With three freshman, a loss of a major team asset and a change in team leadership, “rebuilding” is an understatement when describing how Michigan State hockey has been preparing for their upcoming season. The Spartans hosted their annual media day and Green-and-White scrimmage on Wednesday as a way to look ahead toward their season opener on Monday.
How Head Coach Danton Cole plans on filling the void after losing stand out left wing Taro Hirose to the NHL was, not surprisingly, one of the first things addressed in Wednesday afternoon’s press conference.
“We’ve tried a few guys,” Cole said regarding the replacement. Cole mentioned that freshman Nicolas Muller, a former member and lead scorer of Switzerland’s U20 team has stepped up to potentially fill Hirose’s role.
“Muller has done a really nice job for us,” Cole said. “He's able to make plays at a high pace; good hockey IQ, and he's fit in real well with those two so far. And you'll see him today. He'll be on that line. He'll be on the power play with them, and hopefully that'll continue to look good to us.”
Josh Nodler and Jagger Joshua join Muller as the freshmen on the roster. While Muller steps up in Hirose’s former spot, Nodler and Joshua have been playing alongside team captain Sam Saliba on the line.
“We'll kind of see how that looks, two freshmen in that high sliding in the lineup, we'll see how it goes, but we've been real happy with all of them,” Cole said. “We obviously had some offense we had to replace with Taro leaving, and I think those three guys will put a big dent in it.”
The Spartans also will take on this season with a change in team leadership, naming two team captains, including Saliba and junior Tommy Apap, for the first time in ten years.
“They all have a little different personalities, and I'm not opposed to two captains. The year before I was here they had three. We've had one. We've had none. So it works itself out, and I think the way this is set up is real good, and our leadership with those guys and the other seniors has been outstanding,” Cole said.
As for the Spartan defense, Cole explained that similar to last year, the team will most likely enter the season with no true No. 1 goaltender. Instead, Cole hopes to continue to utilize both Drew Deridder and John Lethemon to defend the Spartan goal.
“I think they'll battle back and forth, and if one guy grabs not the ball but the puck and runs with it, that's fine with us. But that competition within those two was really good,” Cole said. “We've had success with (the two-goalie system) here ... I do think there's some value in that, especially with Drew being young last year, having the senior there, or the junior, to bump back to was beneficial for us. So we'll see how that plays out. That's players determine that.”
As the Spartans look ahead to face off against Western Ontario on Monday, Oct. 7 at Munn Ice Arena, Cole explained what aspects of the game the team is focusing on improving this year.
“We want to be better in everything. I think that one area that I want to say as a group I want to say our defensemen is the one area,” Cole said. “It makes it so much easier for the forwards and you just get more opportunities when the D are clean and moving things. So I think that's one area as a whole that will look a lot better this year.”