2002-03 Michigan State Season Preview

Here’s a riddle for you. What happens when the winningest coach in college hockey history steps aside, and you lose the best goaltender the CCHA has ever seen?

Why, continued success, of course — if the new head coach has a track record like Rick Comley’s.

Denial: Not Just A River In Egypt

If you’re not a Michigan State fan, you’re probably giddy right about now. Ron Mason, gone. Ryan Miller, gone. Finally, you think, the Spartans will return to an earthbound plane.

Honey, get over it. This team is loaded for bear, from head coach on down.

“Our key strengths will be identified later,” said Comley, “although when you look at a team and you have people like Brad Fast and John-Michael Liles and Duncan Keith, then you’re off and running in the talent pool.”

He added, “But you need a lot of players to play well if you’re going to do well.”

Fortunately for Comley, the remaining Spartans, and Spartan fans everywhere, MSU is the kind of program where “a lot of players” can do well.

Contrary to popular belief, Michigan State was not a team last year that relied solely on the extraordinary talents of Miller in net to keep the Spartans in a given game. MSU averaged more than three goals per game and had the league’s No. 1 power play. While no one would call the Spartan offense “explosive” on a regular basis, this is a team that was — and still is — capable of scoring goals.



And with Comley on board, Michigan State has the potential for real offensive fireworks this season.

The Student Is The Master

Ron Mason was a phenomenal coach who left a legacy of success that includes NHL players and top-rate coaches on every level. There’s no question that he will be missed — behind the bench in East Lansing, and in every area of college hockey.

In fact, we could cry about it if he weren’t in a place to do college hockey a lot more good now than he was before. But let us not digress.

For ye of little faith, take a look at what Rick Comley has accomplished in his 29 years at Northern Michigan. This Mason-trained coach built a program from scratch in a remote — very remote — area of the state, fighting a nightmarish recruiting battle against other Michigan (and some WCHA) schools year in and year out. And he was successful, by every measure of the word.

His style of play is different from Mason’s, a more up-tempo game that, frankly, may be welcome at MSU.

"I don’t think that Ron [Mason] ever went into a game saying, ‘Once we score two we shut it down,’ but I do believe we’re going to have to score more to win hockey games."

— Rick Comley, comparing his offensive approach to his predecessor’s

“We will play a different style of hockey,” said Comley. “I don’t think that Ron ever went into a game saying, ‘Once we score two we shut it down,’ but I do believe we’re going to have to score more to win hockey games. We have strengths, we have weaknesses like everybody does.”

Comley is capable of taking an already solid offense and turning it into something spectacular. This may not happen overnight, but last year’s Spartans adjusted to a slightly more offensive style of hockey fairly easily, so there’s no doubt that MSU will score some goals.

Stinkin’ Thinkin’

Yes, you say, but what about the goalie situation?

“The late departure of Ryan Miller is obviously a big loss, but you pat him on the back and wish him well,” said Comley. “What he accomplished in three years is amazing, and I would have loved to have coached him for a year but that’s not going to happen.”

Do you honestly think that a program as successful as Michigan State, with a goaltender like Miller, would be unprepared for his early departure?

The Spartans have the very capable sophomore Matt Migliaccio as well as 17-year-old rookie Justin Tobe. Goalie situation? Comley is nonplussed.

“We have two young men who I think will be fine, and we’ll have to play well in front of them.”

You Don’t Need A Crystal Ball

With household names like Brian Maloney, Brad Fast, Ash Goldie, and John-Michael Liles, the Spartans will be just fine, thank you very much.

And expect that Munn Arena sellout streak to continue.

But please, Spartan faithful, if Comley delivers on his promise of a more exciting, offensive game, can you get out of your seats and cheer a bit more loudly at home? Please?

Daily Affirmation

“Listen to Coach Comley.” Repeat.