Coming off the program’s first national title in 21 years, MSU head coach Rick Comley said he’s more driven now than he’s ever been.
“That’s the feeling I have sitting here, right now,” Comley said Tuesday at MSU Media Day.
“These are golden years for me … it’s such a great school and a great program, there’s so much pride taken from winning a national championship, I’m just hungry to do it again.”
And it’s a good thing, too, because his Spartans are going into the season with a large target on their backs, courtesy of being the defending national champions — and a No. 3 national ranking.
But Comley knows the challenge of trying to repeat. After winning the national title in 1991 at Northern Michigan, Comley’s squad won the WCHA Tournament, but were bounced by Michigan in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Now he has to take that experience and try to apply it to this year’s team throughout the course of the season.
“In 1992, I thought we should’ve won it again,” Comley said.
“We were probably favored all year to win it. Early in a season like this, expectations will be extremely high and you’re judged harshly and quickly as to how you react to it, but what you do is take the positives from it, the lessons that we learned last year but with the biggest lesson of all being that you’re good enough to do it.”
Even though his team is coming off a national title, Comley still believes his team isn’t seen on the same level nationally as a Boston College or a Minnesota.
“As great as we are, we still fight for respect,” Comley said. “We’re always fighting for that level of respect, and every time you put on that jersey or every time I walk behind that bench, you want to continue to prove things to everybody.”
This season, the Spartans might have the ability to take respect from their opponents – and the national pundits as the team’s four top scorers – junior Tim Kennedy, senior captain Bryan Lerg, junior Justin Abdelkader and senior Chris Mueller – return along with a goaltender, junior Jeff Lerg, who helped carry the Spartans through the NCAA Tournament, allowing five goals in the four tournament games.
“It’s a real nice situation for a coach,” Comley said. “When you return talent and you bring in talent, like we said last year, last year’s team became the sum of the parts and what eventually proved out last year is that we did have good parts. This year, I don’t think there’s any question that we do. But it doesn’t mean we’re better than anybody else in our league or any of the top teams in the country, but I believe we can compete with them.”
But in the hunt for a repeat, Comley remains focused on his usual coaching style that’s gotten him over 700 career wins.
“As my record indicates, I’m a second half coach,” he noted. “I like to play kids the first half, give opportunity, develop kids, develop a team. I’m not as personally concerned about record until Christmas.”
So even though winning the CCHA regular season championship is a big goal for the team, the season is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
“If you’re going to make the league championship a target, I’d have to change that approach,” Comley said.
“I’d like to win it. I think the players are kind of taking the approach that they haven’t won it and they’d like to, but to me the big picture is playing that last game and winning that last game.”
Lerg learning to balance scoring with leadership as team captain
By Matt Bishop
Senior forward Bryan Lerg said it’s always been his dream to be captain.
Now, it’s reality.
Lerg will serve as captain of the MSU hockey team for the 2007-08 season.
“Last year we had a unanimous pick in that locker room in Chris Lawrence and Bryan was this year,” MSU head coach Rick Comley said. “It’s a big responsibility for him. This year’s situation is a little different in that we have very high expectations for Bryan the individual. Not only must he fill the role of a good captain, he’s got to be productive, too.”
Lerg said he’s learned a lot from the three captains he’s served under – Jim Slater, Drew Miller and Lawrence.
“I think I can lead this team in the right direction,” he said.
“I’m really happy to be named captain, and I have a lot of good assistants helping me out.”
Serving under Lerg will be senior Chris Mueller and juniors Justin Abdelkader, Tim Kennedy and Jeff Lerg.
Lerg is already confident in his team heading into what should be a tough year.
“It’s going to be another tight year,” he said. “I have a lot of faith in our team, and I know with all the hard work I’ve seen so far, it’s going to be a good season.”
Lerg tallied 23 goals and 13 assists last season, but the biggest statistic was his eight game-winning goals.
“I’ve got to be there at the right, I have to put the puck in the net,” Lerg said. “Between those top two lines, there’s a lot of points. Those are the two lines that need to put the puck in the net at the right time. When it comes down to crunch time, you have to be the leader on and off the ice.”
Lerg showed up at media day with a new look. Over the summer, he cut his traditional curly hair in favor of a more conservative look.
“I just woke up and it was gone,” he joked. “I just woke up one morning and had enough. It hadn’t been cut in four years.”
But the new style won’t last too long, as he said he plans on letting it grow once again.
A little family research – or just consulting Bryan’s cousin Jeff – revealed that this is the way Bryan grew his hair for much of his youth.
“I grew up playing with him for nine years and every one of his team pictures was nice, trim hair like that,” Jeff Lerg said.
“It’ll flow out. He goes in stages like that.”
MSU will play its annual Green & White game Sunday at 2 p.m., before its only exhibition contest of the season at 7 p.m., Tuesday against the University of Windsor.
The national championship banner will be raised prior to the Spartans’ home opener against Colgate on Oct. 19.