March 26, 2012
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com
Torey Krug said the last three years he's spent playing hockey and going to school at Michigan State were the best years of his life.
So, why not come back for a fourth?
Very simple. The Spartans' standout junior defenseman said his decision to give up his senior year is about timing and opportunity, and that he believes he's ready for the next challenge in his hockey career: the National Hockey League.
On Sunday, Krug announced that he has signed an entry-level, free-agent contract with the Boston Bruins at a press conference at his favorite place on campus - Munn Arena - and with Spartan teammates, coaches and staff in attendance.
"There were a lot of things to consider in making a decision like this,'' he said. "First, there was my dream to play in the National Hockey League. And to have the opportunity that has been presented by the Boston Bruins organization is tremendous.''
Krug said he discussed the pros and cons of turning pro or staying in school with his coaches, family and former Spartans now in the NHL or in pro hockey and made up his mind, choosing from "five or six'' teams.
"It's a bittersweet experience. We've worked so hard to get Michigan State back to where it should be,'' he said. "I've been very blessed to have been part of Michigan State. I want to thank my teammates, the athletic department and the university as a whole for supporting me and helping make the last three years the best of my life.
"I don't think there was a better place in the country to spend the last three years. I've grown as a person, a student, a leader and a hockey player and I've had so many best friends along the way.''
Krug, who turns 21-years- on April 12, said he'll fly to Boston on Monday, practice with the team this week and may play in some games the last two weeks of the NHL season. He'll meet with the Boston media after practice on Tuesday.
"I don't know if it's really hit me yet. I guess I'll find out when I sitting in the locker room with a bunch of NHL players,'' he said. "I never thought this day would come.''
For sure, a lot of people who watched Krug play at various levels of youth hockey in the Detroit area didn't think the NHL would ever be an option. Many doubted that Krug could have success in junior or college hockey because of his size.
"I was always a smaller guy and the theme of my hockey career is, `You're too small,''' he said. "It was a long journey. I'm blessed to be in this position.''
Krug, now 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, proved the skeptics wrong. He played at a high level in juniors and continued it in college.
He had a very good freshman season and was the Spartans' best player the last two years. This season, which ended on Friday with a 3-1 loss to Union in the NCAA Tournament, Krug had a brilliant year, winning a slew of awards along the way, and leading MSU's resurgence in the CCHA and nationally.
Simply put, he was one of the best players in college hockey. NHL teams noticed and were eager to sign him.
Krug is a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the nation's most outstanding player. He was named CCHA Player of the Year, CCHA Best Offensive Defenseman and was a unanimous selection on the All-CCHA First Team. He was MSU's top scorer with 12 goals and 34 points and shared the league scoring title, the first CCHA defenseman to do it since 1987.
And Krug will likely be named a NCAA West All-American late next week.
Not bad for someone written off because of his size.
In fact, NHL teams weren't particularly interested until last fall, when Krug became a hot free-agent target after not getting drafted in each of the last three years.
Spartans coach Tom Anastos said 15 teams were interested in signing the two-year MSU captain and it was better that he was a free agent than property of one team.
"I told Torey a year ago after he didn't get drafted that it was a great day. Very few professional athletes ever get the opportunity to pick their employer,'' Anastos said. "He may never get that chance again, but he got it this time.
"It says a lot about Torey that he picked the defending Stanley Cup champions. It's not like he's looking to go to a team that's struggling to make the playoffs and that there was an opportunity to get in the lineup. He wants to go to a championship level club.''
Unlike several years ago, when many top college players played four years, the trend now is that NHL teams are eager to sign drafted players or top free agents after their junior seasons. Many schools have lost key players who would have been seniors, including the Spartans - Drew Miller, Justin Abdelkader, Tim Kennedy, Jeff Petry, Corey Tropp and Andrew Rowe.
Anastos said the Bruins are getting a gifted, complete player who "is ready for this next step.''
"Torey skates really well, he's really elusive and hard to forecheck, moves the puck extremely well and has a hard shot and a quick release,'' he said. "People refer to him as an offensive defenseman, but I keep telling them he's a total defenseman and plays both sides of the puck.
"I think the intangibles are what give him the best chance to be an NHL player. His skills are at a high level but it's his toughness, desire to compete, and passion to play which make a difference. He's a rink rat - someone who wants to be around the game all the time.
"Those are the kind of kids we're trying to attract to our program because they make us better. They have a championship mentality. That's what Torey is bringing to the Bruins.''
Krug said he picked the Bruins because of their winning tradition and the opportunity to compete for a spot on the roster.
"I wanted to go to a winning organization. The Bruins just won the Stanley Cup and their mentality is to win. They expect to win,'' he said. "I have a good connection with (Boston assistant general manager) Don Sweeney, a former NHL defenseman. He's my size and I can learn from him.''
Sweeney played four years at Harvard before a 14-year NHL career, 13 with the Bruins. He played at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds.
"The message I received from the Bruins is that when I'm ready to play in the NHL, I will,'' Krug said. "There's no timetable. It's up to me to take advantage of the opportunity.''
If Krug doesn't make Boston roster next fall, he'll start his pro career with the Providence Bruins, the team's farm team in the American Hockey League.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, who also played at Harvard and was a teammate of Sweeney, said he was impressed with Krug's leadership and character.
"Torey had an outstanding career at Michigan State. He's an intelligent player who is a terrific skater and shooter,'' Chiarelli said in a statement released by the Bruins.
"But what stands out the most with Torey is his character. He's a two-time captain and a tremendous competitor. We're thrilled to have signed him and look forward to seeing him contribute to the Bruins.''
Anastos said he doesn't look at Krug's decision as bittersweet.
"I'm elated for him. I look it as a hockey commencement for Torey,'' he said. "He's starting a new chapter and our program has helped him position himself to take on the next challenge. We've been planning for this possibility.
"Certainly, we would have loved to have him back. But this will present new opportunities for players on our team to come in and do what he did or aspire to do it.
"One of the objectives of our program is to attract and bring kids to Michigan State who have aspirations of being pros. When you look at the purpose of college, it's to prepare you for the next phase of your life. Torey's happens to be hockey.''
Krug, who said he'll return to MSU to eventually complete his degree, got advice from former Spartans like John-Michael Liles (Toronto), Bryan Lerg, Jeff Lerg, Petry (Edmonton), Tropp (Buffalo) and Rowe.
"The first person that comes to mind is John-Michael Liles. He's a smaller defenseman in the NHL, and coach set up a meeting with me and John,'' Krug said. "He's one of the guys I looked up to while watching Spartan hockey on TV. He's a guy I modeled my game after.''
Krug said Anastos had a major impact on him in just one year as MSU coach.
"He had an unbelievable effect on me this season,'' he said. "There are so many things I learned about the game from him - on the ice, off the ice and in the business world as well.
"I can't thank the Michigan State hockey program enough. Without it, I wouldn't be in the situation I am right now.''
And right now, Krug's a Boston Bruin.
"But I'll always be a Spartan,'' he said.