Michigan State Head Coach Danton Cole stood at the podium Tuesday afternoon with a metaphorical bullet-proof vest under his white quarter zip. For weeks he answered a myriad of questions regarding MSU’s ever-lasting losing streak, repeatedly attempting to explain why the Spartans continued to lose in every way possible.
It was less than 72 hours since MSU was humiliated by its foe down the road, ultimately ending the 2021-22 season shorter than planned.
In the words of Cole, it was a “tale of two seasons”. When the calendar flipped to 2022, Michigan State was positioned about as well as it has since Cole was named head coach five years ago. The Spartans were 11-8-1 and appeared to be a potential NCAA Tournament team for the first time in a decade. MSU was coming off a thrilling overtime win over Michigan Tech, who is now ranked No. 13 in the country, in the Great Lakes Invitational. Heads were starting to turn in East Lansing.
Then the second half of the season started and everything came crashing down. Fifth-year star forward Mitchell Lewandowski missed 10 straight with an injury and junior forward Griffin Loughran was forced to sit out the final 14 games, knocking two top forwards out of the lineup. At many points, Michigan State had just 12 available forwards, resulting in all 12 dressing without a doubt.
“It wasn’t just one guy leaving,” Cole said of Lewandowski’s extended absence. “I was telling coach (Tom) Izzo, that was like losing (Cassius) Winston. That was a guy that brought confidence up and down the lineup and to replace that, you just don’t do that.”
Stumbling to a 12-23-1 record has forced Cole to take a look at every nook and cranny of the program. He spent Sunday morning writing down every single name on the MSU staff from recruiting, to equipment managers to coaches to evaluate each and every aspect, including himself.
The urgency is a welcome sight, especially as some supporters have started to become restless with the lack of visible progress on the ice.
“I wake up Sunday morning trying to make Michigan State Hockey the best that it can be next year and that started then,” Cole said. “That’s kinda the way I roll. Hopefully the players understand the urgency.”
Whether or not changes get made on the staff or behind the scenes is difficult to predict, but according to Cole, roster changes are imminent.
MSU graduated seven seniors, opening up as many roster spots. Senior defenseman and team captain Dennis Cesana signed an AHL contract Tuesday, ruling out the possibility of him returning on his fifth year of eligibility. As for the other six who could possibly return, senior goaltender Drew DeRidder seems the most likely, described as “a possibility” by Cole, but DeRidder entered the transfer portal this week not completing shutting the door, but putting the reality of his return in peril.
Ever since the NCAA waived the one-year sit-out period for transfers, the portal has been spinning faster than ever before across all sports. The Spartans took advantage of it last summer bringing in guys such as Loughran and junior forward Chris Berger, who missed the entire season with injury.
Forward Charlie Combs transferred in for the 2020-21 season and was one of the team’s top scorers. Meanwhile, defenseman Tommy Miller transferred out of the program and found a home at Northeastern.
And to Cole’s credit, this season’s newcomers excelled, probably more than any other new class in his watch. MSU’s top three point scorers, freshman forward Jesse Tucker, sophomore forward Jeremy Davidson and junior forward Erik Middendorf, were all new to the team in 2021-22. Freshman defenseman David Gucciardi demonstrated a high ceiling of offensive talent for a blue-liner and very well may get drafted into the NHL. Freshman forward Tanner Kelly showed spurts of promise too, playing on Michigan State’s top line occasionally.
This offseason should be no different. Or at least the expectation shouldn’t be. A lot of things need to fall in place, but Cole said he expects “2-5 guys” to come to East Lansing via the transfer portal. Five feels high unless a few players transfer out and three feels more realistic, however a few impactful snags from the portal could brighten the light at the end of the tunnel.
But at the end of the day, the outlook always relies on the head coach and that’s the case in all sports. They are one of the first ones hired and the first ones fired. Next season could be quite telling whether or not this program is heading in the right direction or will continue to be a bottom-feeder in the Big Ten.
“Change starts with me and I’ll be better,” Cole said. “I try and be better every year.”
“I’m not going to leave any stones unturned this offseason.”
Support student media!
Please consider donating to The State News and help fund the future of journalism.
Share and discuss “'There are going to be some changes:' Michigan State hockey to make big changes for 2022-23” on social media.