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Mason readies for first practice, not sure what to expect

September 24, 2001

Darkness is creeping in earlier every day, the daily highs are sinking lower and lower, and Ron Mason is back in the MSU Hockey Office after a summer vacation spent mostly away from East Lansing.

By all indications, hockey season is imminent.

And the Spartans officially get their 2001-02 season underway with a practice at 3 p.m. today in Munn Ice Arena. It will be the first time MSU has taken the ice as a team since its disappointing 2-0 loss to North Dakota in the Frozen Four on April 5.

Today’s practice will mark the return of recognizable Spartan faces - such as senior captain Adam Hall, Hobey Baker Award-winning junior goaltender Ryan Miller and senior Andrew Hutchinson, the CCHA’s reigning Best Defensive Defenseman - as well as the dawning of collegiate careers for eight freshmen.

“Every year is different,” said Mason, who is entering his 23rd year as MSU’s head coach. “One thing I’ve learned is that the biggest mistake a coach can make is going into a season with preconceived notions. With different individuals, teams develop different personalities.”

“The last couple of years, we’ve been pretty steady in terms of having a strong, solid, defensive-styled team and, with the exception of a (Mike) York or (Shawn) Horcoff, not a lot of pizzazz or flair.”

MSU’s stalwart defense, which led the NCAA by allowing a paltry 1.36 goals per game last season, should be effective again this year, as five starting defensemen and Miller return.

But Mason hopes the Spartans’ offense will be more explosive this time around with the addition of “creative” freshmen such as centers Ash Goldie and Jim Slater.

“Last year, we didn’t have the kind of centers that we were used to,” Mason said. “This year, I’m going to break in some freshman centers. They’re natural centers and I’m going to give them an opportunity to play their position.”

“I think it will make us better offensively, but you also give a fair bit up because you have to learn to cover more ice here, you have more responsibility here.”

But this week’s practices probably won’t allow many players to flex their inventive muscles much.

Mason said the team will primarily work on fundamentals and MSU’s base systems in preparation for Friday’s Green and White game and the team’s only exhibition contest - against Queen’s University (Ontario) on Saturday.

“It takes you about a month before you really feel comfortable in practice,” Mason said.

“(During the first week), you spend more time on dividing the rink up into areas - the defensive zone, the neutral zone and the offensive zone. You start and work out from the net. You work on breakouts from your own zone, work on defensive coverage. Then you move to the neutral zone - what’s your philosophy in attacking, what’s your player movement?”

And so on.

So veterans such as Hall, one of only two senior forwards on the team, may find this week’s rudimentary workouts a little slow. But he said he understands they’re necessary building blocks.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun to go out there,” Hall said.

“It’ll be a fresh mix of players and the new faces are always enthusiastic. It’s hard to know what to expect (from the team), but it will be fun to see how everyone fits in.”

Sold-out Slapshots: Megan Murphy, co-director of the Slapshots student cheering section, said the organization has sold all its allotted tickets. The group will distribute its tickets at 5:30 p.m. today in Munn. Food will be provided.

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