Neil’s Notebook: Summer Break, New Faces and Looking Ahead to Fall
Neil Koepke checks in with Spartan hockey summer update.
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING – The 2018-19 college hockey season is still two-and-a-half months away but Michigan State players are already busy preparing for Season 2 of the Danton Cole era.
The Spartans are on campus, enrolled in classes, working on strength and conditioning off the ice and skating and scrimmaging on the freshly installed ice at Munn Arena.
Seven freshmen – goalie Drew DeRidder, defensemen Dennis Cesana, Christian Krygier and Cole Krygier and forwards Adam Goodsir, Mitch Mattson and Wojciech Stachowiak – have been on campus and in the dorms since the beginning of July.
“They’re getting acclimated to different things, they’re getting to know each other and their returning teammates and getting to skate on their own,’’ Cole said. “They’re taking classes, they see a tutor, and go to study halls.
“When we get into the fall, when it gets busy, they’ll know their way around campus, know how to study and how to get help if they need it, and they’ll have gotten their workouts in and know their teammates when we start practicing.’’
All but two players on MSU’s 28-man roster are on campus this summer. Sophomore defenseman Tommy Miller, who’s from West Bloomfield, and sophomore forward Austin Kamer, from Grand Rapids, are making the trip to East Lansing a few times a week to skate with their teammates.
“It was more of different class (situations) for them but they’ve been here a few times,’’ Cole said. “It was pretty much mandatory for the freshmen (to be on campus for the second summer term), but I wanted it to be up to the (returning) guys whether to be here and take classes, work out and skate.
“A big part of this is you’re trying to pass along a certain culture and this is where the seniors and juniors become important. You want them to show and say ‘this is how we work around here and these are the things that are important.’’’
Then, players can be on the ice with coaches for skill work for four hours a week and off the ice – video, training and meetings – for another four hours.
Michigan State begins full-time practice on Oct. 6 and makes its season debut with an exhibition contest against the University of Windsor on Oct. 7.
The Spartans open the season with a two-game home series against Northern Michigan, Oct. 12-13.
After compiling records of 12-22-2 overall and 6-16-2-1 in the Big Ten last season, the Spartans are confident that they’ll be a vastly improved team in 2018-19.
“I’m really excited about this season. I think we’re going to be a lot better,’’ said sophomore left wing Mitchell Lewandowski, MSU’s top goal scorer last season with 19 and the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year.
“I think it’s going to be a good season, a fun season. It’s great having my linemates back.’’
The Khodorenko-Hirose-Lewandowski unit should be one of the best and most entertaining in the nation.
Hirose last season led the Spartans in scoring with 12 goals, 30 assists and 42 points, Lewandowski was second with 19 goals and 34 points and Khodorenko was close behind with 12 goals and 32 points.
Hirose was selected to the All-Big Ten second team, while Lewandowski was honorable mention.
IDENTICAL TWINS ON DEFENSE: Will it be tough to tell MSU freshmen defensemen Christian and Cole Krygier, identical twins from Novi, apart? Not to worry, Spartan fans. The Krygiers say it won’t be difficult.
“When you first see us, you might not see the difference but after anyone is around us, they can tell,’’ Cole Krygier said. “There’s little differences.’’
“For one, I have a tooth missing in front and we have a different voice - we sound different,’’ Christian Krygier said. “Our friends have always said that it’s not that hard. You can tell with our personalities and how we act.’’
Still, the Krygiers, 18-years-old, have several similarities. They’re tall, slender and both shoot left and both describe themselves as stay-at-home defensemen who are solid in the defensive zone and good at making the outlet pass.
Cole is 6-3, 192 pounds and Christian is a tad shorter at 6-2, 192 pounds.
Cole and Christian, who spent the last two seasons playing for the Lincoln Stars in the U.S. Hockey League, will be the second and third Krygiers to play for Michigan State.
Their brother, Brock, was a Spartan defenseman for three seasons – 2012-15 and the first year as a red-shirt – before he transferred as a graduate student to Arizona State for the 2015-16 season.
The Krygiers’ father, Todd, played college hockey at Connecticut and 543 games in the NHL with Hartford, Washington and Anaheim. Todd coached high school hockey in Novi for several years, then served as head coach of Muskegon of the USHL and is now starting his third season as an assistant coach at Western Michigan.
Two years ago, Christian and Cole committed to Wisconsin and were all set to join the Badgers this season. But Wisconsin had too many defensemen on its roster and playing time appeared to be limited.
So instead of returning to juniors for another season and joining the Badgers in 2019-20, the Krygiers decommitted from Wisconsin and opened up their recruiting in the spring. Michigan State was interested and made an offer, Cole and Christian said yes, and suddenly, they were Spartans.
“I couldn’t be happier. It took a day to think about it and realize what was happening for us to make the decision,’’ Christian said. “It as a no-brainer. Being close to home after playing two years in Nebraska, it feels great.
“I was getting a little sick of the fact that I couldn’t come home every once in a while, just to chill and see some friends. Now, I’m an hour away from home.
“It’s been a cool process. We’re taking two classes, both online. We’re up at 6 a.m., we work out, then we’ve been working at MSU’s hockey camp, then we see a tutor so the morning is pretty structured. We have open ice every day if we want to skate. It’s up to us.’’
Cole Krygier said the transition from focusing on playing for Wisconsin the last two years to changing directions and enrolling at MSU was been smooth.
“It’s going great. I’m enjoying being here, meeting the guys and excited about getting a chance to compete for a spot and to get the season going,’’ he said. “Things changed quickly but it’s working out.’’
The Krygiers will be among seven other defensemen competing for the six lineup spots. The competition includes senior Zach Osburn, juniors Jerad Rosburg, Butrus Ghafari, Damian Chrcek and Anthony Scarsella, sophomore Tommy Miller, and freshman Dennis Cesana.
“I’m just happy for the opportunity to play. You want a chance to show what you can do and earn your ice time,’’ Christian said. “We have to make the most of our opportunity.
“My goal is to earn a spot, help our team dominate the Big Ten and turn this program around and get it back to where it was.’’
Last season at Lincoln, Christian had eight assists in 48 games and Christian had three goals and 14 assists in 58 contests. Both were selected in the seventh round of last month’s NHL Entry Draft. Christian was picked 196th overall by the New York Islanders and Cole was taken five spots later at 201st by the Florida Panthers.
“To a certain extent, we’re similar players,’’ Christian said. “I consider myself to be a big, shutdown defenseman who can produce offense when the situation is there.
“For the most part, I like to make a good first pass and rile the guys up. I love shutting down the other team’s top line.’’
EASTERN FLAVOR BUT NO ACCENT: When Spartan fans meet freshman defenseman Dennis Cesana, don’t expect to hear a Rhode Island accent, despite growing up in Providence.
“I think that’s because I didn’t stay at home for school. I went away at an early age and maybe that’s why,’’ said the 5-10, 190-pound offensive-style defenseman, who spent the last two seasons in Canada playing for the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Cesana, 20, has not only been away from home for his junior hockey stint, he’s been on his own as a student since seventh grade. He went to a boarding school in Marlboro, Mass., for grades 6-9, then attended a prep school – Kimball Union Academy – in Meriden, N.H.
“This is nothing new for me. It’s just about getting used to new atmospheres, but I’m really used to living away from home,’’ Cesana said of his first month on campus as an MSU student. “I love it so far.
“At first, it was like a big maze, trying to find my way around. But I’m getting acquainted with everything and getting know the guys and the coaches. I’ve enjoyed every second.’’
There’s a good chance Spartan fans will enjoy watching Cesana provide offense from the back end and be a force on the power play.
Cesana had a standout second season with Brooks as he led the AJHL in scoring by defensemen with 14 goals and 61 assists for 75 points in 60 regular-season games. He played on the power play and killed penalties for part of the season and served as team captain.
In 2016-17, Cesana had 12 goals and 40 assists for 52 points in helping the Bandits win the AJHL’s Centennial Cup title.
Cesana, who at one time was committed to play at Army, said he went back to Brooks for a second season to work on several things, including improving his one-on-on defending game and to take on leadership duties.
“I wanted a year to mature, and through my coaches, to learn about reading guys before they make plays and be hard to play against down low,’’ he said. “Things that make a difference at the college level.
“I going to strive to play on the power play. That’s an area that I take pride in. I’ll try my best to earn my way on it and work to stay on it.’’
During his first season in Brooks, Cesana decided to look at other schools and decommitted from Army, but it was a while before word got out that he was available.
“I started doing really well and saw all these other guys committed to various school so I decided to consider other schools,’’ he said. “Toward the end of the season, I got a call from (MSU assistant coach) Joe Exter and he asked me to come out for a visit.
“I came in, took the tour and loved the campus and felt it was the right place, a cool place. But I decided that for my growth and development that I should go back and play another year in Brooks, and then have more confidence when I did come in.’’
And that time is now.
“I think I’m a good two-way player and take pride in my offensive game, especially my skating,’’ Cesana said. “I’m a pretty mobile defenseman who can play both sides of the puck.’’
Cesana will be the second native of Rhode Island to pull on a Spartan jersey. Dan Zaluski, who was from Smithfield, R.I., was on the MSU roster for two seasons but only played in three games – two in 1996-97 and one in 1997-98. He transferred to Nebraska-Omaha and played 11 games for the Mavericks over the next two seasons.
“It’s cool to be one of only a few from Rhode Island to come here,’’ Cesana said.
SHOOTOUTS OUT, THEN BACK: A month ago, the NCAA Hockey Rules Committee voted to recommend that all 3-on-3 overtimes and shootouts be abolished in all of college hockey. But now things are pretty much back to where they were last season.
Last week, the rules committee changed its recommendation and is allowing the three western conferences – the Big Ten, National Collegiate Hockey Conference and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association – to continue 3-on-3 overtime and shootouts to decide games for conference standings only.
The Big Ten currently uses only the shootout if the 5-on-5 overtime is scoreless and the game official ends in a tie. The shootout decides the extra point, with two points going to the winner and one to the loser. A regulation or overtime win results in three points for the winner and none to the loser.
The WCHA and NCHC goes to a 5-on-5 overtime for five minutes and then, with the game officially tied for Pairwise and RPI purposes, the game is decided for conference purposes with a 3-on-3 overtime for five minutes, followed by a shootout if the second OT is scoreless.
The three conferences out east – Hockey East, Eastern College Athletic Conference and Atlantic Hockey – play a 5-on-5 overtime if the game is tied after 60 minutes, and no shootout or 3-on-3 OT.
After the NCAA’s recommendation to end all games after a scoreless 5-on-5 overtime, the committee took comments from the various leagues, administrators and coaches and the NCHC and WCHA voted 18-0 in favor of keeping their previous formats and to allow each league to decide how to end overtimes for conference standings.
Fans in those leagues were especially entertained by 3-on-3 overtime, the same format used by the National Hockey League, although the NHL goes right to 3-on-3 play after the third period of a deadlocked game.
Basically, coaches, players and fans in the East are fine with ties. The same group in the West likes the excitement of deciding game, if only for their league standings.
Apparently, the rules committee listened to feedback and returned things to the way it’s been done for several years, except for minor modifications. There will be no shootouts or 3-on-3 overtimes in non-conference games, except in tournaments during the season.
MSU coach Danton Cole said he was in favor of every league following the same format after games were tied – the usual 5-on-5 overtime and the game ends. Or a regular overtime and if tied, the game officially ends in a deadlock for Pairwise/RPI purposes, and then a 3-on-3 OT for five minutes followed by a shootout or just the shootout.
But the Eastern conferences were never going to follow the West, and so Cole would have been OK with no shootouts and games ending in ties in league play after the 5-on-5 OT.
“I’m not a big fan of the shootout, so I might be in the minority on this,’’ he said. “I’ve always been against shootouts deciding games. I think from a sport integrity in Division I, we all should be playing by the same rules and how we settle games should be the same.
“Now if it came down to everyone saying we should play five minutes of a regular overtime, then go to 3-on-3 and then a shootout, then you live with it and move on.
“As soon as 5-on-5 ends, that’s where the impact on the RPI ends. Then after that, every conference should do the same thing to decide the game for conference standings. We’re the only Division I sport that has different finishes depending upon the conference.’’
In tournaments during the season, tied games will go to a five-minute overtime and then a shootout or a 20-minute overtime, but the game will be considered a tie in overall records after the overtimes. A shootout would be used for advancement purposes in the tourney or to decide third-place status.
Meanwhile, the NCAA Rules Committee approved a few rule changes for this season:
• Schools will be allowed to dress 19 skaters for a game, up from the previous limit of 18. This will allow coaches to use one extra forward or an extra defenseman, since most teams dress 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders.
• Video review will be used in situations where the ejection of a player is possible. Officials can now use video to determine if a certain incident is worthy of a game misconduct or game disqualification.
• Each team will be allowed one timeout in overtime. Previously, coaches had one time out in a game.
• To reduce the number of video review situations, coaches must use a challenge to review goals scored where a potential high stick is involved or plays where the puck touches the netting out of play and leads to a goal.
MILLER TO ATTEND JUNIOR CAMP: Sophomore defenseman Tommy Miller will attend USA Hockey’s World Junior Summer Showcase in Kamloops, British Columbia, July 28-Aug. 4, and compete for a spot on the 2019 U.S. Junior Team that will play in the World Junior Championships, Dec. 26-Jan. 5, in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia.
The week-long camp will include 11 games among teams from Canada, Finland, Sweden and the United States.
As a freshman, Miller, 19, had 10 assists in 36 games and led all Big Ten freshmen in blocked shots with 78.
ALUMNI UPDATE: Former MSU All-American goaltender Jake Hildebrand will be playing closer to East Lansing this season. Starting his third season in the ECHL, Hildebrand will be playing for the Kalamazoo Wings after being traded on Tuesday to Kalamazoo by the Tulsa Oilers, where he played last season.
Hildebrand, a standout Spartan goalie from 2012-16, played in 44 games for the Oilers in 2017-18, had a 16-18-6 record with a 3.35 goals-against average and a .901 saves percentage. In his first year as a pro, Hildebrand played for the Indy Fuel. He also played three games that season with the Rockford Icehogs, the American Hockey League farm team of the Chicago Blackhawks.
In other signings, former Spartan captain Joe Cox will return to the Florida Everblades off the ECHL for a second season and ex-MSU forward Corey Tropp has re-signed with the San Diego Gulls of the AHL.
Cox had an impressive rookie season with the Everblades, located in Estero, Fla., near Fort Myers. He had 22 goals and 32 assists for 54 points in 70 regular-season games. He added 16 points – 6 goals, 10 assists – in 21 playoff games.
Tropp, 29, signed a one-year contract with the Gulls. He’s San Diego’s all-time leading scorer with 43 goals and 108 points, and his 127 games played ranks second in club history.
Tropp, a Spartan for three seasons from 2007-2010, scored 17 goals and had 26 assists for 43 points in 50 games for the Gulls last season. During his eight seasons as a pro, Tropp has played in 149 NHL games with Buffalo, Columbus and one with Anaheim.