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Neil’s Notebook: Cole Sees Plenty of Positives in Green-White Game

Oct. 5, 2017

By Neil Koepke staff writer

EAST LANSING – Danton Cole, Michigan State’s new hockey coach, believes Wednesday’s Green and White intrasquad scrimmage at Munn Arena served its purpose.

Cole and his coaching staff got their first look at the 2017-18 Spartans under game conditions in a unique format and came away with a positive assessment.

“It’s never going to be as sharp right now as you want it to be, but we got everybody into every situation,” Cole said after the Green team edged the White, 3-2, in the modified two-period scrimmage. “Everything we wanted to get out of it, we did.’’

Brennan Sanford, a junior left wing from East Lansing, scored two goals about four minutes apart in the first period for the Green team.

After freshman center Tommy Apap scored for the White in the second period, the Green went up 3-1 during the 5-on-3 power-play segment. Freshman forward Mitchell Lewandowski converted from the edge of the crease, with junior Cody Milan and sophomore Patrick Khodorenko assisting.

Sam Saliba of the White answered with a 5-on-3 power-play goal to close out the scoring.

The scrimmage ended with a shootout in which the White prevailed, 1-0, on sophomore Logan Lambdin’s perfect shot to beat senior goalie Ed Minney.



“The guys did a good job. There was good speed, they worked hard and had fun,’’ Cole said. “We played 5-on-5 with pace and that’s a lot of ice time for with 40 minutes of hockey with two forward lines and four defensemen on each team.

“The mistakes we made were good mistakes. What I mean is, it’s stuff that they’ve been working hard on but maybe they were just on the wrong side of the puck. There were some good teaching moments and that will help us in the next few days as we get ready for Saturday.’’

The next step for the Spartans, who just started official practice sessions last Saturday, is an exhibition game against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues at 2 p.m. Sunday at Munn Arena. Toronto is 3-2 in exhibition play.

MSU opens the regular season with a home-and-home non-conference series against Bowling Green – at 7:30 p.m. at BGSU on Oct. 13 and at 7 p.m. at Munn Arena on Oct. 14.

Cole said the goal for Saturday – besides winning – is to take things up a notch from Wednesday and get closer to regular-season game situations.

“We’ll reinforce some things and it’s not things we haven’t done. It’s just the way people learn and you have to go through that,’’ he said. “The game teaches you really well.

“This was a bit of a mid-term exam, and now we have a couple of days to study and then we’ll have a final exam of our preseason on Saturday.’’

SITUATIONAL HOCKEY: Wednesday’s scrimmage included segments of 5-on-5 and 4-on-4 play and 5-on-4 and 5-on-3 power-play and penalty-killing situations.

At times, the Spartans displayed good speed and puck movement and solid special teams play with all the skaters getting chances to get time on the power play and with the penalty killing units.

“We’re not going to have all 14 forwards getting power-play time in the future but I think it’s important that everyone understands how things work,’’ Cole said. “We gave them a shot.’’

The MSU coach liked his team’s puck movement but noticed some rushes did not capitalize on speed as much as it could.

“I thought we gave up our speed a little bit sometimes. We got over the red line in good shape and had good support and then we pulled up and tried to make a play at the blue line instead of playing downhill,’’ Cole said. “The way we’re going to have to play, we’re going to make their defensemen turn more than our defensemen. If we can do that, we’ll be in good shape.’’

SANFORD ON TARGET: Brennan Sanford was the top gun on offense for the Green team with two early goals, and later had a couple of great opportunities to get a scrimmage hat trick. Both goals were scored on sophomore goalie Spencer Wright.

Sanford’s first goal came on a breakaway and the second with a quick break-in from the left circle.

“I was just trying to be aggressive and get in a good spot where I could get a quick shot off,’’ said Sanford, who had three goals and 10 points in 35 games last season as a sophomore.

“I was just excited to get out there and be in a competitive format. It’s been tough with just two hours a week on the ice (last month). Now that we’ve had more time to practice our systems, we’ve gotten a lot done over the last week.’’

Coach Danton Cole isn’t certain whom Sanford will have as linemates, but he expects him to play a key role, especially involving leadership

“He’s a junior, he wins our fitness award just about every year, he works hard and is a great kid. Where he fits in, we’ll see,’’ Cole said. “But his leadership is going to be important. We’ll take all the goals we can get but his value is more than that. The hardness that he plays with. the pace and the physicality are what’s going to be important for him.’’

DOWN THE MIDDLE: The Spartans head into the season with two set centers – sophomores Patrick Khodorenko and Sam Saliba. There’s three freshmen in the hunt to play in the middle on the other two lines. They include Tommy Apap, Gino Esteves and Austin Kamer.

“Apap is big, heavy and had a great summer, working on his skating and did some good things. He’ll probably be in the pivot,’’ Cole said. “Esteves does some good things and I think he and Kamer will probably split some time.’’

Esteves and Kamer both played center last season in the North American Hockey League – Kamer with the NAHL playoff champion Lone Star (Texas) Brahmas and Esteves with the playoff runner-up Aston (Pa.) Rebels.

“Both can really skate and they’re smart players,’’ Cole said. “They’re going to bring a certain element. And they’re a little older, too. It’s not like they’re 17-and-18-year-old freshmen.’’

Kamer, from Grand Rapids, is 21, and Esteves, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, is 20.

Meanwhile, it appears that Khodorenko will start the season centering sophomore left wing Taro Hirose and freshman Mitchell Lewandowski on right wing.

Lewandowski, a left-hand shot, played left wing last season with the Chicago Steel, the U.S. Hockey League’s playoff champion. The MSU coaches tried him on the right side with two of the team’s talented forwards.

“I like him on the right side. He does a nice job there,’’ Cole said. “His offensive instincts and the nuances coming into the zone are good.

“He, Taro and Patrick work very well together. I think it’s important that Taro has a guy that can play a little east-west. Most of our lines aren’t going to do that but they’re a line that will have more latitude. They fill holes, find holes and make nice plays. Lewandowski has been really comfortable there.’’

On Wednesday, Saliba centered left wing Logan Lambdin and Cody Milan on right wing in the first period and Lambdin and freshman David Keefer in the second period.

“We’ve been saying that we have 25 guys and our 25 guys have to be better than (our opponent’s) six. It’s going to rotate,’’ Cole said. “We’re going to have guys that every week they’ll need to bump up and be top forwards.’’

GOALTENDING SHARP: For the most part, MSU’s goaltenders played well and made some solid saves on Wednesday night.

Senior Ed Minney, playing for the Green, gave up two goals in the second period – to Tommy Apap and Sam Saliba on a 5-on-3 power play. Sophomore John Lethemon of the White allowed only one goal, a tap-in on a 5-on-3 power play by Mitchell Lewandowski, and didn’t give up a goal on three attempts in the shootout.

Spencer Wright, also a sophomore, gave up a pair of goals to Brennan Sanford.

Minney said he liked the scrimmage format and felt good about his play.

“I felt really good. I was seeing the puck well, reading plays pretty well and felt like I was getting big when I needed to. And I think I played my angles well,’’ he said. “On the goals they scored, the first one was kind of fluky and the other was a good play on a 5-on-3.

“I liked how we did (the scrimmage). We had two lines on each team and that’s hard to go out and play a full game. It was set up nice. The guys looked good and everyone was going hard. There were no real breakdowns.’’

CAPTAIN DECISION UPCOMING: Until mid-July, MSU had one captain in junior-to-be in Mason Appleton and assistant captains in senior defenseman Carson, Gatt junior forward Brennan Sanford and sophomore forward Sam Saliba. But on July 13, Appleton left school and signed an entry-level contract with the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets.

Coach Danton Cole decided to wait until he got to know his team better during regular practices in the fall before deciding on naming a captain or going with three assistants.

“We wanted to get through the weekend and we’ll figure it out after the Toronto game,’’ Cole said.

MSU has set up a six-man leadership council representing all four classes. There’s one freshman, one senior, two juniors and two sophomores on the council.

“It gives them a little bit of ownership,’’ Cole said.

IN THE BIG TEN: While the Spartans are still a week away from playing their first regular-season games, five Big Ten teams open this weekend. And one other team – Wisconsin – is playing its second and third games of the season after opening the season last Sunday.

In fact, the Badgers (1-0) are already beginning Big Ten play with a home series against Ohio State on Friday and Saturday. Wisconsin played in the annual Hall of Fame Game last Sunday in Madison and held on for a 3-2 victory over Michigan Tech (0-1).

The Buckeyes lost an exhibition game against Ryerson University (Toronto), 7-4, last Saturday. OSU saw a 4-3 lead disappear as Ryerson scored four goals in the final 3:33 of the third period.

Minnesota opens its season against Minnesota-Duluth in the Icebreaker Tournament in Duluth on Friday. Michigan Tech plays Union in the tourney opener. The championship and third-place game are set for Saturday. The Gophers defeated the University of Alberta, 7-2, last Sunday.

Michigan, a 10-1 winner over Western Ontario in an exhibition game last Saturday, plays at St. Lawrence on Friday and at Clarkson on Saturday.

Penn State is also visiting the North Country as it meets Clarkson on Friday and finishes the weekend at St. Lawrence on Saturday. The Nittany Lions lost to the University of Ottawa, 4-3, in an exhibition game last Sunday.

Notre Dame, the newest member of the Big Ten hockey conference after spending the last four years in Hockey East, plays host to Alabama-Huntsville on Friday and Saturday. The Irish defeated the U.S. Under-18 Team, 4-3, last Saturday.

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