As the season has progressed, one thing has become increasingly clear about this Michigan State hockey team: the defenseman are a key part of the offense.
Glancing at the stat sheet does not really illustrate the blue-liners offensive prowess. Senior defenseman Dennis Cesana leads all Spartan defenseman in points with 10 (five goals and five assists). Right behind the team captain is freshman David Gucciardi, who has eight points on the season (four goals and four assists). The two are seventh and ninth in team scoring, well behind some of the better forwards on the team like fifth-year forward Mitchell Lewandowski, who has 18 points so far.
However, of late, the defenders are really starting to rack up points.
The lone goal-scorer in Michigan State’s loss to Minnesota on Friday night? A defenseman. Nash Nienhuis, to be exact.
The sophomore defender sniped a shot from just beyond the left faceoff circle, tallying his first career goal as a Spartan. With Lewandowski scratched from the lineup, it was Michigan State’s defense that provided the best sparks of offense throughout the night.
A week before, it was a defenseman that had the best offensive performance in the Great Lakes Invitational. The aforementioned Gucciardi scored MSU’s lone goal against Western Michigan and netted two against Michigan Tech in an overtime victory — including the game-winning between-the-legs overtime goal, which made SportCenter’s top ten plays the following day. The freshman’s performance earned him the first star of the week for the Big Ten.
Against Penn State, half of MSU’s goals in the series came from blue-liners: Cesana and senior defensemen Cole and Christian Krygier.
For the past few years, impressive performances from the defensemen have been a key aspect of Michigan State’s style of play. The defenders try to make life miserable for opposing forwards by mucking up the lanes, transitioning the offense from its own zone to the opponents' zone, and, most importantly, laying out massive hits.
This year, MSU’s defensemen do all the above, plus some more. Cycling the puck in the offensive zone, maintaining possession and completing crisp passes on zone entries are the best offensive traits of this group. They also have the ability to activate from the blue line and rip a shot from anywhere on the ice.
“That’s how the game is evolving,” Nienhuis said following Michigan State’s Friday night loss to Minnesota. “Defensemen bring offense, and that’s obviously a huge part of our team.”
For the forwards this season, offense can be hard to come by, especially when the team’s best playmaker, Lewandowski, is out. But the Spartan defensemen seem to be filling that gap nicely.
As Michigan State trudges through a lethal conference slate in the Big Ten, its defensemen could provide that extra spark of offense to push the team into the upper half of the standings.
MSU wrapped its two-game series up with Minnesota Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena with a 6-3 loss against the Gophers. The Spartans head back to the road next weekend for a two-game series with Wisconsin.
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