Feb. 29, 2000
OK, so 61 may not be evenly divisible by 10.
But for Michigan State hockey, they are both perfect numbers.
They are, after all, the sweater numbers worn the last two seasons by Mike York and Shawn Horcoff, the Spartans' unquestioned leaders in their respective senior seasons.
Many people wondered who could ever replace York's presence in Michigan State's lineup after he graduated last season. He was a complete player - one good enough to be named both the CCHA Player of the Year and the CCHA's Best Defensive Forward.
What few people knew, however, was that Ron Mason had the perfect replacement for York already on his roster. Horcoff, a strong second-line center behind York a year ago, has ascended to the number one role as smoothly as he handles the puck on the Spartan power play.
Those awards York took home last year? Don't be surprised if Horcoff's trophy case is similarly decorated once the senior from Castlegar, B.C., graduates from MSU this spring.
"The best part about Shawn is that all he cares about is winning," head coach Ron Mason said. "He's not worried about the individual awards, and he's very similar to Mike that way. Shawn will do whatever he can do to give us the best chance to win the game. He's one of the hardest workers I have ever had, up there with Kelly Miller and Rod Brind'Amour."
"My real goal this year was to prove that I could be an impact player at this level and help the team win as many games as possible," Horcoff said. "I wasn't worried about how many goals or points I got - I just wanted to play my best and help us win."
With Horcoff standing third in the nation in scoring (52 points) and nearly doubling his points per game from his first three years, his performance this year has surprised many. But because of hard work - and his natural skills and ability to see the ice - Mason isn't among those surprised at Horcoff's performance.
"He's been able to generate offense because of his speed, his strength and his overall conditioning," Mason said. "He has the puck a lot, and when he's got it, he's very tough to control. We knew he could be that kind of player."
Horcoff has truly raised his game to a dominating level this year. He has been on the ice for over 60 percent of the Spartans' goals and either scored or assisted on almost half of them. No player in the nation has meant as much to his team's offense as Horcoff has.
In addition, he has become an outstanding defensive forward, playing against the other team's top line and leading the Spartan penalty kill.
In all, it seems like Horcoff excels at everything - from the power play to interviews, where he's considered the best in town, from the penalty kill to the classroom, where he has a 3.41 GPA in marketing. On the ice, his performance has caught the attention of players and coaches around college hockey.
"Shawn is a great player and can play in any situation," Northern Michigan head coach Rick Comley said after a two-game series with the Spartans in February. "He is a lot like York in that he is so good defensively as well as offensively. He is tremendous in all situations."
For his part, Horcoff had confidence that he could take over and lead the team in York's absence.
"I always felt that I could be a good player at this level," Horcoff said. "Last year it was really Yorkie's team, though. I just tried to contribute where I could. Now I'm in the same situations he was in and I've been able to have a little bigger impact."
Horcoff, like York before him, has had the added responsibility of being team captain this season. It's something he excels at, senior defenseman Brad Hodgins said, because of his work ethic and his team-first attitude.
"He's not a rah-rah type of guy," said Hodgins, who has known Horcoff since they played together for the Chilliwack Chiefs in junior hockey. "He leads by hard work in the weight room, riding the bike and in practice. In games, he's more concerned with winning than getting a hat trick. And he really takes pride in his defensive game, and how he's improved there. All of that is a big influence on the younger guys, and makes him a good captain."
Each of those aspects of his game combines to make him a great player, one who will go down as one of the best in Spartan Hockey history. And all too soon, it will be the number 10 that Spartan fans are worried about replacing.
By Nate Ewell, MSU Sports Information