Meet MSU hockey’s Assembly Line: KHL best line in recent years
As the Spartan hockey team continues its fight to finish the season strong, sophomore forwards Taro Hirose and Patrick Khodorenko and freshman Mitch Lewandowski secure 48 percent of the total points for the entire team.
The three young players have stayed on the same line for the entire season with Lewandowski leading freshmen nationally in points with 28, goals with 15, power play goals with seven and game-winning goals with four.
Hirose currently leads the team with his career-high 30 points.
“I think we all saw in each other and made it work right away,” Hirose said. “We all like to maybe over pass the puck sometimes, so that makes it fun even when you’re not scoring in practice, but you’re trying to make that little extra play to give other guys confidence.”
The first line put up a total of 22 points, eight goals and 14 assists, in the first six games of the season.
The highest amount tallied by them in a game was nine points, two goals and seven assists, in their Oct. 20 win against Western Michigan University.
They went on to have three more point streaks throughout the season, with their longest point drought only lasting two straight games.
Lewandowski said he believes the chemistry connects with them, as they all think the same and have the same feel for the game when they first were put together.
“I think we all have the same similar style of play,” Lewandowski said. “We all want to hold the puck as long as we can and not dump it in as much, but we had to adjust sometimes here, but we all like to have it.”
In the past eight seasons, no first line has stayed with the same three players throughout the entire season.
Last season, former Spartan forward Mason Appleton, Hirose and Khodorenko put a grand total of 73 points altogether in the season.
Currently, Hirose and Khodorenko have already surpassed last year, having 79 total points.
For Khodorenko, his fellow linemates were no strangers to him coming into this season.
This is his second-straight season playing alongside Hirose.
Khodorenko also played on the same line with Lewandowski for two seasons with the HoneyBaked Hockey Club.
After playing one season together, Khodorenko said he feels playing with Hirose has been the same as it was before.
However, both have improved after adjusting to the game of college hockey.
“I would say we are both having a better season this year altogether,” Khodorenko said. “Just kind of getting used to college and the speed. It definitely helps with the experience after one year.”
Hirose complimented Khodorenko on his progression between the two seasons and his impact on the line by setting up both him and Lewandowski.
“The chemistry is still there,” Hirose said. “It’s good because you can see his game is improving a lot since last year. He’s able to do some things when he has the puck on his stick. It’s good to see his progression from last year to this year.”
While playing at the HoneyBaked Hockey Club, Lewandowski was No. 2 in points with 44 points, 16 goals and 28 assists, with Khodorenko right behind him with 40 points, 15 goals and 25 assists, in the 2012-13 season.
After he joined the team this season, Lewandowski said he thought about playing with his old linemate to start his collegiate career off.
Now he said he feels both of his linemates have helped him with the transition between the USHL and college hockey.
“Coming in, I kind of hoped I would be playing with him and Hirose ... but playing with Patty, he’s just a great player,” Lewandowski said. “He’s a power forward and he’s very strong, very good to play with, obviously, so he can go into the corners and make a lot of plays to set guys up and do really well this year.”
Heading into the final stretch of the season, Khodorenko considers their line will be a bigger target when other teams are scouting them.
In order to stay on the track they are on, he knows he and his linemates will find the moments that will be crucial to their game.
“A lot of teams know about us and they’re going to try to shut us down as best as they can, but we’ve just got to find times we can move the puck around on the ice and make plays, even if the other team knows that we’re a high skilled line,” Khodorenko said.
Hirose said the line will not go unnoticed anymore after the points they put up against the 11 teams they faced this season.
He said he feels going up against the best competition will help strengthen their line to finish out strong.
“I think it’s just the competition,” Hirose said. “I think we’re no longer sort of flying under the radar. Every team will be keying on us a bit more than the beginning of the season, so we’ll be playing against the top d-pairs. I think it will be good competition for us and help us improve our game.”