Faltering finish all the motivation Michigan State needed

“We’re coming off a second-place finish and a team that obviously did not perform well in the playoffs,” Michigan State coach Rick Comley said. “That was a disappointment.”

That was an understatement.

After a hugely disappointing, next-to-last-place finish in 2008-09, Michigan State rebounded last year, earning a bye for the first round of the CCHA playoffs. That week off, however, came after the Spartans stumbled through the second half of the season, earning just five wins in January and February.

Then MSU’s season came to an end in the most unappetizing way imaginable: a two-game sweep in the second round of the CCHA playoffs, at the hands of Michigan, on the Spartans’ own ice in East Lansing.

You just can’t buy motivation like that. Not that you’d want to.

“We have opportunity,” Comley said in preseason, sounding very deliberate and determined. “As I watch our team, our talent, I think, is pretty good. We’ll get up and down, I think we can play five on five, and now it’s that separation part of it. That’s what’s yet to be determined.”

That separation part of it is the emergence of key players from the ranks, something that MSU seems to be facing annually as the Spartans lose talent early every year. This year, it was Corey Tropp with his 20 goals, Andrew Rowe with his 17 and Jeff Petry with his amazing defensive presence.

Comley is beginning to see the early departures as an opportunity for remaining players to distinguish themselves. “Anybody who’s played has a chance to progress. I think we’ve lost 14 kids now early over my eight years here. It disrupts everything. You can’t always plan for it because we lose these kids in late June and July.

“When you’ve had a lot of players who get opportunities, they’re at least in a position to expand their game, and we have several of those players.”

Two who come to mind immediately are sophomores Derek Grant and Torey Krug. Krug is the team’s captain. “They’re both, I think, going to be good again,” Comley said.

“And then the window of opportunity is open. Will a player like [Daultan] Leveille return to more of a freshman form than last year? Will Dustin Gazley maybe take another step? Will Brett Perlini — who had that tremendous Great Lakes Tournament and that stretch of eight or 10 games — now be able to put 36 games together?”

Inquiring minds want to know.

The position that leaves nothing to the imagination is goaltender. “Drew Palmisano had a very good year,” Comley said. “He’s right there with the top goalies in the league.”

On Dec. 11, the Spartans will play the Wolverines in The Big Chill at the Big House, an outdoor game in Michigan Stadium that likely will set tough-to-beat attendance records for hockey.

“It’s going to be a great experience and obviously create memories that everybody will have for their lifetime,” Comley said.


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