Michigan State opens Anastos era with talent but offensive questions

Past predictors

To say that Michigan State had a disappointing season in 2010-11 would not capture fully the sentiments of those in and around East Lansing. The Spartans, picked third by the media last season and fourth by the coaches, never seemed to get off the ground in any meaningful way. It took them until the end of the regular season to sweep a conference opponent — to sweep any opponent — and those two wins were over last-place Bowling Green, which MSU beat by the combined score of 4-1.

Even before that, though, coach Rick Comley announced his departure and the hunt for a new head coach was under way.

To say that the hiring of Tom Anastos, the then-CCHA commissioner who hadn’t coached at the college level in two decades, was a surprise could not capture fully the actual sentiments of those in and around college hockey.

Clearly, the recent past in Munn Arena was predicting something that MSU athletic director Mark Hollis wasn’t keen to see realized. This isn’t merely a coaching change in East Lansing; this is an attempt to re-brand Michigan State hockey.

Good omens

The Spartans have real talent and the team is largely without ego — both good things when there is rebuilding to be done. The most solid position on this MSU team last season was goaltending, and that doesn’t look to change.

Drew Palmisano and Will Yanakeff each saw time in net last season, with Yanakeff’s numbers and win percentage the slightly higher of the two. Anastos said that Palmisano is “one of the real leaders” of this year’s team while characterizing Yanakeff’s game as “emerging.”

“He’s demonstrated that he has a very high talent level,” said Anastos. “He got some game time last year. I would expect his game time to grow. He’s a big guy, very well fit, very competitive and a very good skill set.”

While the Spartans struggled offensively last season — they had the 35th-best offense in the country, averaging 2.58 goals per game — there is firepower on the team. Torey Krug was 14th nationally among defensemen in scoring; forward Brett Perlini had 18 goals.

“I’ve been really impressed with Torey in all fronts,” said Anastos. “He loves being a Michigan State hockey player. He loves Michigan State. He’s a passionate leader. His teammates really respond to him.

“I expect Brett Perlini to have a breakout year. He’s in excellent physical shape. He’s gotten leaner and quicker over the course of the summer. He’s real motivated to have an excellent senior season. He wants his team to have lots of success and hopefully position himself where he’ll be an NHL signee at the end of the season.”

What spells doom?

“The most important thing is to find an identity for our team, and that will take a little time,” said Anastos, oddly echoing what Comley said for the previous two seasons. Rebuilding with a new coach necessarily takes time, but that identity can’t emerge soon enough for folks in East Lansing.

“There’s no secret we’re going to have to try and find a way to manufacture some offense,” said Anastos, “or find some guys to emerge as offensive threats for us.”

About the Spartans

2010-11 overall record: 15-19-4

2010-11 CCHA record: 11-15-2-0 (10th)

2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): Eighth

Key losses: Forwards Dustin Gazley and Derek Grant

Players to watch: Forwards Brett Perlini and Daultan Leveille; defenseman Torey Krug; goaltenders Drew Palmisano and Will Yanakeff

Impact rookie: Forward Matt Berry

Why the Spartans will finish higher than the coaches poll: With a new coach and new methods can sometimes come new enthusiasm and new success.

Why the Spartans will finish lower than the coaches poll: There may be a steep learning curve for coaches and players this season, coupled with a team that was already struggling in every category that counts.