In the midst of his second season on the team, sophomore defender Dennis Cesana is quietly becoming one of the better all-around defenders in college hockey, hoping to help lead No. 19 Michigan State into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012. But how did the Providence, Rhode Island native end up in East Lansing?
Cesana attended a small private boarding school in New Hampshire called Kimball Union Academy, graduating in 2016 after playing hockey there for three years. His next move may have come as a bit of a surprise, moving far away from home to join the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s (AJHL) Brooks Bandits, where he lived and played for two years.
While in Brooks, Cesana befriended current Colorado Avalanche defender Cale Makar, one of the NHL’s most promising up-and-coming players. Makar and Cesana were roommates in Brooks and defensive partners on the ice, leading the team to a 51-5-4 record and an AJHL championship in 2017.
“It was obviously pretty cool to play with him,” Cesana said. “We still talk all the time. He’s still one of my good friends.”
Makar played two seasons at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst following his time with the Bandits, leading to him being selected fourth overall by the Avalanche in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He made his professional debut during last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring a goal on the first shot of his career, and just recently set the Avalanche franchise record for points by a rookie defender. Only playing together for one year in Brooks, Cesana was able to learn a lot from Makar and still pays attention to what he’s doing in the NHL today.
“I think, just his explosiveness,” Cesana said, regarding what he admired most about Makar’s game. “He was always really quick on his feet, really quick to make plays, and with his shot and his skill it was pretty cool to watch.”
After originally verbally committing to Army, Cesana decided to re-open his recruitment and eventually caught the eyes of Danton Cole and MSU. The Spartans wanted Cesana to come to East Lansing after his first season in Brooks, but Cesana thought it would be more beneficial to stay one more year in juniors and lead the Bandits as captain, while also maturing his own game.
“I just felt like maturity-wise I could’ve used another year to get ready to play,” Cesana said. “Get bigger, stronger, faster. I wanted a year to get a leadership role in Brooks too, so that was what went into it. I think it helped out in the long run, just coming in and I felt ready to go, so it helped right away.”
Cesana finally arrived in East Lansing in 2018, and his offensive style of play gives MSU yet another advantage on their blue line. His 17 points and 13 assists this season lead all Spartan defenders and rank third among Big Ten defenders. With a year under his belt, Cesana was more comfortable coming into this season, having a better sense of how Cole runs his team.
“This year I just came in with more confidence, knowing all of our systems,” Cesana said. “Just knowing that ice time will be there, so (I just have to) take it as it comes. I have confidence in coming back with (Jerad Rosburg). It helped me a lot with our chemistry and what not, so we’ve been able to handle that well.”
Cesana and the Spartans are now entering the home stretch of the season, and coming off a bye week will travel to Minnesota to take on the Golden Gophers this weekend.
“I think we feel good,” Cesana said. “Obviously, rested. It’s a big weekend. A lot of teams close in the standings and what not, so I know they’ll be ready, and we’ll be ready too.”