Nov. 10, 2011
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING - Lee Reimer says his first season at Michigan State "was a good learning experience.''
But it was also a little frustrating and confusing as the 5-foot-11, 180-pound center made the adjustment from junior hockey to the faster-paced college game and battled for significant playing time.
Reimer, 21, who's from Landmark, Manitoba, was a good scorer in junior hockey but managed only two goals and five assists in 29 games as a Spartan freshman.
"I had a lot of jitters and the coaches didn't allow us to do as much offensively with our (defensive style),'' he said. "We didn't win a lot of games but I still learned a lot.''
This season, the jitters are gone, Reimer's playing with confidence and is back to being a force offense, like he was while playing two seasons with the Canmore Eagles of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Reimer is MSU's top scorer with five goals and six assists for 11 points in eight games. Linemate Greg Wolfe, a sophomore right wing, is second with four goals and 10 points.
"I'm used to the league. I know what to expect and I think our new system helps us as a team and my game,'' he said. "I think one of my strengths is speed and with our style, which is to attack the puck and be aggressive all over the ice, it's easier for me to focus.
"This is how I've always played. When you're pressuring all the time, you're working harder, hitting harder and the pace of the game picks up.''
Reimer is playing a lot this season, also earning time on the power play, penalty-killing unit and he's being used to take key faceoffs.
"I think `responsible' is a good way to describe his game,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "He's provided stability with his line, he's played in every situation - he's killed penalties and played on the power play and he's been consistent in his own end of the rink
"He's found the net and he's been our No. 1 faceoff guy all season.''
The Spartans (4-4 overall, 1-3 CCHA) had last week off and resume play with a league series at No. 5/6 ranked Western Michigan (6-1-3, 4-1-1) at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Lawson Arena in Kalamazoo.
Reimer hopes he and his linemates pick up where they left off after a breakout series two weeks ago against Robert Morris - a 5-2, 6-2 nonconference sweep.
Reimer had two assists in the first game and three goals and two assists in the second for a seven-point weekend. Wolfe chipped in two goals and an assist in the series opener against Robert Morris and then added four assists in the finale.
Dean Chelios, who's been on Reimer's line all season, had a goal and two assists to start the series, but suffered a shoulder injury and had to sit out the second game. Mike Merrifield took over at left wing and had two goals and two assists.
"I played with Wolfe and Merrifield a little last season, and with Dean Chelios, too, so we already had some chemistry,'' Reimer said. "I like the way the coach is kind of figuring out where everyone fits in and we've stayed together for a while. We've developed good chemistry.''
Anastos said he only watched a little video from last season's games and didn't have a good sense about Reimer's capabilities until he got on the ice in practice.
"I tried not to watch much video so I could form my own opinion from what I saw and it's worked because guys have emerged that I didn't know would necessarily be in the plan,'' Ananstos said. "Reimer is one of them.
"Our sense was that he some skill but not a lot of confidence. But we were going to give him a chance. He's progressed nicely and he's been pretty darn good.''
Anastos likes the way Reimer has handled the duties that come with playing center.
"Based on the makeup of our team, we felt he had the skill set to make plays but I didn't know if he could be responsible and strong enough to carry the load in the defensive zone,'' the first-year Spartan coach said. "He's proven that he can.''
Reimer said his biggest concern about this season was the style of play the new coaching staff would implement.
"I was hoping that it was going to be exactly what it is now,'' he said. "Everyone is buying into what the coaches are saying and we have lots of energy. Communications with the coaches has been very good. We have meetings once a week and Coach Anastos talks to the players and makes it clear what he wants to do and accomplish.
"This year, I wanted to come in and work hard, put up some numbers and get back to contributing like I did in juniors.''
Reimer, a distant cousin of Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer, said he also was recruited by Wisconsin.
"It's awesome being here. I couldn't ask for a better place,'' said Reimer, a psychology major. "I love the campus and everything about the school. And school is going well. It was tough getting back into after being out (of school) for two years, especially when it came to math. But this year, it's a lot better.''
And for Reimer, a lot better and more fun on the ice, too.
TOUGHER SCHEDULE: The Spartans play four top-rated teams in the next five series, including currently-ranked No. 1 Minnesota in two weeks.
The challenging stretch starts this weekend against Western Michigan, which is No. 5 in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll and ranked No. 6 by USA Today/College Hockey Magazine.
On Nov. 18-19, MSU plays at No. 14/15 Northern Michigan (4-3-2) and then returns home to face Minnesota (9-1), which last week swept North Dakota in Minneapolis.
After a series against Bowling Green (4-5-1 ) on Dec. 2-3, the Spartans' final series before the holiday break is against No. 4/5 Michigan (7-2-1).
Last weekend, Western Michigan and U-M split a CCHA series in Ann Arbor - the Broncos winning 3-2 on Friday and the Wolverines prevailing, 5-2, on Saturday.
LOOKING BACK: The Spartans' seniors are 3-2-1 against Western Michigan over the last three seasons. A year ago, the Broncos swept MSU, 4-3, 3-1, in Kalamazoo. It halted the Spartans' six-game (5-0-1) unbeaten streak against WMU.
NEW LOOK: The Broncos, who last season finished fourth in the CCHA and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament, have had three coaches in the last three seasons.
After Jim Culhane was fired after 11 seasons in February, 2010, WMU hired Jeff Blashill, who led the Broncos to a dramatic turnaround in 2010-11.
But Blashill left last summer to join the Red Wings as an assistant coach. WMU turned to former NHL coach Andy Murray to take over as the Broncos' new leader. Murray, 60, coached for the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings and is a former Canadian college coach. His two sons played U.S. college hockey - Brady at North Dakota and Jordy at Wisconsin.