Dec. 13, 2013
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING - Michigan State defenseman Brock Krygier spent all of last season getting ready to earn playing time this season.
Mission accomplished. And then some.
Krygier, 20, a 5-foot-11, 182-pounder from Novi, spent 15 months - from July 2012 to October 2013 - training, practicing, watching and learning but not playing as a redshirt during his freshman year.
This year, as a sophomore in school and a freshman in eligibility, Krygier has not only earned his way into the lineup, he's been one of the Spartans' best defensemen through the first 14 games.
"He's played meaningful minutes for us and has been one of our most consistent guys back there,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "To date, he's outperformed what our expectations were.
"It just so happened there was an opportunity on defense and he's taken that and performed with solid consistency. He gets better and better as he gains experience. He tries to stay within himself, he takes what the game gives him and doesn't try to force things that aren't there.''
The Spartans (5-8-1 overall, 0-1-1-1 Big Ten) play their final game before the holiday break against Ferris State (13-2-3, 10-0-2), now of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Munn Arena.
Krygier says his approach to playing defense is simple.
"The biggest thing is that I'm keeping it simple and just doing what I can do to make the players around me better,'' he said. "It's not about taking on things all by myself. It's about using your partner, using forwards and keeping things in front of you.''
Three years ago, Krygier helped Novi High School win a Division I state hockey championship as a junior. In 2011-12, he played for Honeybaked Midget Major as a high school senior.
Krygier's goal was to play in college, but without any offers he would have to play a year or two in junior hockey - in the U.S. Hockey League or the North American Hockey League - to attract attention from college coaches. He didn't have spot in juniors locked up when Anastos made Krygier and Honeybaked teammate Connor Wood, a forward, an offer to walk on at MSU but redshirt their first season.
"It was an experiment that's not typically done in hockey, where you tell a player you want them to come but that they'll be redshirted,'' Anastos said. "We trained Brock and Connor Wood as if they were out of season and year round. They made a lot of progress.''
Krygier said it wasn't easy not play at all last season but he looked upon the situation as opportunity to get stronger, more conditioned and improve his skills by practicing every day.
"The big thing was that it allowed me to start my education. It's a big thing for me to get a good education,'' said Krygier, a chemistry major who hopes to eventually go to medical or dental school. "Getting to start school right away and not going to juniors for a year or two and not being in school was important. This was a good opportunity to develop as a hockey player and start school.''
So Krygier worked out, lifted weights, practiced and looked forward to the fall of 2013 to compete for a spot in the lineup. With sophomore defenseman John Draeger recovering from surgery due to a lower body injury, the Spartans started the season with seven defensemen.
Krygier has played in every game to start the season and stayed in the lineup when Draeger returned in late November.
In 14 games, Krygier has three assists and leads the Spartans in plus-minus with a plus-8.
"It was tough not being able to play last season, but I kept a good attitude and came to the rink every day knowing that I needed to get better and better, so when I did get the opportunity to get in and play, I could play well and help our team,'' he said. "I knew that whatever ice time I had, I needed to make the most of it. "I had to make smart decisions, move the puck up and just do my best. And luckily, as I've been playing more, I've been gaining in confidence. I'm able make good decisions and that's leading to more ice time.''
With the large number of forwards on the roster - MSU plays 12 forwards and five sit out - Wood couldn't find his way into the lineup. He hasn't played in any games. So, he's leaving MSU next semester and will play for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL and get playing time. He'll return to MSU next fall.
Wood will play for Krygier's father, Todd, a former NHL player and longtime youth and high school coach who's in his first season as Muskegon's coach.
Brock Krygier is a stay-at-home defenseman but he's not afraid to take some risks and make mistakes.
"That's how I was taught growing up. You want to keep it simple but when there's a chance to make a play, you have to take it and not worry about the consequences. As long as it's not too risky,'' Krygier said with a laugh.
"A lot of it came from my dad coaching me all these years. He had a lot of experience playing in the NHL and he taught me about making decisions.''
Todd Krygier played college hockey at the University of Connecticut (1984-88) and then had a 12-year professional career as a forward/defenseman, including nine seasons in the NHL (1988-2000) with the Hartford Whalers, Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks.
Todd Krygier started coaching Brock in mini-mites and continued right up through high school in Michigan at Novi. Brock, who was born in Bethesda, Md., and just turned 20 last Monday, moved to Michigan when he was 8-9 years old.
"My dad had a huge impact. I wouldn't be where I am today without him as my coach,'' Brock said. "He was always there, showing me when to make certain plays.''
Todd Krygier played six seasons for the Washington Capitals and was teammates each year with Peter Bondra, whose son, David, is a MSU sophomore forward, and Kelly Miller, a MSU assistant coach and a former Spartan All-America forward.
Krygier, Bondra and Miller played against the Red Wings in the 1998 Stanley Cup Final, won by the Wings, 4 games to 0. Krygier played in 543 NHL games and had 100 goals and 243 points.
Brock and David Bondra were quite young when their fathers played in Washington so their memories are a little sketchy.
"We grew up together but I don't remember that much about it,'' Krygier said. "Our parents have told stories about us playing on the playground and getting together and playing mini-sticks, and all that stuff. What a small world.''
Anastos said he's impressed with Krygier's work ethic, dedication to improve and his mindset in not allowing mistakes to alter his game.
"If you allow a mistake to help cause the next mistake, that's not such a good thing,'' Anastos said. "Having a bit of amnesia is a good thing, that when you make a mistake, you shake it off and move on. He's done a good job of managing that.''
The more Krygier plays the more his confidence grows, but there are always things to improve on and decisions to make.
"The biggest thing for me is I have to keep the play in front of me. I don't want anybody behind me and I need to make sure everyone is in my field of view,'' he said. "And when I do have the puck, I have to keep moving it up to a forward or make sure that it continues forward. I don't want it coming back my way.
"It's about keeping the play in front of me, playing good on 1-on-1s and getting the puck out of the zone when it needs to get out. Those are the keys for me.''
Krygier said he spent last summer getting bigger and stronger and working on technique. He still found college players coming down the ice on him to be a huge challenge.
"The biggest difference is size and strength. Over the last year, I needed to get my technique down and get bigger, stronger and faster to handle the 1-on-1s, just in our practices,'' he said. "I think I have the ability to stop people as long as I'm in the right position, have them in front of me and have space.''
To be a more complete player, Krygier would like to improve his offensive game. "I want to work on my shot. I need a harder shot, more accurate and one I can get off quicker,'' Krygier said. "It would be nice to get a few goals. The most important part of being a defenseman is still defending and making sure you keep the puck out of your net.
"But adding the element of offense to your game is crucial at this level.''
HONORARY COACH: Saturday's MSU-Ferris State game has been designated as the 2013 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game, and former MSU coach Ron Mason will be honored for his recent induction into the U.S. Hall of Fame.
In addition, Mason will serve as the Spartans' Honorary Coach and will be on the bench as an observer and perhaps a consultant.
MSU coach Tom Anastos said the addition of Mason to the Hall of Fame was well deserved.
"Ron has always been passionate about the college game and the values it brings, and more than anything, that's what got me into the game,'' Anastos said. "He gave me an opportunity to play here, and when I came here I knew more about the game in the first six months than I knew in the previous 14 years that played.''
Mason coached at Michigan State from 1979-2002, after stops at Lake Superior State (1966-73), where he started the program, and Bowling Green (1974-79). In 36 years in coaching, Mason won 924 games and held the record for most career victories by a college coach until Jerry York of Boston College won his 925th game on Dec. 31, 2012. Mason's career record is 924-380-83. In 23 seasons at MSU, he compiled a record of 635-270-69, led the Spartans to seven Frozen Four appearances and won the NCAA title in 1986. He also coached in a Frozen Four with Bowling Green in 1978 and won a NAIA tile with LSSU in 1972.
"From a hockey perspective, you don't have to go back that far to recognize how far college hockey has come since the mid-to-late 1970s. It's come a long way,'' Anastos said. "We see players in the NHL every night who played college hockey, we see players that are selected throughout the NHL Draft who played in college, we see NHL executives, coaches, scouting directors and scouts who were involved in college hockey.
"It's not to say Ron Mason created all of that but he played a significant role in the evolution in the last 40 years. The thing that strikes me the most is how out front he was in helping emerging programs. He was one of the creators of the CCHA, a spot for new programs to go.
"Today, you see programs like Miami, Lake Superior State, Northern Michigan and Ferris State and others playing national tournaments and winning championships. Ron was out front in the sport fighting for respect for all those programs.''
GLI GETS 1966 LOOK: Michigan State will wear replica jerseys from the Spartans' 1966 NCAA championship team in the Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park, Dec. 27-28. "It's great that we can honor that group and continue to connect with the past,'' Anastos said. "The guys (from 1966) are excited about it. We'll also wear it against Michigan at Joe Louis Arena in January.''
The jersey has "Spartans" running diagonally from the top right shoulder to the left hip (from a player's viewpoint). There's a number on the upper chest on the left side of the jersey. There's three stripes on the sleeves and three at the bottom of the jersey.
SCOUTING THE BULLDOGS: Ferris State continues to be one of college hockey's biggest surprises over the first two months of the season. The Bulldogs' 14-game unbeaten streak (11-0-3) is the longest in the nation. They haven't lost since Oct. 18, when they fell to St. Lawrence, 3-2, in Big Rapids.
FSU started this week ranked No. 4 in the nation in college hockey's two major polls. On Wednesday, the Bulldogs tied No. 3 Michigan, 2-2, in Ann Arbor. Ferris State is 13-2-3 overall and is still unbeaten in Western Collegiate Hockey Association play with an 11-0-3 record.
The Bulldogs have nine players with 10 points or more.
Senior left wing Garrett Thompson is the top scorer with nine goals and 11 assists for 20 points. Junior forward Justin Buzzeo has seven goals and 18 points, while freshman forward Kyle Schempp (7-8) and defenseman Jason Binkley (3-12) are tied for third with 15 points.
Sophomore left wing Matt Robertson is FSU's second-leading goal scorer with eight. One of the Bulldogs' strengths is in goal. Junior C.J. Motte has a 2.28 goals against average, a .925 saves percentage and a 13-0-3 record.
Ferris State is the 8th-highest scoring team in the nation with a 3.67 goals-per-game average. The Bulldogs rank 10th defensively (2.28 goals against).
"They're playing with a ton of confidence. They love playing against Michigan State, dating back to when I played,'' Anastos said of Ferris State. "Of all the teams that we played, they were one of the toughest teams.
"They'll come in here fired up to play. It's the last game before our break, and the best things that could come out of this is getting a great result from a great performance and feeling good about our progress. And our guys can heal up over the break and look forward to playing at Comerica Park in the GLI.''
Although the games were often close, the Spartans used to dominate Ferris State in the late 1990s and early 2000, but things have changed in recent seasons. In fact, MSU is 1-7 against FSU over the last three seasons, including 1-3 last year. In the last five years, the Bulldogs hold a 3-9 edge.
Overall, the Spartans hold a 68-34-15 edge in a series which started in December, 1979.