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College Hockey:
2001-02 Michigan State Season Preview

I

Among ten stationary players,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the Ryan Miller.

You’ve heard the noise. Ryan Miller didn’t deserve the Hobey because of the defense in front of him. Michigan State doesn’t score enough goals. The Spartans play boring hockey.

Blah, blah, blah.

Sure, they’re ranked No. 1, but Michigan State — and head coach Ron Mason — are underrated. How else can you explain Mason not even being considered for CCHA Coach of the Year for the 2000-01 season, a campaign during which the Spartans were No. 1 from January on, and after which they claimed a 33-5-4 record?

And what about that Miller, anyway? His astonishing .950 save percentage and NCAA shutout record — as a sophomore — are attributable only to the defense in front of him, n’est-ce pas?

It’s all about faulting a good team for being good. Returning defenders Brad Fast, Andrew Hutchinson, and John-Michael Liles combined for a collective plus-minus ratio of plus-58, and the three were arguably the three best defenders in the league, but not one made the All-CCHA First Team.

And while Western Michigan’s high-flying (and fast-starting) offense dominated fan discussion early on, and Michigan’s scoring prowess is uncontested, fans seem to forget that the Spartans were third in the league in goal production, scoring an average of 3.27 per game.

For crying out loud, people — how much is enough?

Zen and the Art of Specialty Teams

The Spartans led all CCHA teams in both power-play percentage (.230) and penalty kill (.916), and with the exception of the departed Rustyn Dolyny, the corps of Michigan State’s man-advantage returns. In addition to Fast, Liles, and Hutchinson (who may be the best power-play point man in the league, forwards Brian Maloney, Adam Hall, and a hopefully healthy Joe Goodenow will undoubtedly provide a serious deterrent for bad opponent behavior.

Goodbye Mr., Um, Mr. … ?

The Spartans can’t point to one former player whose departure will have an immediate impact on the team. “We didn’t have a Shawn Horcoff or Mike York,” says Mason, “or someone like that who you’ll miss right off the bat.

msu mason ncaa 2001 02 Michigan State Season Preview

MASON

“I’ll tell you what we lost that wasn’t one person — it was a defensive style of play we’re losing with the loss of [the 2000-01] senior class.”

How to compensate for players like Sean Patchell and John Nail? “We’re going to be a different team,” says Mason. “We played to our strengths when we had Chad Alban as a goalie. We played to our strengths with this past senior class. We’ll discover our strengths again and play to them.”

Mason adds that the Spartans probably haven’t lost “much” on “the defensive side of the puck. We’d like to like to be able to think we can score a few more goals. I’d like to think we’re more of a threat than we were in the past.”

The Hockey of our Climate

To say that the Spartans play a boring brand of hockey is to say that a no-hitter going into the ninth is a dull game. The only legitimate complaint concerning Michigan State hockey — and this goes for nearly every CCHA team — is the inability to get beyond a certain point in NCAA post-season play.


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