Dec. 12, 2006
It is Tyler Howells' senior year, and he is just getting started, both on and off the ice. After playing the majority of his junior hockey career as a forward and splitting time at both forward and defense for his first three years in East Lansing, the 5-8, 182-pounder has finally found a concrete role on MSU's squad, which includes being one of the team's top four defenseman in addition to playing the point on the power play. The emergence of Howells on the blue line began last year, when he put up a career best 10 goals and 24 assists, good for tops among blueliners in the CCHA and 15th nationally. He was also a finalist for the league's best offensive defenseman award.
"It is always good to know where you are going to be, and not come to practice wondering what jersey you are going to be wearing that particular day," Howells said. "I like knowing my spot on this team." The Mound, Minn., native attributes some of his success as a defender to the enforcement of obstruction rules, which began in the collegiate and professional ranks last season. With the emphasis now on speed and skill, Howells does not see his small stature as the issue it was when he first came to MSU in 2003. Defenders now look to contain the opposition, rather than initiate contact with them in the defensive zone.
"In the old days, defenders used to just try to push the forwards up against the boards and hold them there," Howells said. "Now, the defensemen must be more shifty, since they can't just hold guys up." In addition to using his speed in the defensive zone, the new rules have enabled Howells to utilize what he sees as his most valuable asset: vision on the ice. Whether it is making a solid breakout pass to a rushing forward or starting an attack by bringing the puck up himself, Howells thinks helping the team transition out of its own zone has become a much more integral part of the game where he can contribute.
His steady play at both ends of the ice, in addition to his leadership in the locker room, earned Howells an "A" on his jersey as one of the Spartans alternate captains in 2006-07. With more responsibility comes more pressure, but because he was voted into the position by his teammates, Howells accepted the role with open arms. Though he finds himself thinking more about decisions regarding the team more often, Howells said he just tries to be a solid role model for everyone on the team, especially his younger teammates.
"As a senior, I just try to help the young guys with any problems they might have," Howells said. "I try to give them insight into the situation, since I'm in my fourth year and have probably been through the same thing myself."
The added leadership also has the potential to take some of the offensive pressure off of Howells. This season, he is more focused on leading the team to victory, and on making sure the defensive unit as a whole plays a steady game.
"If the points come, they come, but as long as we are winning, I will be doing my part," Howells said.
Not only has Howells showed his leadership qualities at the rink, but has helped start a team community project that he hopes will continue to grow long after he has graduated. Thank to Howells' efforts, the Spartan hockey team will partner this fall with Big Brothers and Big Sisters Michigan Capital Region chapter. He first came up with the idea this summer after working a golf outing at Hawk Hollow Golf Course with the group's executive director, Ed Hagan.
"I just decided it would be good for us to get out in the community and do something as a team," Howells said. "Drew Miller and Chris Snavely did something with the hospital in the past, but I thought this would be something a little different."
The team just got approved by the organization and will have one "little brother" for every two players. Though he is in his final year at Michigan State, Howells hopes the partnership will grow into an annual program. He also sees this as an opportunity that may eventually grow to encompass the entire athletic department.
"I want to have a night at the rink where all the little brothers and their families come, and then we can bring them to the locker room after the game," Howells said.
In addition to all his endeavors on the ice and in the community, Howells is beginning to plan for life after college, as he will graduate in just a few short months. As a lifelong hockey player from a hockey family, he would love to stay involved with the game. At the same time, he is keeping his options open. If life as a professional player doesn't pan out, he will have a degree in food industry management, and he knows the business since his dad works for General Mills. While having a degree gives him something to fall back on, the game is where his heart lies.
"I want to try to play hockey or be involved with it for as long as I can. Whether it is overseas or wherever else the opportunity arises, around the game is where I want to be."