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Danton Cole feels team can finish strong in final stretch of season

January 9, 2018
Sophomore left wing Taro Hirose (17) handles the puck during the first period of the men's hockey game against Ohio State on Jan. 5, 2018 at the Munn Ice Arena. (Nic Antaya | The State News)
Sophomore left wing Taro Hirose (17) handles the puck during the first period of the men's hockey game against Ohio State on Jan. 5, 2018 at the Munn Ice Arena. (Nic Antaya | The State News) —

A little more than halfway into the 2017-18 season, MSU started off the new year with a record of 0-4, losing to Michigan Tech, the University of Michigan and No. 8 Ohio State, giving the Spartans a 8-13-1 record. 

Head coach Danton Cole said he feels that through the team’s struggle, they can find positives facing some of the top teams in the country. 

“I thought our guys started feeling good about how we were playing, and coming back we lost some parts,” Cole said. “Hopefully, we can spend a little bit a time ... and get back some of those goals against don’t happen.”

The Buckeyes came to East Lansing on Jan. 5 scoring goals within 17 seconds of each other, resulting in a 4-1 loss for the Spartans. 

Cole said he feels his team can learn to manage their composure after handling similar situations, especially when they came out to play again the following night

Even with gaining another loss, freshman forward Mitchell Lewandowski said he felt the team started strong by putting more pucks on the net and outskating the Buckeyes in the first period of Saturday's matchup.

“We came out faster and we came out hitting bodies and getting pucks deep,” Lewandowski said. “We need to start games like that, and it was a good start.”

Every weekend of games comes new lines, with the freshmen and sophomore players dominating most of the positions and some of the playing time. 

The first line of forward Lewandowski and sophomore forwards Patrick Khodorenko and Taro Hirose, produce about 47 percent of the team's points. Sophomore forward Sam Saliba is also taking a step forward with playing the top centers in the Big Ten, while taking on more roles on both the power play and penalty killing unit, which Cole said feels puts a lot of pressure on him.

With few players of junior or senior status, Cole's lines are not necessarily ideal when he has to put players in spots they can't produce well in.

“We ask an awful lot out of these guys, and frustration sets in when you start asking guys to do stuff that they can’t do,” Cole said. “They’ll keep getting better, and we’re going to figure out a way to win these last 12 games and we’ll see what happens in the playoffs.” 

One of the team’s bigger strengths comes off their special teams with their power play unit and penalty kill. 

Throughout the last four games, the team went on to score four power play goals with one against the No. 1 penalty kill unit for the Buckeyes. The Spartans hold a 82.4 percent penalty kill rate in their past 12 games, and allowed two power play goals for the first time on Jan. 5 since Nov. 10 against Wisconsin.

Cole said he believes if his team can come out ready to fight like they did the last two games against their high-ranked opponents, then their progress will begin to show.

“How hard you have to play, how good you have to be, how committed and dedicated and the urgency,” Cole said. “If we can establish like we did (against Ohio State) every night, then we’ll be alright.”

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