The Michigan State Spartans’ top line from 2018-19 was among the best in NCAA hockey last season, but the trio-turned-duo will need support this season.
Once a perennial NCAA Tournament fixture, the Spartans have struggled over the past decade with 11 consecutive sub-20 win seasons and zero national tournament berths since the 2007-08 season.
Big Ten Player of the Year and co-leading scorer of the nation, Taro Hirose, chose to forgo his senior season and inked a contract with the Detroit Red Wings. Hirose, along with Penn State forward Alex Limoges, led the NCAA with 50 points last season and leaves a significant hole in the Spartans’ lineup.
Hirose’s three collegiate seasons went as any player can hope for: building on his offensive totals each year. With 15 goals and 35 assists in 36 games last season, the Calgary native’s hockey sense and elite passing turned him into one of the best playmakers in college hockey.
Hirose amassed 116 points (33 G, 83 A) in 106 games with the Spartans and was the foundation for the Spartans’ dynamic top line from the past two seasons.
Riding shotgun to Hirose were team-leading goal scorer Patrick Khodorenko and Mitch Lewandowski. Khodorenko led the team with 18 goals in 2018-19 and finished the season with 37 points.
Lewandowski, 2018’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year, made three. With two straight 34-point seasons, he and Khodorenko have earned increased responsibility in Hirose’s absence.
Entering his third season, head coach Danton Cole sits at 24-41-7 following a 12-19-5 record in 2018-19. A second straight season of just 12 wins doesn’t make for much optimism in East Lansing, but it takes time for a coach to implement a system, recruit, and put it all together.
But with just three of the past six seasons ending with at least 12 wins, Cole’s claim to two of them shows there is a bit of life in the program as it searches for an end to a disappointing era.
Seniors Cody Milan, Zach Osburn, and Brennan Sanford join Hirose as departures from the 2018-19 team. Milan finished fifth in team scoring with 20 points (7 G, 13 A). Osburn was third in defensive scoring with 14 points (3 G, 11 A), while Sanford posted another consistent season of four goals and nine points.
Last season, Nicolas Muller finished tied for 21st in scoring in Sweden’s SuperElit league with 40 points (13 G, 27 A) in 42 games. The Swiss center was one of just two non-Swedish players to finish within the top 40 in scoring.
Josh Nodler played with the USHL’s Fargo Force last season, where he finished 11th in rookie scoring with 17 goals and 42 points in 54 games. He brings a savvy, reserved game that would complement the abrasiveness of fellow freshman Jagger Joshua.
Joshua posted 147 penalty minutes with the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks last season and is not one to shy away from the physicality that comes with the sport. He’s still developing his offensive ability and scored 27 points (10 G, 17 A) in 53 games after a five-point, 28-game stretch with the team a season prior.
3 sophomore defensemen
They say good things come in threes, so it’s only fitting another trio could be on the rise following their rookie seasons. As a defenseman, there’s a lot to learn on the fly and older, more experienced players have a natural advantage.
But Dennis Cesana and the Krygier twins, Cole and Christian, enter the 2019-20 season with a year of experience and hunger to solidify the team’s blue line. Cesana had a strong rookie season as a puck-mover who posted 24 points (3 G, 21 A), finishing fourth in team scoring.
Cole and Christian had slightly larger learning curves on both sides of the ice, but with each having been drafted, the upside and expectation for growth is big. They’ll be expected to show that growth and upside in year two with bigger roles.
.905 save percentage
In the end, the team’s last defense combined for a .905 SV% in the crease. Junior John Lethemon and freshman Drew DeRidder split time as neither seemed to find solid consistency.
With no front-runner and four-year goaltending coach Jason Muzzatti heading to the Carolina Hurricanes, the crease is once again wide open until one player distinguishes himself from the other.
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