Last season was filled with ups and downs for Michigan State men’s ice hockey, as they began a transition period following the arrival of head coach Danton Cole. The Spartans finished last in the Big Ten for the second season in a row.
The Spartans have a youthful 2018 roster, just three of its 28 members are seniors. A common problem that plagues young teams — and what arguably hurt MSU last year — is a lack of leadership, which can lead to poor production down the stretch.
But, despite not having a captain in his first season, Cole was adamant his team did not lack in leadership.
“I think we (led) as a committee last year … and that was by design,” Cole said. “I think the more leaders you have the better the locker room is.”
Cole is beginning his second season as the Spartans’ head coach, and according to him, the transition period in his first year, or, “changes in expectations,” was another reason no captain was elected.
Junior forward Sam Saliba was voted as captain for this upcoming season after making a strong impression on his coaches and teammates.
“Once we took the vote in the spring, Sammy was clearly ahead of everyone,” Cole said. “So I think that was pretty easy on us as a staff. Then we had four guys that were real close and we decided to kind of keep everybody involved in that leadership role.”
Cole will continue to push this concept of leadership by committee despite Saliba being named captain. In fact, he believes the captain patch on the jersey doesn’t have much bearing on leadership ability.
“I kind of get away from the letters making a difference,” Cole said. “I think it’s still the guys in the jerseys that make the difference.”
Saliba is one of the guys Cole was referring to.
Saliba put up solid numbers last season, scoring six goals and recording nine points.
Cole has the utmost confidence in his captain going into this season.
“Sam Saliba is going to have a good year,” Cole said. “He scored 10 goals his freshman year, was down a little last year, but I think we put him in a lot of tough situations.”
The recently-elected Saliba seems thrilled to take on the leadership role. Before stepping on the ice, he knows exactly where he wants to take his team at the end of the season.
“Well, we want to be competing for a Big Ten championship for sure,” said Saliba.
After finishing at the bottom of the conference last year, however, Saliba also knows it will take some work to get his team to that level, but he’s willing to put forth the effort.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Saliba said. “We just know that everyday we’ve got to come to the rink and work hard and look to get better. We’re in a tough league in the Big Ten and there’s no easy nights. There’s no easy nights period in college hockey, so we’ve just got to focus on one day at a time.”
Saliba and the rest of the Spartans have about one week left to prepare for the first test of the regular season, against Northern Michigan Oct. 12 at Munn Ice Arena.