Season Preview

College Hockey:
Inexperience one of the main challenges for Michigan State

A year after Tom Anastos took charge in East Lansing, there’s one thing that seems to remain constant for Michigan State: change.

“We do continue to have a lot of change,” Anastos said. “We graduated a very large class last year and we lost Torey Krug to the pros after his junior year. We have 12 new players here. With that, there’s lots of youthful enthusiasm for sure. I think that’s pretty exciting, but at the same time we’re pretty green and inexperienced and that will present some challenges for us, I would anticipate.”

In the early going in 2011-12, the Spartans found themselves on the long-ish end of a learning curve with new systems in place for which they were not immediately ready. Every player embraced the new way of doing things, though, and because of that buy-in, the team made significant progress toward the end of the first half and continued to improve all the way to a fifth-place finish.

This year, Anastos is looking for some of the positive changes from last season to continue.

“Some of the guys last year,” Anastos said, “I didn’t know what to expect out of a lot of guys like Greg Wolfe and Lee Reimer … and those guys took a really big step last year and became important players and contributors on the team. They’re coming in this season hopefully with confidence to take another big step.”

Wolfe and Reimer, both sophomores this season, had 19 goals between them last year, and while MSU’s offense wasn’t lackluster, it wasn’t exactly on fire, averaging 2.85 goals per game for 28th-best in the nation.

Two other juniors, defenseman Jake Chelios and goaltender Will Yanakeff, are expected to play big roles on this year’s team.

“I thought Jake Chelios made a really big transition where he played a little bit on defense in his first year but went to defense full time last year and I thought that he was one of our most improved players,” Anastos said. “We have high expectations for Jake to take another step.”

Yanakeff played 22 games last season with a .922 save percentage. “Will Yanakeff did a terrific job for us last year,” Anastos said. “We have very high expectations for Will. He’s in very good shape. I think he’s comfortable in the role, he wants more, and I think he has the talent level and the mentality to be a really, really good player both within our league and nationally. We’re going to rely on him a lot, particularly early in the season.”

With so many newcomers, the Spartans will look like a new team — but not everyone on the team is new to college hockey. Two defensemen come from other programs, experience that will likely help the young team.

“Nickolas Gatt played a little bit at Alabama-Huntsville,” Anastos said, “and RJ Boyd played a little bit at Sacred Heart but played a little bit in the USHL last year. We think those guys all have very bright futures.”

So much change may be a bit dizzying, but it’s not necessarily unwelcome. “We’re excited about the season,” Anastos said. “We’re anxious to kind of see where we’re at and we’re anxious in dealing with the challenges again of having so much newness this year.”

About the Spartans

2011-12 overall record: 19-16-4

2011-12 CCHA record: 14-11-3-2 (fifth)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Seventh

Key losses: F Mike Merrifield, F Brett Perlini, D Torey Krug, G Drew Palmisano

Players to watch: F Matt Berry, F Greg Wolfe, D Jake Chelios, G Will Yanakeff

Impact rookie: F Matt DeBlouw

Why the Spartans will finish higher than the coaches poll: Last year, this team showed a remarkable ability to learn quickly. With more talent added to the mix, the Spartans may improve even more.

Why the Spartans will finish lower than the coaches poll: It’s just the second year under a new head coach and MSU welcomes many freshmen.

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