Michigan State is holding its annual Pro Camp this week in Munn Ice Arena, giving the Spartan alumni a chance to warm up a little before heading to their respective professional destinations.
I was able to catch the very end of Wednesday’s skate and lucky enough to run into three of my favorite former Spartans, forward Justin Abdelkader (2005-08) and defensemen Torey Krug (2009-12) and Mike Weaver (1996-2000). I also got a chance to say hello in passing to MSU assistant coach Tom Newton, one of the nicest guys in college hockey.
Sadly, I missed Jeff Petry’s (2007-10) new puppy, which was rumored to be in the Munn area after the skate. I have it on good authority that the puppy is “absolutely adorable.”
That’s how it was at Munn Wednesday — loose, relaxed, like dropping in on family home for a visit.
Abdelkader, who has been with the Detroit Red Wings since 2008, was a big hit with the fans in attendance. People outside of Michigan may not appreciate what a favorite he is locally, and in spite of his megastar status here, he’s as unpretentious as he was when he was a Spartan.
Abdelkader said that MSU’s Pro Camp helps him prepare for the upcoming NHL season. “More than anything, it’s just getting on the ice and skating. It’s always fun to come back to Munn here. It brings back so many memories here in the locker room and going through the hallways and seeing so many familiar faces. More than anything, I’m getting ready for [Red Wings] camp, but at the same time, it’s fun, too.”
I ran into Weaver well after the players were finished for the day, when I was having lunch with my good friend and legendary college hockey writer, Neil Koepke. The 35-year-old Weaver, who is about to begin his fourth season with the Florida Panthers, joked about the difficulty of “keeping up with” the young players on the ice during the Pro Camp. The youngest pro there was the 22-year-old Krug, who became the darling of Boston and all of New England in May of this year when he was called up to the Bruins from Providence for Boston’s Stanley Cup run and promptly scored four goals in his first five games.
You spend 30 seconds with Krug and you’ll be a fan for life. He’s the perfect poster child for college hockey — and I don’t mean “child” in any pejorative way, even though he doesn’t look old enough to shave. Incredibly approachable and personable, genuinely good-natured and friendly, a natural-born leader, Krug is exactly the guy you want to see succeed on such a big stage and in such a showy way as he did for Boston this year if you are a fan of college hockey. He completely charmed a notoriously tough Boston press corps during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Often pared with Ohio State alumni and his Providence teammate, Matt Bartkowski, Krug drew positive attention to college hockey every time he was on the ice. It was great to hear “Michigan State” and “Ohio State” mentioned so often during Stanley Cup playoff game broadcasts — to hear play-by-play guys and analysts fall all over themselves to talk up college hockey as a resource for the NHL.
For Krug, of course, it was simply a dream come true. “It’s every little kid’s dream to play for the Stanley Cup. It’s the best trophy.” Here he talks about getting called up for the playoffs.
Both Abdelkader and Krug are excited about the new Big Ten Hockey conference.
Krug said that during his college days, playing a Big Ten rival was always something he enjoyed. “When I look back at my years here at Michigan State, my favorite weekends were when I went to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Obviously, playing at Yost was a treat. Then Ohio State, a state-of-the-art facility.”
Krug has another reason for being excited about Big Ten Hockey: more college hockey on television. “I’m looking forward to seeing more games. I’m going to be able to watch more on TV as well, so that helps me, making sure I can track Michigan State a little bit better. I spent a lot of time in Providence on the weekends … on the odd off day trying to find a Michigan State game and I could never find it.”
In passing, I also saw Detroit forward Drew Miller (2003-06) and Winnepeg forward Jim Slater (2002-05). Other players listed as attending the Pro Camp include Chris Forfar (2009-13), Dustin Gazley (2007-11), Matt Grassi (2009-13), Shawn Horcoff (1997-2000), Bryan Lerg (2005-08), Mike Merrifield (2008-12), Chris Mueller (2005-08), Jared Nightingale (2003-06), Corey Potter (2003-06), Andrew Rowe (2009-11), Corey Tropp (2007-10) and Kevin Walrod (2010-13).