Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Freshmen expected to bolster offense

September 25, 2001
Freshman goaltender Matt Migliaccio takes the ice in Munn Ice Arena during practice. Migliaccio will play behind Hobey Baker Award winning sophomore goaltender Ryan Willer —

Most of the talk at MSU’s hockey media day Monday in Munn Ice Arena centered around two things - “The Cold War” outdoor hockey game on Oct. 6 and junior goaltender Ryan Miller’s quest for a second straight Hobey Baker Award.

But when the Spartans took the ice for their first practice - officially starting their season - the eight-player freshman class wasn’t thinking about either. They were trying to catch the eye of head coach Ron Mason and not make any glaring, first-practice, welcome-to-college mistakes.

“Everyone’s good and everyone’s fast, and the players are a lot bigger and stronger,” said freshman defenseman Duncan Keith, who like most of the Spartans took part in player-initiated intrasquad scrimmages this summer. “In juniors, you’d sometimes get a couple of guys who weren’t that good or whatever, but everyone here is a good player.”

For the most part, the rookies - Keith, goaltender Matt Migliaccio, wings Kevin Estrada, Mike Lalonde and Brock Radunske and centers Ash Goldie, Lee Falardeau and Jim Slater - looked like they deserve the praise people have heaped on them since signing day.

Migliaccio got plenty of work as the No. 2 netminder in Monday’s lengthy workout, making a few slick saves against veteran forwards such as junior Troy Ferguson.

Keith showed flashes of the blazing speed MSU coaches have been bragging about since his commitment last fall.

And Slater, Estrada and Falardeau all showcased their stick-handling prowess during one-on-one drills.

Not a bad first day for the young guns.

“Everything is faster,” said Estrada, who was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the third round of this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. “You’ve gotta pass the puck right away. You can’t fool around with it at any time.

“It’s harder to go around defensemen down here as well.”

But Mason is banking on the speedy freshmen to start beating defensemen soon - thereby igniting an offense that went stale at times last season. He said all six freshman forwards will see significant playing time this year.

“I think you’ll see a lot more creativity on offense this season,” said Mason, who is three wins shy of 900 for his career. “But because we’re going to be young up front, you’ll see a lot more mistakes too. There’ll be more turnovers. We’ll give up more scoring chances.

“You just hope that what you give up on one side of the puck, you gain on the other.”

If any Spartan can tab a strong offensive player when he sees one, it’s probably Miller. After all, he took on and turned away many of the country’s best forwards last season.

And he thinks these freshmen have something special.

“They can all score and they’re smart players,” said Miller, who admitted the freshmen squeaked a few shots past him during the summer. “We have a team full of scorers now. We should be able to put the puck in the net.”

But Miller cautioned that even the most prolific scorers can’t always escape the defensive demeanor of Spartan hockey.

“You always see guys kind of free-wheeling for a while, but then coach Mason kind of shows them how to play the game,” Miller said. “It’ll be interesting to see how they fit into the system.”

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