Nov. 17, 2011
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
Tom Anastos is a big fan of Michigan State defenseman Brock Shelgren. He likes Shelgren's game, contributions on the ice and the way he represents the hockey program in the classroom and away from the rink.
But there is one thing about Shelgren that the Spartan coach doesn't like.
"I wish he was a freshman," Anastos said of the 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior from Chicago. "I wish he was going to be here longer because he's the kind of player you can build a team around. He's an important contributor.''
Shelgren , 23, a hard-working, stay-at-home defenseman the last three years, has emerged as a strong, smart and versatile performer over the first month-and-half of this season.
Teamed with junior standout Torey Krug, Shelgren has been solid defensively and has thrived in more of an offensive role in MSU's aggressive style of play.
"I feel like I'm more aggressive and more involved in the play. I've tried to create more offensively and play more physical,'' Shelgren said. "I think I came into the season in the best shape of my life. And it's shown - I've been able to maintain a high level of play.''
Shelgren was named CCHA Defenseman of the Week for his stellar play in last weekend's sweep at Western Michigan. He had an assist and a career-high seven blocked shots in Friday's 3-2 victory and had two assists and one blocked shot in a 4-2 win on Saturday.
Shelgren's playing on the power play, he's killing penalties and being used in crucial situations.
"He's playing 30-33 minutes a night. That's not easy, especially at his size,'' Anastos said. "He moves the puck well, skates well and blocks shots.''
After three up-and-down seasons, Shelgren didn't know what to expect as a senior with a new coaching staff in place and changes looming. His main goal was simple: Work as hard as he could, relax and have fun in his final season as a Spartan.
He said advice from his parents, Julie and Chris Shelgren, helped set the tone.
"They told me to just come in here this year and enjoy it . . . have fun because you never know what's going to happen after this year,'' Shelgren said. "With this being my last year, I wanted to come to the rink and have fun.''
So far, it's been a lot of fun for him and the Spartans.
MSU has won four straight games and five of its last six and carries a 6-4 overall record and 3-3 mark in the CCHA into Friday and Saturday games at Northern Michigan (4-5-3, 1-4-3-2).
"Guys are playing with more confidence. We don't have as much line shuffling and guys know they're roles,''Shelgren said. "We enjoy coming to the rink and we're having a blast.''
Shelgren has one goal and five assists for six points, which is one point from his career best from last season, when he had four goals and seven points.
Playing with the offensive-minded Krug has been an adjustment but Shelgren says the pairing is working out well.
"It took time to get used to each other but we've really jelled and we have some good chemistry going right now,'' Shelgren said. "I've learned his tendencies. We've been together since day one, and from practice, I know where he's going to be and what he'll do in certain situations.''
Krug is thrilled to have Shelgren as a partner.
"He helps me out so much,'' Krug said. "He allows me to jump into the play, knowing he's back there. He's having a great season, he's really playing well.''
Anastos said he didn't know much about Shelgren's game when practice started in October.
"My introduction to Brock was at the MSU Academic Gala when I first got here and he was the hockey recipient. To me, he epitomizes what a student athlete represents,'' Anastos said.
As a sophomore, Shelgren was an Academic All-Big Ten selection and named to the list of Big Ten Distinguished Scholars. Last year, he was MSU's representative on the CCHA All-Academic team.
"He gives you everything he has, he's smart away from the rink, he takes care of himself, he's a quiet leader and incredible physical condition,'' Anastos said.
"He's a top defenseman on our team and I'd take him on any team. It's probably comforting for Torey Krug to know that Brock is there. Torey takes liberties to move into the play and I don't mind Brock moving up. He has good instincts and abilities.
"He's been a pleasant surprise to see how he plays and represents the program.''
Like Krug, sophomore goaltender Will Yanakeff is impressed with Shelgren's responsible play and consistency.
"I think a lot of it is his confidence. He came back in unbelievable shape and it shows on the ice,'' Yanakeff said. "He's playing great and he and Torey are a good pairing. They play at a high intensity level and they're blocking shots. That's something a goalie really likes.''
PENALTY KILLING SOLID: MSU is taking a more aggressive approach to penalty killing this season and it appears to be working. The Spartans' PK is considered one of the team's bright spots through the first 10 games.
MSU opponents have had 44 power plays and scored only five goals. That's an 88.6 per cent rate of success for the Spartans and ranks No. 5 in the CCHA and 11th in the nation.
"We're not giving teams as much time and space to do stuff,'' senior defenseman Brock Shelgren said. "One thing coach has stressed is to take away their time and space and make them make two, three or four passes to beat us.''
Despite giving up "a couple frustrating goals'' that got through from the points, Coach Tom Anastos said he's pleased about his team's penalty killing.
"We think our skill set will allow us to be a good penalty killing team,'' he said. "And when your goaltending is strong, that's usually your best penalty killer. Guys are responding well and understanding when to pressure and when not to pressure. There is a time when you can't pressure. We're methodically introducing more things as we go along.''
ANOTHER ROAD CHALLENGE: While the Spartans are on a roll and feeling good about the last few weeks, this weekend's opponent - Northern Michigan - is reeling and will try to take out their frustrations out on MSU.
The Wildcats have lost two in a row and are winless in their last seven games at 0-4-3. NMU scored only two goals in a pair of 4-1 losses at Ohio State last weekend.
"We're playing a team that's coming off some losses and they'll bring a level of desperation to their game,'' Anastos said. "It'll be a tough test but that's good for us. We need to keep getting tested and try to get better.
"Northern is a good team and will really want to play well at home. I think the world of Walt Kyle. He's a good coach and his players respond to him. This will be a big weekend up there.
"Fox Sports (Detroit) is coming up to televise Saturday's game and that doesn't happen very often. And Michigan State is coming up and typically those are some of their strongest crowds of the season.''
The Wildcats aren't without some positives. They split two games at Wisconsin to start the season, and at home, swept St. Cloud State, won and tied against Michigan and tied two games against Notre Dame.
Last year, the Wildcats swept the Spartans, 4-2 and 6-5, at Munn Arena. NMU has won five of the last six meetings and is 7-2-1 in the last 10. MSU's last two victories have been shutouts - 1-0 in Marquette on Dec. 4, 2009, and 2-0 at home on Oct. 25, 2008.
ONE UNDEFEATED TEAM LEFT: Merrimack's last three games have gone into overtime and the Warriors have managed to avoid their first loss of the season with a 1-1 tie against Northeastern, a 3-2 victory over Northeastern and a 3-2 win at Boston University.
The Warriors, ranked No. 2 in the nation, are 8-0-1 overall and 6-0-1 in Hockey East and look like they'll keep their undefeated record for a while. Merrimack is idle this weekend, then plays host to winless Alabama-Huntsville (0-11-1) next Wednesday.
Then the Warriors don't play again until Dec. 3-4 - a home-and-home series against Providence (6-3-1), a likely tough test because the Friars are one of the most improved teams in the nation.