Wednesday, July 6, 2022

'I thought I was moving on:' Dennis Cesana nearly left MSU, now he's ready to say goodbye

February 23, 2022
<p>Michigan State&#x27;s Dennis Cesana retrieves the puck in the Spartans&#x27; loss to Notre Dame on Feb. 26, 2021.</p>

Michigan State's Dennis Cesana retrieves the puck in the Spartans' loss to Notre Dame on Feb. 26, 2021.

Photo by Rahmya Trewern | The State News

Looking back at the past 18 months and analyzing all the strange quirks the pandemic played on college hockey is quite remarkable.

Fans weren’t allowed in stadiums, conference-exclusive schedules were played with Arizona State oddly added into the Big Ten, numerous games were canceled and all interactions between media and team members were conducted virtually. Even senior night was pushed ahead one week, just in case the regular season finale were to be canceled.

As the class of 2020 was honored in front of just friends and family following a 2-0 loss to Notre Dame, the eight Spartan honorees circled around center ice, laid down on their stomachs and kissed the Spartan logo – a longtime MSU tradition for departing seniors.

After moments were shared and pictures were taken with the select supporters in attendance, most skated off to the dressing room, some with tears in their eyes. One player lingered on the ice though: senior defenseman Dennis Cesana.

Cesana, a junior at the time, skated around the ice, took some time for reflection, then headed toward center ice. He stopped, laid down on his stomach and pressed his lips to the frosty, carved-up Spartan logo. His name was never called and he was never honored. Yet, it appeared Cesana had played one of his final matches in a green and white sweater.

“I definitely thought it was (the end). I thought I was moving on,” Cesana said.

Whatever his plan was, signing with a team or entering the transfer portal, it fell through. Cesana returned to East Lansing for his senior season – a decision to this day he says he’s proud of.

“Honestly it’s fine,” Cesana said of his plans not coming to fruition. “I’ve had a great year and (I am) happy.”

Cesana will be joined by goaltender Drew DeRidder, defenseman twins Christian and Cole Krygier, and forwards Adam Goodsir and Mitchell Mattson as seniors who will be celebrated after Saturday’s battle with Penn State. Forward Mitchell Lewandowski, who returned to Michigan State for his fifth season, will also be honored.

For Cesana and his graduating class, the past four seasons have been no red carpet. Four consecutive losing seasons, 6th or 7th place finishes, extended losing streaks, endless scoring droughts. You name it. They’ve seen just about everything.

Yet, the adversity and dull weekend nights spent at Munn Ice Arena or being pushed around in another Big Ten barn hasn’t taken a toll on the tight-knit group. Rather, it has only brought them closer together.

“Definitely a special group of guys and we lost one along the way, but it’s been an incredible four years with the guys in my class,” Cesana said. “And I am obviously friends for life and memories for life as well.”

Through Cesana's leadership and achievement of trust not just by his own class but by the entire team, Cesana was named team captain before the season. He is on the tail-end of his fourth straight productive season, tying a career-high in goals with seven set in 2019-20 while improving his shot percentage by nearly 4% from that same season. His 49 blocked shots this year are also a career-high.

The Providence, Rhode Island native has always possessed unique scoring and puck handling skills for a defenseman. His wicked goal against Air Force in early October was absolutely jaw-dropping.

Michigan State Ice Hockey Head Coach Danton Cole noted on Monday that one of his parts of seeing a class go through the program is the maturation that occurs from year one to year four both on and off the ice. Cesana said that being put in a position of leadership has helped him grow as a person.

“It was definitely a great learning experience for me this year just to have guys really leaning on me and looking for me for advice and things like that,” Cesana said. “That’s kind of a different part that I noticed and it kind of helped me grow up in a certain way.”

With half the starting defensemen departing from the program, the group of blue liners will experience a major changing of the guard. Cesana has been the face of the Spartan defenders and has played for Cole in four of his five seasons at MSU. The 12-game losing streak is the elephant in the room, but it doesn’t take away Cesana’s other duties of setting up Michigan State for future success.

“I hope to kind of leave no pressure on them,” Cesana said. “Just be the best teammate you can and have fun while you’re doing it. I hope they can take that.”

Despite last week’s sweep versus Notre Dame, the Spartans can still finish as high as fifth place with a sweep over Penn State and a Minnesota sweep at home versus Wisconsin. It would be a storybook regular season epilogue and just the right way to send out the seniors in what is likely their final games at Munn Ice Arena.

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Regardless, Cesana will still hover the Spartan logo Saturday night, lean down and give it the smooch that numerous Michigan State legends have done before him.

“Second time's a charm, I guess,” Cesana said.

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