By Michael Caples –
Rewind: Things didn’t go the way the Spartans planned last year. A below-500 win total and a difficult-to-swallow 5-0 loss to Michigan in the historic Big Chill at the Big House led to coach Rick Comley stepping down. The Alaska Nanooks eliminated Michigan State in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
Bench boss:Former CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos was the surprise hire by MSU AD Mark Hollis to revamp the Spartans’ hockey program. Anastos, who played in East Lansing for Ron Mason (1981-85), brought in his former teammate, Kelly Miller, to serve as assistant coach. Miller, a 15-year NHL veteran, will work alongside Tom Newton, who was retained from the previous coaching staff.
Gone: Dustin Gazley (F), Derek Grant (F), Joey Shean (F), Zach Josepher (D)
Arriving: Branden Carney (D), Tanner Sorenson (F), Justin Hoomaian (F), Brett Darnell (F), Matt Berry (F)
If the water bottle’s half full: The Spartans should be a tough team to score on. Captain Torey Krug anchors a blue line corps that also features senior Brock Shelgren, junior Matt Grassi, and sophomore Jake Chelios. Goaltenders Drew Palmisano (senior) and Will Yanakeff (sophomore) will be battling for the starting role, and whoever lands in the ‘back-up’ role will be a more-than-capable option for Anastos.
If the water bottle’s half empty: You have to score goals to win games, and MSU might not have the firepower to keep up in the CCHA race. Derek Grant’s early departure for the professional ranks creates an even bigger hole for the Spartans up front.
MVP: Torey Krug. The Spartans’ captain is entering his junior season, and he is the heart and soul of the team in East Lansing. Last season, Krug was named the CCHA’s top offensive defenseman after posting 11 goals and 17 assists in 38 games. Despite a 5-foot-9, 175 lb. frame, Krug plays with grit and toughness, something that Anastos wants to bring back to the Spartans program.
Difference-maker: The MSU faithful had high expectations for Daultan Leveille when he arrived on campus in 2008. The first-round pick of the Atlanta Thrashers struggled to find his scoring touch in his first two seasons with the Spartans, and last year his problems stretched outside the ice arena. Leveille’s brother Clay passed away in January, and a month later, he tore his ACL in a game against Alaska. The 20-year-old possesses a wealth of talent, and can have a big impact on games if he can return.