Oct. 18, 2012
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING - Greg Wolfe describes his two-year stay in junior hockey in the U.S. Hockey League as a crazy "roller coaster" ride.
In a way, the 5-foot-11, 171-pound junior right wing could say the same thing about his career at Michigan State.
It's pretty much gone like this:
Freshman year: Frustrating.
Sophomore year: Rewarding.
Upcoming junior year: Challenging.
This season Wolfe, 22, is taking on more responsibilities as the Spartans' captain, following in the footsteps of his close friend and longtime teammate, Torey Krug.
Wolfe, MSU's fourth-leading scorer last season with 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points in 38 games, said he was eager to take on more of a leadership role this season and welcomes the role as captain.
"It was a surprise and it's definitely an honor to be a captain at a school with so much history and tradition,'' said Wolfe, one of four Spartans from Canton, a western Detroit suburb. "I'm excited that the coaches and my teammates thought I was the right guy for the job.
"I lived with Torey Krug last year and watched what he did as captain, took a lot of notes and he helped me understand the role. I wanted to have a bigger impact on this team.''
Not many players know Krug better than Wolfe. He figures he's played on the same team as Krug in the Detroit area for eight or nine years. Krug's father, Kyle, was the coach. At MSU, Wolfe and Krug were teammates the last two seasons. Krug is now in his first season as a pro, with the Providence Bruins, the Boston Bruins farm team in the American Hockey League.
Wolfe will have help in the leadership area from three seniors who will serve as assistant captains -- forwards Anthony Hayes and Chris Forfar and defenseman Matt Grassi.
"He's the definition of a true Spartan,'' Hayes said of Wolfe. "At times, he's quiet but we know he gives 100 percent every time he's at the rink. All of the guys respect him.
"He took a big step last year and I think he can take a bigger step forward this year. It's easy for us to notice the leadership role that he's taken.''
This weekend, the Spartans (0-2) make their home debut in a two-game nonconference series against Niagara (1-1-1, 0-0-1), from the Atlantic Hockey Association. The teams meet at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at Munn Arena.
Three years ago, it was unlikely that Wolfe would be a Spartan.
While playing for the Chicago Steel of the USHL in 2009-10, he was being recruited by Western Michigan and Ferris State and there was slight interest by MSU. In late 2009, he committed to WMU.
"I always wanted to go to Michigan State but they didn't have any scholarships left and so I went with Western,'' Wolfe said. "I was playing in Chicago, got traded to Omaha late in the season and then the Western coach got fired. It was a crazy year.
"My coach in Omaha asked me if I wanted to talk to some other teams. So I de-committed from Western and looked at more teams. I still wanted to go to Michigan State, and later they had some openings. That was the year that Corey Tropp, Andrew Rowe and Jeff Petry signed with NHL teams.
"In the end, things have worked out.''
But the path to becoming a top offensive player and captain at Michigan State wasn't smooth.
Wolfe struggled as a freshman, as did the Spartans, who finished 10th in the CCHA in 2010-11.
"I was used to having more time to get open for shots and to shoot the puck, but when I got here it seemed like there was no time,'' said Wolfe, who had three goals and 11 points as a freshman. "Players were going down to block shots and coming from behind to lift your stick before you could get the shot off.
"I was frustrated, wondering why I wasn't scoring. Then I'd look at some video and it would be like `Oh, I really need to get it off faster.' Adjusting to the speed of the game was a big thing.''
Throughout most of his youth hockey days in Detroit and then in juniors, Wolfe played on teams that employed an offensive style. The Spartans in 2010-11 were defensive-minded and it was difficult for him to adapt.
"It was a tough year because I didn't know where I stood. On some nights, I'd be playing on the fourth line and on the power play,'' he said. "It was hard to get into the momentum of the game without playing a regular shift and then suddenly being out on the power play.
"It was a frustrating year but everyone took something away and we learned from it.''
In March, 2011, Tom Anastos was named the Spartans' new coach. He told the players that he wanted his team to play a puck-possession, offensive style. That was exactly what Wolfe, and most of his teammates, wanted to hear.
"It was exciting because that's how I like to play -- attack the net,'' he said. "I like a possession game. If you have the puck, the other team isn't scoring.
"I think we took a big step last year. I think our style was exciting for the fans and players. We need to take another big step as a team this season.''
Wolfe and center Lee Reimer, now a junior, helped form one of MSU's top lines last year and they're aiming to be more productive this season. Reimer was third in team scoring with nine goals and 21 assists for 30 points, four more than Wolfe.
"I definitely want to keep putting up points, and one of the biggest things I want to do is add consistency to my game,'' Wolfe said. "There were some games last year where I'd score and get some points but then other nights I just played OK.
"I want to develop an edge. If I'm not scoring, I want to be helping out in other ways - like making hits, blocking shots on the penalty kill and just bringing it every night.''
Anastos said he's impressed with Wolfe's quick emergence from an unknown role to a top forward, leader and captain.
"When I got here, I wasn't sure where he would play and how he would fit in, based on some previous feedback,'' Anastos said. "We started the season and he worked really hard and performed very well. What I learned from him and from listening to his teammates was how impacting he was, despite being kind of quiet.''
Anastos said he delayed selecting captains for this season until last week because he wanted the 12 new players - 10 freshmen and two transfers - to get a chance to bond with the entire team from early July, when they arrived on campus for the second summer school session, until the start of official practice.
"When I took this position, I'd bump into some players here and there and I'd ask them `who would you like to play with?' and Greg Wolfe was always among the top one or two players mentioned,'' Anastos said. "I found that interesting, especially from upperclass players about a freshman who was going to be a sophomore.
"This year, we went through a methodical process to see what kind of feedback we'd get about the captains, and I spent a lot of time with Torey Krug and got imput from him.
"It was overwhelming from input I got from the players that, while a lot of guys could have been captain, Wolfe certainly stood out among the new players and older players, too.''
Wolfe said the Spartans are eager to bounce back from a pair of lopsided season-opening losses at Minnesota (5-1, 7-1) last weekend in Minneapolis.
"We watched video, saw our mistakes and learned from it,'' he said. "It's a long season and one series isn't going to determine your season. The biggest thing is making sure everyone knows that was unacceptable. Our goal is not to allow more than two goals and to score at least three.
"It's important for us to get a win on Friday and that will help with our confidence, boost morale and make our goalies feel better. It's about finding our game and making sure we're going out and playing hard and playing smart.
"I think things will together if we focus on those two things.''