Finally, this team belongs to Rick Comley.
With the departure of Brock Radunske (7-6-13) and Lee Falardeau (2-4-6) and the return of the league’s genuine superstar, Jim Slater (10-21-31), Comley can feel pretty confident that the Spartans are all on the same page.
“Our hockey team will be a pretty good team,” says Comley, a man not prone to exaggeration. “I can’t predict anything. I’m very encouraged that Jim Slater returned. He’s been our leader throughout the course of the summer.”
Slater went public with his decision to stay with Michigan State March 29, two days after the Spartans’ dismal 5-0 loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal. Comley made no secret of his disgust with his players’ 2003-04 postseason performance, both in the Super Six and the NCAA tourney, and more than hinted that he would be pleased if folks who weren’t willing to play for him would simply leave.
He got his wish when Radunske and Falardeau left and Slater stayed. Further strengthening the Spartan squad is a talented, balanced group of veterans and one of the nation’s best recruiting classes.
“Our challenges will be week by week,” says Comley. Even though Comley is referring to the strength of the league when he says that, week by week is a good strategy for a team that had difficulty putting together back-to-back wins until the second half of the season.
Consistency was the problem for the Spartans in 2003-04, a problem MSU has a chance to overcome this time around. In addition to Slater, the Spartans have scorers in forwards Mike Lalonde (14-11-25), Tommy Goebel (12-11-23), and Ash Goldie (9-9-18), as well as dynamic sophomore defenseman A.J. Thelen (9-14-23).
Comley has made it no secret that the difference between him and his predecessor, the legendary Ron Mason, is a small matter of style. Mason’s was primarily defensive, but Comley wants his players to add a more wide-open offense to the tight play in their own end.
Given that everybody wants to score, this should be an easy sell in East Lansing. Should the Spartans buy completely into Comley’s systems, MSU could challenge for the league title.
Red or Blue?
The Spartans can score, can defend, can mind the net — but can they do all three at the same time? MSU netted one postseason goal in two games last year, and the bitter taste of that team’s performance will linger long into 2003-04. “We’ve had to live all summer with the disappointment in the playoffs,” says Comley.
What are MSU’s weaknesses? Other than not buying into Comley’s way of doing things, few. The Spartan offense — both at even strength and on the power play — was fourth in the league last season, yet MSU finished just two scant points behind Michigan, the 2003-04 regular-season champions, one point behind second-place Miami.
The Spartan defense was and is excellent. “Corey Potter will be important on defense,” says Comley. Potter (0-5-5), a true stay-at-home defenseman, will have help from talented sophomores Thelen, Chris Snavely, and Brandon Warner. Add junior Jared Nightengale and newcomer Jeff Dunne and you have a potent mix.
And, of course, there’s the fabulous Dominic Vicari (1.88 GAA, .933 SV%), backed by the equally capable and very personable Matt Migliaccio (2.70 GAA, .914 SV%).
Comley knows that points will be hard earned in the league, and that chasing Michigan is more than just, well, chasing Michigan. “Everyone in the league has improved. Everyone is competitive. There are no gimmes.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting year for the league. We’re off and running.”