Danton Cole has often alluded to the “culture” of Michigan State hockey. In his second establishment of it this season, so came a loss of talent, as left wing standout Taro Hirose is set to make his NHL debut in Madison Square Garden Tuesday night.
Hirose’s efforts have rightfully come to fruition with a two-year entry-level contract with the Detroit Red Wings, as his 50 points on 35 assists in the 2018-19 season catapulted the progression of the aforementioned hockey culture in East Lansing, even with the season's abrupt end in South Bend.
“Looking back at the season I thought progression-wise there was an awful lot of good things,” Cole said. “I know wins or losses are where what it comes down to, but I think the advancement the Big Ten, going from 21 points to 30 points, a drop in the losses by three. (I'm) certainly not one to compare myself to coach Mason at all, but looking at his first two years and the things they have to kind of work through, I think there's some very similar things.”
While MSU will have to adjust to life without its go-to facilitator next fall, such is college hockey and college athletics as a whole. And for those prematurely writing off this season’s accomplishments with Hirose’s departure, Danton Cole points to the basketball program’s more than adequate response to the loss of two lottery picks.
“People think that Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson, they take off and they're gone,” Cole continued. “But the culture part of that, that doesn't leave. … We look at next year with Taro leaving, well, that's a lot like Miles leaving early.”
Michigan State shared the puck as well as any team in the nation this season - albeit due mostly to Hirose - and is well-equipped to compensate for the void left by the recently-signed Red Wing.
MSU is also a relatively young group, losing only four skaters total with the graduation of seniors Cody Milan, Brennan Sanford and Zach Osburn. Two of the three seniors inked contracts themselves, as Sanford signed with the Kalamazoo Wings and Osburn made his AHL debut with the Milwaukee Admirals on Saturday.
After announcing the beginning of offseason workouts, Cole explained his intentions for the offseason: “to be a faster team next year, and we will be.” MSU’s head hockey coach, going into his third season, hinted at the prospect of adding as many as five recruits in the offseason.
And while the infamous “KHL Line” came together before our eyes in 2019, as Hirose determined to lead by example like Mason Appleton did before him, two-thirds of the offensive unit remains intact. And there are few groups better suited to ingratiate another offensive playmaker than the dynamic pairing of Patrick Khodorenko and Mitchell Lewandowski.
The road to a reemergent Big Ten powerhouse is not a direct one, as Cole’s consecutive 12-win seasons have shown, but although he will no longer impact Munn directly on Friday’s and Saturday’s, Hirose led a potentially program-defining growth that Danton Cole will continue to nurture.
“Good players are going to leave. And they're going to go on and have great success, but what they've left, in terms of our compete and like I said, our culture, that doesn't leave with them,” Cole asserted. “That stays here, and it's up to the guys to keep passing it on.”
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