Michigan State Hockey is set to open up the Big Ten Tournament on Sunday. It's been an up and down season for the Spartans, and State News hockey beat writer Sam Sklar has been there for every faceoff, every goal, loss and win for the Spartans along the way.
To reflect on the Spartans rough year on the ice, The State News dug into the mailbag for questions about this years team:
Is Charleson the starter moving forward in net? Is betting on the freshman a good move? - Joe D.
Great question. I actually just wrote an article explaining how seemingly out of nowhere Danton Cole now has a decision to make at the goaltender position. So, I will keep this answer relatively short.
Freshman Pierce Charleson has not played much at all this season, mostly just because of the strong play and veteran experience of junior Drew DeRidder. Over the last month though, Charleson has been seeing more ice time including his first two career starts. He was stupendous in both starts as well as his more recent relief appearances making saves left and right to keep the Spartans in multiple games.
DeRidder has been good though for the majority of the season, with the exception of a few hiccups here and there. He was named, along with 34 others, to the Mike Richter Award Watch List at the beginning of February, but his production started to deteriorate leading to more playing time for Charleson.
It certainly is a tough call with both goaltenders being viable options, especially in the short-term. For this weekend, Charleson seems more like a high-risk, high-reward play at this point with the lack of experience. My gut says they will go with DeRidder in the net simply because of his experience.
Next year will be interesting though with DeRidder as a senior and Charleson as a sophomore. I would think that Charleson will get more starts next year, but at the same time, John Lethemon as a senior started practically every single game last season while DeRidder mostly rode the bench his sophomore year.
The clock has to be ticking on Danton Cole. He needs a real upward move in @B1GHockey to think he can build a viable program. What are the chances for next year and if not, does MSU look at someone like Barr, Riga or an outside-the-box guy like Guite? What names are on your list? - @pfnnewmedia on Twitter
There is no doubt that Michigan State hockey fans are beginning to grow frustrated with the team’s performance, and rightfully so. The lack of improvement over the now four years with Danton Cole as head coach is concerning.
Cole took over the team in 2017 after Tom Anastos stepped down, and when he did, the team he inherited was a disaster coming off of one of the worst seasons in program history with a .257 win percentage.
MSU showed signs of improvement in Cole’s first three years as coach with win percentages of .361, .403 and .444 respectively, but nothing over .500. And then this season hit, and it has been a major step back with a 7-17-2 record.
In terms of Cole potentially being replaced after this season, I just cannot see it happening at this time, regardless of if they win or lose to Minnesota on Sunday.
College sports are just different from professional sports when it comes to the coaching carousel. Look at Nebraska football. Scott Frost took over as head coach three years ago, and they have not won more than five games in a season. Nebraska fans had high expectations for Frost when he was hired simply based on the program’s history of dominance. However, he is still the head coach today with maybe a year or two left to try and turn things around.
Building a strong college program can take time, especially with recruiting. It is important to note this year’s senior class is the last class currently still playing for Michigan State that was not brought in by Cole and his staff. Next year, though, will be a true test for Danton Cole with all four classes being his own recruits.
The seat is getting warm, but I think Cole stays for at least one more season.
Will Michigan State hockey make the tournament? - Brandon F.
Well, I should not say just a hard no. Technically MSU can still make the NCAA Hockey Tournament as one of the six conference tournament champions.
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They would need a lot to go right, and I mean a lot. They would have to win the Big Ten Tournament, meaning they would need to come up with three upset wins in three days, being that the Spartans are the last seed in the tournament.
It would have to start out with a win against Minnesota, who has 33 more points than the green and white in 2020-21 and has beaten MSU four times already this year. Then they would have to play the winner between Michigan and Ohio State. If they are lucky, they will get to play the sixth seed Ohio State, but it will probably be Michigan. Then in the championship game, they would play either Wisconsin, Notre Dame or Penn State.
The other route would be having a good enough resume to convince the selection committee that the Spartans are deserving of one of the 10 at-large tournament bids. With a 7-17-2 record, that scenario is certainly out of the picture.
Since the establishment of the Big Ten Tournament in 2014, only one of the last seeds has made it out of the first round. That was the first year of the tournament in 2014 when Penn State upset Michigan in double overtime. The Nittany Lions were then bounced in the next round by Wisconsin.
The odds are marginally thin, but still possible.
How much is MSU going to lose by? - Ian W.
This is quite a pessimistic question, Ian. It could have been “What are your score predictions for Sunday” but no, “How much is MSU going to lose by” is what you went with. I think I know how you think the game will go.
The Spartans and Golden Gophers have matched up four times this year with really only one game being all that competitive. That game came in their second meeting of the year in East Lansing back in December. The game was knotted up at two goals apiece through the first 30 minutes, but a late second-period goal by Scott Reedy and then empty-netter by Sampo Ranta gave Minnesota a 4-2 win.
Before the regular-season finale against Wisconsin, I remember thinking Minnesota might be a better opponent for MSU to face than Wisconsin just because of that one game they (only) lost by two goals. But with the Spartans coming off one of, if not their best, performance of the season, Minnesota may actually be the scariest team for MSU to face.
Now meeting in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament as a matchup between the No. 2 and No. 7 seeds, Minnesota undoubtedly is the favorite. Not starting slowly will be important for Michigan State as they have been outscored 10-1 in the first period in their four games against Minnesota.
‘Any given Sunday’ is really meant for football, but it just so happens that this game falls on a Sunday. Beating a team five times a year is not easy and anything can happen in March. In this case, though I think the talent and depth of Minnesota are just too much for MSU to stop.
Final? Minnesota 4, Michigan State 2
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