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September 30, 2015

Tom Anastos

East Lansing, Michigan

COACH ANASTOS: Welcome everybody. Good to see all of you guys. Time to get started. We're fired up to get started.

Kind of take you through a couple things quickly to give you a progress report, and then happy to field your questions.

If you don't know, since school started we're in kind of this limited period of time that we can work with our guys. Everybody has been back since obviously school started. Came back the weekend before school started. Our freshman have been her since the beginning of July. They took the second summer semester to kind of get acclimated.

That's been a very good transition for them. We're in a work time period where can train as a group for eight hours a week, of which two of that eight can be on the ice. Up until September 15th it was in small groups, four players at a time.

Since September 15th that two hours could be consumed by team time, and that's how we been using it. We have two hours left. Our week starts today. A new week starts today the way we have or weeks set up. So we'll have an hour workout today and an hour workout tomorrow. We're off on Friday, and then practice can officially start our 20-hour work week -- our competition week starts this Saturday.

So that's where we're at. Our off-season was very productive. We're really, really happy with the conditioning level that our guys came back with. I think we kind of put up that challenge of how important the off-season was to make progress. We've seen that in the testing. We've seen that in the commitment level. We've seen that early in kind of the limited amount of time we've had to skate.

So that's a good thing. We're trying to translate from that off-season conditioning to what I call hockey conditioning, which means a little bit different. Being strong on the puck, being able to go hard for 40 seconds in a shift time, especially when you get caught on the ice or you're tired.

Those are the things that we're trying to get a little bit of time to accomplish, even during this time period, so when we play as early as Sunday, we have at least a basis of conditioning to work off.

So that's good. We're excited about our group. It's the first time since my first year here that we actually have a group comprised of upper classmen playing key roles.

There will be some freshman who will get opportunities certainly to play and play important roles, but they'll be able to do that alongside guys that have some experience now. We haven't had the liberty to do that the last couple years.

I think that's a really good thing. I think the chemistry on our team is really good. The leadership is the best it's been since I've been here. And when I say that, I'm not talking about the captains on the team, I'm talk about the team as a whole.

I think we have a good group of captains. We haven't even added a captain. The four guys that are wearing letters are the same four guys that wore letter on our team last year. That's a positive.

But I think it goes deeper than that.

The best team I ever played on in my life, it was the 1984/'85 team here. We had our three captains, and we had many guys on our team that could have been wearing a captain's C on their jersey that didn't.

I think that really lent to helping our team becoming a really good team. I see some similarities from a leadership standpoint on this year's group for sure.

Key to a successful season: we have to continue where we left off last season. I thought our team started slow; our team really started to come together in mid to late December. Had a pretty good push. Put ourselves in the Big 10 race right until the last game was played in the Big 10 season.

That was a good thing. Now we have to build on that. We didn't make it easy for us with our nonconference schedule. It's a pretty brutal nonconference schedule. We're going to play a lot of really good teams, and I think that was specifically -- I shouldn't say I think -- I know that was specifically designed when we put it together. We were anticipating those teams would be good and that would help prepare us for the Big 10 and hopefully a national tournament.

And so we come into it with some confidence that we gained in the second half of the season last year. Yet, at the same time, every team is new. This team, the important part, this team has to come together. Guys will to have emerge. We will be giving guys some opportunity to play bigger roles. We'll need some guys to step up, even guys who have performed at really high levels so far to continue their growth and make a bigger contribution.

You know, we're anxious to see the impact of the new guys as well, because we think it's a real good group.

With that, I'll open up to questions and we'll get going.

Q. (Question regarding the junior class. )
COACH ANASTOS: Our junior class, a couple years ago when they were freshman, they were thrown right into it and gained a lot of experience. Couple guys who really emerged at the time from a minutes perspective, Mackenzie MacEachern has really be a catalyst for our team.

He had an incredible off-season, I would say, and he's come in here in excellent condition. I think he's taking on more leadership and so far in the small sample we have. He's really thriving with that.

I think he's also maturing in terms of he's always worked hard, but I think he's working smarter. In the short practices we've had so far, I can see him being attentive to details in his game that sometimes he kind of blew over before.

So I think he's starting to realize how important practice is not just in team preparation, but in his own preparation and development to take his game to another level. So I expect that will happen. That maturation has been good.

Joe Cox has been a really consistent performer for us. Played a lot of minutes; he's in great shape; he's an important leader on our team, and we expect more of the same with Joe.

If you came and watched practice every single day, you would see a standard of effort that's hard to duplicate. He sets the tone that way every single day in every single thing that he does.

Thomas Ebbing has grown in his role over the past couple years. I think there is a lot more for him to do here. I think he can take his game to another level. He's in good physical condition, he's gained some size and strength, and he can really skate. I think he's got more offensive capability than he's demonstrated so far, and yet he's a very, very good defensive player.

So I think he has a chance to continue to raise his level.

Then after that, when you start to look at some guys -- you know, we brought guys here like J.T. Stenglein, Villiam Haag. We think they can contribute offensively. They're going to be given an opportunity to demonstrate that early in the season. We've got to take a look that to see what they can do. I think they have the potential to do that. Be nice to see them elevate their games. I though Villiam, for the most part, I know confidence-wise he didn't produce offensively as he had hoped and I think that affected him.

We all go through that. I told him of my own experiences as sophomore dealing with injuries and not having the kind of productivity that I should have had and how I rebounded as a junior. I expect that to happen with him.

I think J.T. is trying to find his game, and a game that can transfer from being a 30-plus goal scorer in the USHL, which is a really good league, to try to do that here. We think he has a chance to do that. He'll be given opportunity. We'll have to see if he's able to take advantage of that as he moves along.

Chris Knudson as a defenseman didn't play many minutes least year. When he was just about to play at the end of the season he got a knee injury in practice. He has off-season surgery and is fighting back from that. He's in really good physical condition.

Given some of the dynamics that we're dealing with on defense, he's going to have to be ready to play. Hopefully he can create a role for himself over time and contribute.

Am I missing anybody from the junior class? Think that hit everybody. Long answer, I know.

Q. Obviously with having a senior goalie back who started every game for you last year is a luxury that not a lot of teams in this country has. Where is Jake right now in terms going in as a senior starter? Can he be a Hobey candidate? Do you have to basically ride him this year for more success than you had last year?
COACH ANASTOS: I think Jake is in a real good spot. I think he had a good, productive off-season and mentally he's a good place. I think Jake wants to win, and I think that's the most important thing.

Jake is a leader on our team. I think guys have great respect for him. The way he carries himself and the way in which he approaches things, his competitive spirit in practice, helps push guys and makes guys better.

I think that's going to be a misconception that we're going to have to go out and prove, but I don't think that Jake has to carry the team. I don't think he has to do that. I think that Jake has to be Jake. I think he has to do his thing and I think the team will rise around him.

I really think this team has as chance as we come together to be a really solid team beyond just being good defensively or having a great goaltender.

I don't think he needs any kind of undue pressure or expectations. I think it's frankly less than it was last year. I think he just has to have a complete season from the beginning to the end, and I expect that he will.

Q. You talked about freshman making an impact given opportunity. What do they have to do to get in the lineup to develop into players that can help your offense and even defense?
COACH ANASTOS: Well, they started the right way. They came in in unbelievable shape. Like unbelievable shape. Vork told me that they have demonstrated a work ethic and a standard of commitment that is as good as he can remember here are a freshman group.

Their test scores have been off the charts for incoming players. Our team tested in real high as a team, and they're right in the mix of that generally speaking. So that's really good. That's a good start. That helps give you a chance.

Now as they adapt to how we play, they adapt from going from the level they're at to here. Confidence is going to be a part of it. We can't give that. We can only try to help create an atmosphere that will help them along.

I think they possess a good skillset. I think you'll see that when you start watching us. We've got some good offensive instincts. We've got some heaviness, some size. It's a big class relatively to what we lost.

Ronny Boyd might have been 6', but other than that, Darnell was about 5'11". Sorenson was 5'9, and Berry is like 5'9" or 5'10". That's guys are all six footers except for Zach Osburn. He's a different style of player. I think you'll see -- I don't want to compare him to Tory Krug by any means, but he plays kind of a -- he's got a lot of explosion. We were doing a forechecking drill yesterday and it was kind of comical, because he would go get the puck and he would skate it right out. Hard to forecheck him. He's slippery and quick, good with the puck, and he's got some offensive dynamics to his game.

All of these guys, it's going to take them time to adapt to this level of hockey, the size and strength and the speed of the decision making and the execution.

What makes me more comfortable this year is that we actually have some upper classmen that are going to carry that load a little bit and allows them to -- I know they want to get right into it -- but allows them ease into it a little bit more with some support that we really haven't provided the luxury of that transition in the past couple year.

We have even gone so far as we've created I call it the Spartans Soldiers's Program internally. It's a mentorship structure that takes kind of our next layer of leader and trying to develop deeper leadership throughout our team. We've assigned them to a freshman. That's been working pretty successfully so far early in the year and just the integration into the team.

See guys taking guys under their wing and helping them along and showing them the way. I think it's helping build the culture that we want. More than my previous three years in particular, I think the freshman are being integrated into the team in a more organized -- I don't want to say organized -- more methodical manner than we've been able to do before, and I think that will be a benefit to the team ultimately.

Q. How about Appleton?
COACH ANASTOS: Well, he's been really impressive so far. He's a very smart, heady player. He's got a very high work ethic. He ran the treadmill, and the two guys that are always here Dr. Pivarnik always talk about in Michigan State lore that were just kind of monsters on the treadmill. And that's his word, monsters.

Duncan Keith and Shawn Horcoff. He mentioned Mason Appleton in that vein. That's a good thing. We have actually teamed him up in our soldiers program with Mackenzie, and he's really getting his arms around him and helping him along. I think that's a real positive.

But I think Appleton has a chance to be an incredibly good college hockey player.

Q. How close was Appleton to Keith's score?
COACH ANASTOS: I don't remember exactly what it was. His comment was just in general. Not so much his score but more about his recovery, that he was able to really go hard and then recover in a short time period.

The test is you go hard on this treadmill that's set at a certain pace an incline for three minutes, short time to recover, and go right back. They're measuring your heart rate and how fast you can recover, which in our game is really important. You got to go out for 40, 45 seconds, com back out, and, boy, it would be nice if we could get you back on the ice if you want to make an impact.

And some guys recover much slower than others. He looks like he's got kind of engine that allows you to recover quickly and log a lot of minutes, so we'll have to see over a period of time.

Q. Offense still a little bit of a question mark for you guys. Are you planning to do anything differently systematically or personnel-wise that will help you get more offense closer to that two and a half to three goals per game?
COACH ANASTOS: Yes, yes, and yes, we are. I think our maturity is part of it. Guys will have some more confidence than they had the year before. That's certainly on an individual basis.

Systematically we'll be making some adjustments that we think based on our experience level we can try to make to help enhance it. I think one area we've got to get better, looked at our power player last year in three phases, the first 11 games, the next 12, and the 12 after that.

The first 11 games we were 11%. The next 12 we were like 24.5% and the next 12 after that we were 22%.

So we were pretty darn good for two thirds of the year. If that could get a goal a game, that could be a difference maker. I think that's an area from a systems and personnel standpoint we have to be better. Especially early in the season we have to be better at that.

Then I think we have to be better in our neutral zone in terms of transitioning to get on the attack offensively and to create more in transition. We have to get more productivity. When I say productivity, I don't necessarily mean points, per se, even though that would be great and welcome, but we have to get our defenseman more active in our overall offensive play in all three zones.

Thought we improved that coming out of our own zone last year. I thought we were a much better team breaking the puck out of the zone and exiting the zone. Now we've got to do a better job, in my opinion, in the neutral zone and we need to be more active both in the offensive zone and the forecheck, and we've got to do a better job of getting pucks to the net, pucks through traffic from our points to our net offensively.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH ANASTOS: I do. I think he was a quarterback of his power play in the USHL and he's really good at it. I think gives him a chance as he adapts. Over a period of time I think he'll be a contributor there. He sees the ice real well, moves the puck well, he plays well without the puck, and he competes hard. Those are all good characteristics.

I think a couple of the other freshman will have a chance, too in that regard. I think Cody Milan, he's a quieter type of kid. I think it'll take him a little bit of time to adjust here. But, boy, he's got really, really good hands and he can shoot it and he can pass it. I think he's a pretty smart kid too as a hockey player.

Zach Osburn has got a little bit of offensive flair that I think he contributes as he gets settled in, too. He can shoot it, skate, he can get up in the play. He likes providing offense. So I expect that he'll be able to contribute, too.

We're excited about that group. I don't think that -- and I don't want them feel the pressure that they got all this pressure as they start the season. But I think as they get adjusted here I think they can really contribute to this team.

Q. Mike Ferrantino's growth as a captain last year and what are your expectations of him this year?
COACH ANASTOS: More of the same, except I think he'll be more comfortable in the role. He knows what the expectations and standards are. He established himself a very high standard. His teammates respect him, so he has the ability and I believe he has the courage to hold guys accountable.

We have a very good group, and I give him a lot of credit for that as well as the rest of the group because they embrace being led. I think he's gained a year's worth of experience. He's got a strong surrounding cast with him, not just guys that have letters on their uniform, but well beyond that.

I think that helps make him a better leader as well. I think he's in a real good spot.

Q. Talk a little bit about the nonconference schedule. Do you have in mind a certain number of points you would need to get to put you in a position to make the tournament?
COACH ANASTOS: Hard to say. I looked that over the past couple seasons actually, and there is no clear magic number. So much has to depend on how things play out, the strength of schedule, and how teams are.

I'm just basing what I said on teams we expect are going to be good teams and how some of these pre-season polls come out. As they shake out - they will shake out a period of time - some new teams will emerge. We want to be one of them. Other team will fall out of it.

I expect Denver is going to have a good team. They're a top 5 team in the pre-season.

North Dakota is going to be a have team. They're a top 5 in the pre-season.

One of those series is on the road early which I think is great because it gives our team a chance to kind of come together traveling-wise.

Then North Dakota is at home a few weeks into the season. Hopefully our team continues to evolve and is finding itself a little bit.

Then you go beyond that. We're at BC. It will be a great challenge for us. Very difficult environment. It's a one-game shot, and right now for many, they're a pre-season potential national contender, as they have been many times.

Then Michigan Tech was right there last year competing for their league championship. I think New Hampshire is going to be a much improved team from where they were a year ago, and they were a pretty decent team in a very good conference.

So our nonconference schedule -- Lake Superior always plays Michigan State tough. Always. It's a huge series. It's a defining series for Lake Superior, so that will be a real challenging environment for us. We'll play them three times in four games, which makes it even more difficult.

I don't know much about Maine's team right now. One of the reasons we're going out there is to have the opportunities for Travis Walsh to play where -- I think he was born out Orono.

I have great respect for his dad, and so does Red Gendron, Maine's coach. When he reached out to me to bring Travis to Maine to play, that's the real reason we went.

That will be a challenging environment. Any time you have your first game, no matter who you play, everybody is trying to find themselves. Interesting to see where we are at that point.

Q. (Regarding Northeastern.)
COACH ANASTOS: Northeastern game was all -- it's a Mark Hollis concoction. He called me one day and said, Hey, can you adjust our schedule to play Northeastern? Our schedule was already set. I said, We can try.

I didn't know what he was up to, but we later learned that he was trying to package these games together. I think that's a real cool experience for our players. We actually had to reschedule a game -- because we're confined by our game count, we had to push somebody off to a different yeah and somebody worked with us to do that so we could schedule that game.

Northeastern has a good team. I think they'll surprise a lot of people. They're fast. They have a couple players who are very talented. The one kid in particular probably be a Hobey candidate.

That will be a very challenging way to end our first half of the season. Then we come back, go on break. So our break will be a lot shorter than normal, and then we good to the GLI.

Q. Do you look to get to Ed more playing time this year? Also, he's part of a sophomore class of just four players. What are your expectations of the sophomore class?
COACH ANASTOS: I would like to get Ed some playing time for sure. He's definitely progressing. He needs to be game-ready if the opportunity ever comes up where he's needed. Clearly Hilde is our No. 1 goalie and we're going to go with him.

But I would very much - Jason Muzzatti is our new volunteer goaltending coach, and we've spent a fair bit of time talking about strategically how we can kind of lay games in for Ed to give him an opportunity it further his development.

That is a priority for us. We're going to have to figure out how we're going to approach that for sure. As far as the sophomore class is concerned, I think they got their feet on the ground a little bit last year.

I think Carson Gatt will continue to evolve and play a bigger role on defense this year. He's a good puck moving defenseman. I think he's is in very good physical shape. He can add some physicality to our blue line. I think our blue line has a chance to be the most physical since I've been here.

He can play with many some. Good physicality. Johnny Draeger had the first year in his four years here where he actually got to train in the off-season because of injuries and surgery and rehab. He's gained some size and strength.

So he has a nice physical presence back there. Rhett Holland is a tank and can be a real physical presence back there as well.

You know, Dylan Pavelek is going to be competing for time. He's got lots of skill, and we think he has a chance to make an impact here. He's just has to earn time, gain confidence, and hopefully ultimately make a significant impact over time.

Q. Kind of covered a lot of ground I was going to go after with the defensemen. You lose Josh Jacobs, a guy who logged...
COACH ANASTOS: Mental telepathy.

Q. I know. He logged a lot of minutes for you, Jacobs, last year. How do you replace those minutes? Secondly, when you have two guys, freshman, going to be in that playing group probably, do you know how you plan on splitting them up and getting them indoctrinated to the defensive systems that you're running?
COACH ANASTOS: Well, the plan is changing. One of the freshman that we were really counting on playing had surgeon. Jerad Rosburg. Came here coming off knee surgery that he had in the USHL. We were expecting him to play and contribute, and he's got a well-rounded game. Plays both ends of the rink and adds some physicality. Played with a lot of intelligence and competitive grit. He had surgery yesterday. Probably arriving in Lansing right about now, and he's done for the season.

So that thins us out back there in a way that we weren't really expecting. We need to help Chris Knudson elevate his game so he can play meaningful minutes. We need to transition Zach Osburn so he can play meaningful minutes.

I think the other four defenseman that we have returning from last year, they'll all play significant minutes.

We've got to stay healthy. That's going to be an important part. When we planned this season and how things were going to play out, we thought we would be in a very good position depth-wise.

It's not quite where we had hoped or planned for it to be. It presents some opportunity, and we'll probably have to need some good fortune as well that we don't run into injury problems back there.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH ANASTOS: I don't know the complexity of the first one as much. He has an issue that they've tried several different ways to rehabilitate it. It's just not -- just hasn't worked. We were getting to a point -- he's been here since July. They've tried several different things to help. They've tried Immobilization, they tried rest, they tried stem cell injections, different things, and it hasn't worked.

So we went to a doctor who is as good as it gets in the world, I'm told. We have great medical support here who have taken all the right steps, and it was decided by all the parties involved and Jerad and his family as well that this was the right step to take and now was the right time to do it so time is on our side.

We were hoping that it wouldn't come to surgery, but it was kind of like, Okay, it's time to decide what's next. While we are seeing some gradual progress, ultimately it was determined there wasn't going to be enough progress without having surgery.

Why not have it now so we have time on our side? So it does handicap us a little bit back there for sure, but that's the way it goes.

Q. Two parter here: Ryan Keller scored some goals for you late in the season and became a real offensive presence. Talk about him and how much you'll need him to score? And then the second part is with adding Jason Muzzatti as a goaltending coach, do you expect your goaltenders to be a little more physical in the crease?
COACH ANASTOS: Is that you're way of saying are we going to fight? That's what you were thinking. I'll start with that one. I don't expect necessarily that we'll be more physical, per se, but I will say this: I think one of Muzz's real areas of strength as a goaltender, in addition to his competitive spirit his ability to stop the puck, was his ability to play the puck. He was a real good handler and real good passer.

I think our goaltenders could upgrade their ability in that area, and that's an area he's already been spending time on for sure.

As far as Keller, I felt he really kind of came into his own and took his game to a higher level. Like every player, confidence is a huge part of that. I think he comes back very confident.

He started slow last year, and that's because he didn't make a good enough commitment in the off-season. I told him that. Not bashful to share it. I challenged him this summer, and I thought he did a good job. Made a lot of progress.

I think the combination of coming in in a better place to start, along with the confidence he gained in the latter half of the season last year, especially probably the final third of the season, really will help him hopefully get off to a very good start.

I think he's one of those players that if he merges into a bigger role that will be a real positive for us and can make a great impact on our game. Not just in productivity, but he can play with speed, he can forecheck, he's got a good stick, he has a big body, and he can have a big presence in front of the net.

We're hopeful he has his boast season as a Spartan by far this year.

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