Feb. 7, 2013
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING - Most college students have a major distain for 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. classes. Michael Ferrantino, however, seeks them out.
The Michigan State freshman center's reasoning is simple: Early classes mean getting to Munn Arena earlier in the day.
"Hockey makes me happy. I love being at the rink, I love being with the guys and getting out on the ice,'' said Ferrantino, the Spartans' smallest player at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds and the team's most upbeat player.
"I'd rather take the 8 a.m. class than a noon class so I can get to Munn earlier.''
MSU starts practice at 3 p.m. Ferrantino is usually on the ice at 2 p.m., working on his skating or shooting or just having fun trying different things he might not get to do in practice.
"When practice starts I'm warmed up and ready to go,'' he said.
It only figures that Ferrantino, 20, would want to be on the ice as much as possible. He started skating on the pond in front of his home in Plymouth when he was "about 3 or 4-years old,'' Ferrantino said, and started playing organized hockey around age 5.
"I started skating on the pond and I loved it. I loved watching the Red Wings,'' he said. "I loved (hockey) from the start.''
When MSU coach Tom Anastos talks about how several Spartans have made steady improvements this season, Ferrantino is definitely among that group.
Ferrantino, playing on the fourth or third lines and with 11 different line combinations, has made more of an impact over the last month that he did early in the season. He's getting more ice time and taking advantage of it.
He's played in all 28 MSU games and has two goals and six assists for eight points, which is tied for eighth in team scoring.
"I think I've grown a lot as a player. Over the last month, I've tried to elevate my game to where I can make more of a difference,'' said Ferrantino, 20, a 2011 graduate of Detroit Catholic Central High School.
"In the first few games at the start, you try to just get a feel for things and keep it simple, trying not to make mistakes. Then you try to do more things as you get more confidence and experience.''
Ferrantino played for Compuware teams in the Detroit area for most of his youth hockey career, and spent one season in junior hockey in the U.S. Hockey League with the Omaha Lancers before coming to MSU as a partial-scholarship player.
He had nine goals and 14 assists for 23 points in 58 games for Omaha last season.
"I think I have pretty good offensive instincts. I see the ice pretty well and like to pass before shooting,'' Ferrantio said. "I like to play with an edge. Obviously, I can't go toe-to-toe with a lot of the monster guys, but I like to get into things a little bit, too.''
Ferrantino had four points in January, including a goal and two assists against Penn State two weeks ago.
"I came in this year with an open mind. I knew there was the possibility that I could find myself in and out of the lineup and playing different roles,'' he said. "I had the mindset that I'd work hard, keep my game simple and find a way to stay in the lineup.''
Ferrantino's first goal - also his first college point - came at Bowling Green in a 6-1 win on Nov. 3. The 11th-place Spartans and Ferrantino get another look at the 9th-place Falcons this weekend in a home-and-home series - at 7 p.m. on Friday at the BGSU Ice Arena and at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Munn Arena.
The area of his game Ferrantino is working on improving the most is skating. He's watched video of his skating and the coaching staff has given him drills that he can work on to improve his stride.
"You watch the video and now you know what they're talking about. I have a bunch of drills I can try before practice and I can keep working on it during practice, even if I fall or it's not always working,'' Ferrantino said. "I want to make my stride a lot better ... a lot longer.
"I want to be able to go inside out on guys and as much east and west as north-south. This summer will be huge for me. I want to work on skating and get stronger.''
Anastos believes improved skating will give Ferrantino a chance to make more of an impact.
"He has good puck skills, sees the ice well and he's good around the net,'' Anastos said. "The area we're working on the most with him is helping him become a more dynamic skater. As he does that, it'll help him become even more effective.
"We thought that if he could come in and play with regularity as a fourth line center, that would be a good first step. He's exceeded that.''
Anastos said he wanted Ferrantino to be part of the Spartan program because of his work ethic and character.
"I thought he would be a real character kid. He's well-liked by his teammates and has been at all levels that he's played,'' the Spartan coach said. "He brings a lot of positive energy, is passionate about the game and has relentless work habits.
"And when you see him around the rink, he always has a smile on his face.''
On the ice, Anastos saw Ferrantino as hard-working, responsible center that would be solid defensively and add some offense.
"I thought he'd be a hard-working, Bulldog type of player that plays with tenacity and is a relentless competitor and one that represents the corps values we embrace,'' he said.
"He's smarter than I anticipated. I've been pleasantly surprised by how he's performed, but I'm not surprised by the characteristics he has, which is the real reason we brought him here.''
Over the years, Ferrantino's favorite NHL players have included Mike Modano, Steve Yzerman and Luc Robitaille. But he also plays close attention to players his size that have had success. One of the best players who's small in size but is among the NHL's elite is Marty St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The 5-8, 180-pound St. Louis, who played college hockey at Vermont, was the NHL's leading scorer and most valuable player in 2003-04 and led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup that season. He's still a major force for the Lightning, and this year has been joined by former Canisius forward Corey Conacher, who is 5-8 and 179 pounds and is off to a great start in the NHL.
"Marty St. Louis, Conacher and Damien Brunner (5-11, 185) of the Red Wings are all so talented and electric when they get on the ice,'' Ferrantino said. "I watch what they do and what makes them successful and try to translate that to my game.''
While playing with Compuware's midget major team, Ferrantino considered playing his senior year of high school with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, which, like Compuware, is also owned Peter Karmanos.
That would mean giving up a chance to play college hockey. Plymouth's home rink - Compuware Arena - is a mile-and-half from Ferrantino's home. In the past, Ferrantino's family served as a host family for several Whalers players and they knew Whalers coach Mike Vellucci.
"I never got drafted in the OHL draft but it was kind of understood that if I wanted to play in the OHL, I could play for Plymouth,'' Ferrantino said. "I went to their rookie camp for two years and it was an option for a while.
"But after talking with a few college teams, I thought the college route would be better for me. My family wanted me to go to school. But it would have been cool playing for Plymouth because they were just down the street and I could have lived at home.
"After a meeting with Mr. Vellucci and my dad, when we talked about the OHL vs. college, we decided that it would be more beneficial for me to play in college. Mr. Vellucci then called coach Anastos and that's when talks started to pick up with MSU.''
Vellucci, a good friend of Anastos, told the Spartan coach about Ferrantino and said he'd be wise to bring him into the MSU program.
In the spring of 2011, Anastos made Ferrantino an offer and it was accepted.
"I had talked to Ferris State and was offered by them, and I went on an unofficial visit to Michigan,'' Ferrantino said. "I didn't see a great fit at those programs. And I really wanted to come here.''
Ferrantino is part of a class of 10 freshmen. He's roommates with left wing Ryan Keller, a high school classmate and friend at Catholic Central.
"Ferrantino is a great teammate. That's what guys take notice,'' freshman defenseman John Draeger said. "He works hard every day. He's a leader on and off the ice.
"He's making great strides moving up in lines. He's always having fun, he always has a smile on his face and that's the type of guy I want to be around. I want to have a smile on my face, too.''
Ferrantino said he gets his engaging personality and positive outlook from his family, which includes his parents Mike and Kellie, brother Nick, 17, and sister Olivia, 14.
"It's kind of the way I was brought up. My parents are both happy-go-lucky, positive, upbeat people,'' he said. "As a family, we're always joking around, poking fun at each other.
"I think that's where I get it from - at home.''