Spartan hockey responded this season after a disappointing 2010-2011 campaign. Long-time coach and 2007 National Champion Rick Comley left after last season, making way for the newly hired Tom Anastos.
Anastos beat out fellow candidate Danton Cole for the head job. Cole is an experienced coach who played 318 games in the NHL and spent time coaching at Alabama-Huntsville. After bringing the club only its second NCAA tournament appearance he interviewed for the MSU job. After he was turned down, he was quickly picked up by the US National Training and Development program, a team that churns out the best American born prospects year-after-year.
This left a significant amount of uncertainty surrounding Anastos and how he would perform leading one the CCHA’s premier teams. All of these questions were answered by his team’s performance on the ice. The Spartans began the year 2-4 under their new boss, but that was all the adjustment time they needed. The team won five straight following their fourth loss, including two against Western Michigan, one of the Spartans’ main rivals in the CCHA and for that matter the NCAA. After Oct. 21 MSU went 17-9-4 to close out the regular season schedule. That’s a pretty strong turn-around for a team that was in so much turmoil just twelve months before.
Anastos implemented his system and it paid immediate dividends, but Torey Krug’s leadership played no small part in the team’s success. In his third year with the team, second as captain, Krug reached career highs in goals, assists and points. The USHL product’s tremendous year did not go unnoticed by hockey’s higher-ups as he was signed by the Boston Bruins less than a week after State lost in the National Tournament. Not only was Krug picked up by an NHL team as an undrafted free-agent, he immediately joined the roster of the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Krug played two games with the Bruins only two weeks before the NHL playoffs began. This was a key time for Boston and Krug still averaged 17 minutes of ice time between the two contests. That kind of responsibility shows the tremendous amount of confidence that the Bruins have in their new blue-liner.
This speaks to Krug’s maturity and his playing ability. Never mind that fact that the Bruins are the defending Cup champs, they are one of the finest organizations in all of hockey and one that is built on the foundation of character. The signing obviously means a lot for Krug and his future in the game, but it is also a marvelous achievement for MSU hockey as a whole.
Losing Krug’s intensity in the dressing room and on the ice is a huge blow to the squad, but one player who will fill a significant portion of that void, Matt Berry. Like Krug, Berry is a skilled USHL product with a mean streak. In 56 games with the Muskegon Lumber Jacks, he scored 25 goals, and 26 assists for 51 points while racking up 126 penalty minutes. That’s a lot of nasty for a forward who is only 5’10’’ and 170 pounds. Berry also showed a knack for producing in the clutch, scoring four goals and six points in just sixteen playoff games with Muskegon.
As a freshman last season Berry played in 37 games for the Spartans, tallying 11 goals and 19 points. He lived up to his big-game reputation when he scored the game-winning goal against the University of Michigan on Feb. 10 at Munn Arena. A lot will be expected of the 19-year-old as State looks to build on last season’s success.
MSU has a number of other important returning players who will need to perform well next year. Defenseman Jake Chelios needs to continue his upward development trajectory as a lot more weight will fall on his shoulders due to Krug’s departure. Chelios will need to take over as the Spartan’s number-one puck-moving defenseman. Three Canadian boys, forwards Lee Reimer, Kevin Walrod and Matt Grassi will also gain a substantial amount of responsibility. Walrod and Grassi will look to finish their senior seasons with a bang, while Reimer will try and use his great skill-set to increase his production in his junior season.
Goaltender Will Yanakeff is slated as the starting net-minder this September after unseating Drew Palmisano down the stretch last year. The big Michigander will be counted on to give his team a chance to win every night he’s between the pipes.
The Anastos era at Michigan State is still in its early stages and the future is bright for the green and white.