Nov. 1, 2012
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
Tanner Sorenson says he plays his best hockey when he's having fun out on the ice.
This season, Sorenson is having lots of fun and already making a solid contribution to Michigan State's offense. That wasn't the case a year ago when Sorenson was a freshman.
"One of the big things for me is confidence. Last year, I had none,'' said Sorenson, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound sophomore forward from Anchorage, Alaska.
"I went home over the summer and re-evaluated my year - what I did right, what I did wrong and what I needed to do to improve. When I came back, I felt I had more confidence and believed I could help our team win.''
In six games, Sorenson is the Spartans' leading scorer with three goals and three assists for six points. Two of his goals have come on the power play.
As a freshman, while making the difficult adjustment from prep-school hockey in Minnesota to the faster-paced and more physical college game, Sorenson struggled on the ice and for most of the season.
He had two goals and six assists for eight points in 33 games. Other than a few stretches, Sorenson would like to forget the 2011-12 season.
"One thing people will say about me is that I have fun playing the game. If I'm not, I'm not going to play well,'' he said. "There was just something about last season that I dreaded coming to practice. It was tough.
"I expected too much last year and it wasn't happening. I set too high of a standard and I felt like I was letting myself down. Now, I'm enjoying playing hockey again. I'm happy to come to practice and be with the team.''
This season, Sorenson, 19, is better prepared to compete against players 20-24-years-old and stronger. He's working harder, using his speed and skills to get open or find his teammates, and the puck is going in the net.
"Before the season, I met with coach (Tom) Anastos and he said they expected more from me, more in how I was performing, and so I had to evaluate how I was competing in practice and how to get better,'' Sorenson said. "I've been trying to elevate my game and take advantage of the opportunity to get in the lineup.''
After scoring MSU's only goal in the season opener at Minnesota on Oct. 12, Sorenson had two assists in a 3-2 victory over Niagara on Oct. 19, and then had three points in split at Lake Superior State last weekend - a power-play goal in the series-opening 3-2 loss and a power-play goal and an assist in a 4-2 win in the second game.
"He's just playing hockey right now. He's keeping it simple and going to the net,'' junior forward and captain Greg Wolfe said of Sorenson. "He's creating space for his linemates and he's working hard to get open. He's getting rewarded.''
Sorenson has played on a line with Wolfe and center Reimer the last three games and he's getting lots of time on the power play.
Wolfe said understands what Sorenson went through as a rookie.
"I feel for him because my freshman year was similar to his,'' Wolfe said. "You start off and it's hard to get points and hard to figure out how to generate chances. After the first year, you know what to expect and you can teach yourself how to get better chances.
"Tanner's adjusting. Once he got the speed down, he's realizing where he's going to get hit and where he's not. So now, it's easier to use his speed and make plays.''
For the Spartans to have success, with an inexperienced team with 12 new players, they'll need increased production from players like Sorenson and fellow sophomores Matt Berry and Brent Darnell to help veterans Wolfe, Reimer and senior Kevin Walrod.
Sorenson played youth hockey in Anchorage but left home when he was 14 to play at a prominent prep school - Shattuck St. Mary in Faribault, Minn. He spent four seasons at Shattuck before coming to MSU in 2011.
"You're asking a lot of an 18-year-old coming out of midget hockey to come in here and play,'' Anastos said. "We knew that when he came here. But players put added pressure on themselves. They have certain expectations they want to meet, things they were used to doing their whole amateur hockey life.
"But it's a lot different in college. You're playing against older players, experienced players and it just takes time.''
Sorenson has been a top offensive player at most every level and the MSU coaches believe he can make a solid impact in college.
"He's got good skill, he's trying to build some confidence and when he plays with speed and skill and competes hard, he can be an effective player,'' Anastos said. "It's nice to see him get rewarded because we're trying to get him to focus on the little details of his game, as opposed to the outcome of his game.
"Hopefully, he'll see the correlation that when he does all the little things with his speed and intensity, the outcome is pretty satisfying.''
What would be satisfying to Sorenson would be to play on a top forward line, see regular power-play time and contribute points which lead to team success.
"My goals are to put up good numbers and help our team on offense, so you want to be on one of the top two lines and get on the power play,'' he said. "I think it's on the power play where I can take off. I've always been on the power play. Reaching those goals will set me up with the main goal of contributing to the team.
"Defensively, I think I'm improving but there is a lot more room to improve. Confidence for me is more critical that one might think. I haven't been on the ice for a goal against us in the last four games.''
Sorenson hopes to continue his "positive stats'' stretch when the Spartans (2-3-1 overall, 1-1 CCHA) face Bowling Green (1-4-2, 0-1-1) on Friday at Munn Arena and Saturday at the BGSU Ice Arena.
So how does a young player who grew up in Anchorage and went to high school in Minnesota end up at Michigan State?
In Sorenson's case, it's because of a visit to Michigan State while he was playing bantam hockey for the Alaska All-Stars and they were in Livonia for a national tournament. His team practiced at Munn Arena and he simply fell in love with the campus, the arena and wanted to be a Spartan.
Brian Renfrew, then an assistant coach at MSU, was at the tournament and the Spartans started recruiting Sorenson as he moved from Alaska to Minnesota. In the spring of 2010, late in his junior year at Shattuck, Sorenson committed to MSU.
"I had visits set up for the summer of my junior year but I just wanted to come to Michigan State,'' he said. "So, I committed that spring.''
In saying yes to MSU, Sorenson had to say no to Alaska-Anchorage, his hometown school and the alma mater of his father, Dennis.
In fact, Dennis Sorenson was a standout forward at UAA and earned All-America honors in 1984. He still ranks No. 2 in UAA career points (197), No. 2 in assists (127) and No. 6 in goals (70).
"I grew up in a hockey family. I think I started skating before I was walking, when I was 2-years-old,'' Tanner Sorenson said with a laugh. "My dad was my coach from the time I was 5 to 14, just before I left for Shattuck.
"My dad really helped bring organized youth hockey to Anchorage and he's been a high school coach for a long time.''