Improvement is the first goal for Michigan State hockey

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Mitchell Lewandowski

East Lansing – Michigan State hockey can’t wait to say goodbye to this decade, with the program making just one NCAA tournament appearance and two winning seasons – the last one coming in 2014-15 with a 17-16-2 record.

Michigan State third-year coach Danton Cole isn’t thinking Big Ten title. Just climbing out of the conference basement with a winning record would show tremendous improvement.

The Spartans were picked to finish last in the Big Ten in the preseason coaches’ poll, which was the case the past few seasons, as well.

Still, Cole feels good about where the Spartans are headed going into Year 3. They finished 12-19-5 last season.

“We’re excited where we’re at,” said Cole. “Everybody’s done a great job. I think the direction where we’re headed is the right direction, and I think we’re doing it the right way. And we’re going to be a better hockey team again this year.”

The Spartans were 7-5-2 at Munn last season and are 15-12-3 at home during Cole’s two years. Munn Arena has an $18 million expansion project underway.

Cole will have to deal with the loss of Big Ten Player of the Year and conference scoring champion Taro Hirose (15 goals, 50 points), who decided to pass up his senior year to play with the Red Wings.

With the loss of Hirose, freshman Nicolas Muller will join Hirose’s linemates from a year ago in center Patrick Khodorenko (18 goals, 37 points) and Mitchell Lewandowski (16 goals, 34 points).

“Nicolas Muller has done a really nice job for us,” Cole said. “Nicolas played the last three years in Sweden. His team won a championship there. He was the captain of that team. The last two years he was on Switzerland’s U20 team, and he was one of the leading scorers on their team. He’s played with some high-end guys. Nico Hischier from New Jersey, who was one of the top picks in the NHL, played on the line with him and did well.

“He’ll be on that (top) line. He’ll be on the power play with them (Khodorenko, Lewandowski), and hopefully that’ll continue to look good to us.”

Jerad Rosburg

Lewandowski is looking forward to playing with Muller. He feels the Spartans will be much better this season due to their experience.

“I remember my freshman year we were freshman- and sophomore-heavy with 19 of 24 underclassmen, so experience is going to be a big thing going into this year and expectations are real high, it’s time to win games around here, time to bring home trophies,” Lewandowski said.

“Muller’s a great player,” Lewandowski added. “He’s done a good job so far coming in. Sure, there’s a lot of pressure on him since he’s in Taro’s spot, but he’s done a great job and me and Patty (Khodorenko) want to play bigger roles this year, as well. We’re ready to go.”

MSU’s defense is led by 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior Jerad Rosburg and Dennis Cesana, who made the Big Ten All-Freshman Team last season. Sophomores Christian and Cole Krygier will also make up a pairing on defense, playing in front of sophomore Drew DeRidder (3-8-5, 3.23 GAA, .906 save percentage) and senior John Lethemon (9-11, 3.24, .905).

“I think it’ll be a battle again this year,” said Cole of his goaltenders. “They were kind of back and forth with it last year, and that’s not a bad thing in college hockey. I think they’ll battle back and forth.”

The Spartans will play host to Western Ontario in an exhibition game Monday before playing a non-conference series at Northern Michigan Oct. 11-12.

Michigan State hockey

Regular-season opener: Friday, Oct. 11, at Northern Michigan, 7 p.m.

Coach: Danton Cole, third season at Michigan State, 24-41-7 overall, 14-28-6 Big Ten

Last season: 12-19-5 overall, 8-12-4 Big Ten