Neil’s Notebook: Confident Cody Milan Flourishing
Neil Koepke highlights Cody Milan in his preview for this weekend's series vs. Ferris State.
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
An offensive player? Or a defensive-type forward?
“He said not to label myself as one specific thing. He wanted me to be everything – an offensive guy, a defensive guy, hard-nosed and skilled,’’ Milan said earlier this week at Munn Arena.
“I felt confident after that meeting, and tried to focus on my mindset and having a positive outlook on things.’’
Milan, 21, a 6-foot-1, 187-pound right wing from White Lake, came into training camp eager to play a strong two-way game, and earn a bigger role than he had in each of his first two seasons as a Spartan.
He found himself with an opportunity to play on the No. 1 power play – with a group of highly skilled players - and he’s taken full advantage of it.
Milan already has three power-play goals and seven assists for 10 points in 10 games. Coming into the season, he had three goals and nine assists for 12 points in 53 games combined as a freshman and sophomore.
Milan and his power-play pals and other teammate will be taking aim at Ferris State this weekend as the Spartans (5-5 overall, 1-3 Big Ten) face the Bulldogs (5-6-1, 2-3-1 WCHA) in a home-and-home series matching former CCHA rivals. The teams collide at 7 p.m. Friday at Munn Arena and at 7 p.m. Saturday at Ewigleben Arena in Big Rapids.
Milan, who had one goal and four assists in 24 games last season, has been a great fit on a power play with sophomore forwards Taro Hirose and Patrick Khodorenko, freshman forward Mitchell Lewandowski and senior defenseman Carson Gatt.
He’s had success launching one-timers from the left circle, when set up with crisp passes for backdoor scoring attempts. And he’s been good at retrieving pucks and moving them to teammates.
“The guys around me have been making a lot of great plays and it definitely helps to be on the power play with guys like Taro, Lewie and Patty,’’ Milan said. “It’s definitely been fun.
“I didn’t get an opportunity to do it the last couple years and now that that I have, I’m definitely taking advantage of it. When you contribute, score a goal or set up goals, it builds confidence and makes you feel good about yourself.’’
In addition, Milan is playing on a key forward line with sophomore center Sam Saliba and sophomore Logan Lambdin on left wing. It’s a unit that can be used to shut down other team’s top lines or find itself in an offensive role, which would help the Spartans’ balance and take some pressure off the KHL line – Khodorenko, Hirose, Lewandowski – and the power play.
“We need to continue to play aggressively, get pucks deep and work below the goal line with our cycle and take pucks to the net,” Milan said of the line with Saliba (4 goals, 1 assist, 5 points) and Lambdin (1-3-4). “I think we can make plays, too. Off the rush, we need to generate more chances.’’
Milan started the season with at least a point in the first three games – an assist in the first two and a goal and assist in the 6-4 win over Western Michigan. He had three points in two games vs. Lake Superior State and a goal each night in last week’s series against Wisconsin, including a power-play goal in the first period Saturday that stood up as the winner in the 2-0 victory.
“Cody has been great. He’s probably been one of our most consistent performers,’’ Cole said. “On the power play, he fits in well. We needed a right-hand shot and he has good puck skills and he can shoot the puck.
“We tried him over there (on the left side) and it seems to have worked for him. A lot of his points have come from that situation. But 5-on-5, he’s done a nice job on the right side. He’s a big guy and we can use him in match-ups, and with Saliba and Lambdin, that’s allowed us to get them out against the other team’s top lines.’’
The Spartan coach said the KHL line can be effective in a shutdown role but that takes away from their potential on offense.
So, in that situation, Milan has embraced playing a defensive role, while also being effective on the power play and getting his normal line to contribute offensively.
“Cody has done a great job with that (defensive role). He gets pucks in, gets pucks out and is banging around out there,’’ Cole said. “He’s not a kamikaze out there running around but he does play physical.
“He’s got confidence in all 200 feet of his game right now and that’s a great thing to see. And as young as we are, and as a junior, we look to his leadership.’’
Despite the lack of success the last two seasons, Milan said he enjoyed being able to play at MSU, and learned a lot during some tough times that have benefited him this season.
“It hasn’t been easy with a lot of ups and downs, with good moments and bad moments,’’ he said. “I definitely was getting frustrated. I thought I could contribute a little more. It was frustrating but I always tried to stay (upbeat) and with it.
“I only have two years left and I want to make these years count, and the other guys feel the same way. We’re still not where we want to be. If we can have another productive next few months, we’ll be in great spot.’’
LEWANDOWSKI BACK IN SPOTLIGHT: Freshman right wing Mitchell Lewandowski was named Big Ten’s Third Star of the week after his four-point weekend in MSU’s split against Wisconsin. Lewandowski had two goals and an assist in Friday’s 6-3 loss and the second goal in Saturday’s 2-0 victory.
Two weeks ago, Lewandowski was selected as the Big Ten’s No. 1 star after the Spartans’ sweep of LSSU. He had two goals and an assist in the series.
Lewandowski is MSU’s top scorer with six goals and seven assists for 13 points in 10 games, and he shares the national scoring lead among freshman with Zach Solow (3-10-13) of Northeastern. Overall, Lewandowski is in an eight-way tie for 22nd among all scorers.
Lewandowski, a 5-foot-9, 176-pounder from Clarkson, is becoming known for his ability to one-time pucks past opposing goalies. This is a bit of a surprise for the Spartan freshman.
“I’ve never been told that I had a good one-timer,’’ Lewandowski said. “I think getting stronger over the summer helped me and practicing all the time with it did too. I feel it’s gotten better, but I didn’t score a lot of one-timers (in juniors).
“I try to be quick and I don’t really aim. I just shoot it.’’
Thus far, Lewandowski’s been pretty accurate.
And MSU’s power play has been pretty productive. The Spartans have converted on 11 of 47 opportunities for a success rate of 23.4 percent, which is tied with Wisconsin for 16th in the nation.
“We don’t try to do too much, we just do our jobs,’’ Lewandowski. “Gatter does a great job up top, and the big thing we work on is getting into the zone with clean entries. Gatt sets it up and passes to Patty or Taro and when Taro has it, he’s going to push forward and beat least one guy.
“Taro is good on the wall (right boards) and you don’t know where he’s going to go - to Patty or to Cody across the ice. He can read it really well. Patty is a big body in front and when there’s a rebound, we’ve been good at getting the puck back and setting it up again.’’
Lewandowski holds the Spartan scoring lead by a point. Milan has three goals and seven assists for 10 points, while Hirose has two goals and a team-leading 10 assists for 12 points. Khodorenko is fourth with four goals and five assists for nine points.
THE MSU-FSU RIVALRY: The Spartans hold a 71-37-15 edge in the series which started with a 6-3 Bulldogs’ victory at Munn Arena on Dec. 7, 1979. Last season, the teams split a series with each team winning on the road. FSU won 4-1 at Munn Arena on Nov. 10, 2016, and MSU returned the favor with a come-from-behind 4-3 victory at Ewigleben Arena on Nov. 11. The Spartans fell behind 3-1 in the first period but added a goal in the second and scored twice in the third period to earn the victory. MSU is 3-2 vs. FSU in the last five meetings, but the Bulldogs are 6-4 in the last 10, going back to Dec. 15, 2012.
SCOUTING THE BULLDOGS: Ferris State started the season at 2-5-1 but it has won the last three games – a 3-2 win at Michigan two weeks ago and a 3-1, 5-3 home sweep of Alaska last weekend.
The Bulldogs lost three of their top five scorers from last year in seniors Gerald Mayhew (17-18-35), Jared VanWormer (9-14-23) and Chad McDonald (10-10-20).
Offensively, FSU is led by senior Mitch Maloney (7 goals, 2 assists, 9 points), junior Corey Mackin (1-8-9) and senior Andrew Dorantes (1-6-7). The Bulldogs have scored only 25 goals in 12 games for a 2.08 average, which ranks 57th in the nation.
Ferris has two returning goaltenders in junior Darren Smith (2-2-1, 3.17 goals-against average, .909 saves percentage) and sophomore Justin Kapelmaster (3-4, 2.85, .917), who is 1-0 vs. MSU, has played in the Bulldogs’ last three games.
The Bulldogs roster includes freshman forward Coale Norris, the son of former MSU All-America forward Dwayne Norris (1988-1992). Coale has three goals and four points in 11 games. His brother, Josh, is a freshman at Michigan after two years with the U.S. NTDP, and is expected to be one of the top rookies in the nation.
The Norris brothers played each other two weeks ago at Yost Arena, with U-M winning the first game, 7-2, and Ferris State rebounding for a 3-2 win in the series finale. Coale Norris scored his team’s first goal in the second game. Josh was held scoreless in both games.
Coale Norris and MSU freshman Tommy Apap were teammates last season with Youngstown of the USHL. Spartan sophomore defenseman Anthony Scarsella was a teammate of Norris for part of the 2015-16 season with the Springfield Junior Blues of the USHL.
Coach Bob Daniels, a 1983 MSU graduate, is in his 26th season with the Bulldogs and has a career record of 435-449-101. FSU assistant coach Mark Kaufman is a 1984 graduate of Michigan State.
Spartans coach Danton Cole said his team will be facing a different style than it saw in the last two Big Ten series against Minnesota and Wisconsin. Ferris State is known as a cautious team that plays solid defense and pounces on turnovers and mistakes.
“They don’t play as fast as Minnesota or with as much of an attacking style as Wisconsin, but they’re going to be very structured,’’ he said. “Bob Daniels is a good coach and that team has done very well for a long time for a reason.’’
In 2011-12, FSU won the CCHA regular-season title and made its first Frozen Four appearance in the history of the school, and finished runner-up to Boston College.
Two years later, the Bulldogs (29-11-3 overall) won the WCHA regular-season championship and earned an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re going to have to play how we play, stick with that and not get frustrated or try to do too much 1-on-1, which would be a step back from a coaching staff standpoint,’’ Cole said. “We have to stick with how we play and grind it out for six periods.’’
IN THE BIG TEN: The only conference series has No. 17 Michigan (6-3-1 overall, 2-1-1 Big Ten) at No. 10 Wisconsin (7-5-1, 2-2) on Friday and Saturday.
In non-conference series on Friday and Saturday, No. 4 Notre Dame (8-3-1, 4-0) plays at Rensselaer (2-5-3, 1-4-1), No. 7 Minnesota (7-4-1, 3-2-1) plays host to Harvard (2-3, 2-3) and Penn State (5-7, 2-4), no longer ranked in the top 20, is at Arizona State (2-6-2).
No. 16 Ohio State (6-3-3, 1-3) has the weekend off.
For the third straight week, the Big Ten has five teams ranked in U.S. College Hockey Online’s top 20. The NCHC also has five teams, while Hockey East and the ECAC each have four and the WCHA has two.