully we can get that job done."
Even so, Comley is aware the Spartans will be closely watched this season.
"I can honestly say that there is no more pressure on me this year than since the day I walked onto this campus because you walk into pressure,” Comley said. “The bigger question to me is, are you going to win here? And I think the answer is yes. I feel pressure to do well, but that's what coaching is all about."
Michigan State plays their Green and White intersquad game Thursday and then travels to Dayton, Ohio, this weekend to play in the Lefty McFadden Invitational with Wayne State, North Dakota and host Miami.
F Jim Slater (signed with Atlanta)
F Mike Lalonde (signed with Las Vegas – ECHL)
F Kevin Estrada (signed with Carolina)
F Adam Nightingale (signed with Greenville – ECHL)
G Matt Migliaccio (signed with Greenville - ECHL)
F Ash Goldie (signed with Long Beach - ECHL)
F Tommy Goebel (transferred to Ohio State)
G Rod Tocco
F Justin Abdelkader (Cedar Rapids – USHL)
G Jeff Lerg (Omaha – USHL)
D Brandon Gentile (U.S. NTDP)
F Tim Crowder (South Surrey – BCHL)
F Tim Kennedy (Sioux City – USHL)
F Kurt Kivisto (Cleveland – NAHL)
D Matt Shouneyia (Cleveland – NAHL)
G Steve Mnich (Dallas (Tex.) midgets)