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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY HOCKEY MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 5, 2016
East Lansing, Michigan
TOM ANASTOS: Hello, everybody. Nice to see you guys. Thanks for coming. I know we're in the midst of football and basketball's getting going, and it's nice for hockey to start up. Let me just give a quick overview of where we are and then we can start answering questions.
Since school started the end of August, we have been in what they call a two-hour, eight-hour time period. So for two hours a week we've been able to skate, which to give you an idea, today's practice will be two hours, so that's not a whole lot of time. Then eight hours in total you can do some form of training, so we've done a variety of things from lift to we've had some leadership development and team building, and we've even done some Bikram yoga. Any of you guys yogi's in here? Fred? Nice, nice.
And on Saturday, last Saturday was our first official practice, and then we played on Sunday an exhibition game. So when we played that particular game, we had very little organization to our game. We essentially used it as an opportunity to evaluate what's considered a pretty new team with whatever our number is, ten new guys that were out there and new goaltending mix and that sort of thing.
So we really used Sunday as an opportunity to evaluate our players and had really, like I said, no strategic or systematic type stuff in play. We had no power play, no real penalty killing time that we worked on. So we're off and running now in our normal schedule.
So we're going to have a green and white game this Sunday as a means, again, to create a game experience. We think those are important as part of the preparation to play. Then we'll open up a week from Friday night at Lake Superior.
So new team, new energy, new enthusiasm, and certainly I don't spend a lot of time anymore talking or looking back, but looking back on areas that we can get better, areas that we can take from a challenging season. I really thought it was a test of our character in many ways. Yet while it was, I thought guys came through that fighting to get better and really focused on where we want to be.
Our off-season was a very productive one in spite of considering we have so many new guys. In my time and from records kept on our physical testing here, our team is in the best physical condition of any team that's been here. So the standard has been maintained or established at a very high level, which is at least a positive foundational thing to work off of heading into new getting into hockey-type shape that we can get on the ice. But that was a real positive.
What it tells me and what's important to me is the kind of commitment that we're looking for. So to compete today at a high level, you've got to be committed all the time, not some of the time. So in our program, and I'm sure at many, there's so much time we get to spend with the players, but it's what they do away from the time here. Everybody puts in their practice time every day, but how you take care of yourself away from the rink, what you do, what you put in your body goes a long way towards your ability to perform at a high level.
We're excited about the freshman group that we have here. While I'm excited and encouraged by the skill and the hockey intellect that I believe we have, at the same time what keeps me up at night is knowing that we don't have tons of experience back there.
I'm sure, while I haven't looked, I'm sure we'll be one of the younger teams in college hockey, not just by class, but certainly by age. So we'll have a couple, at least true freshmen in the lineup. We have a couple of older freshmen in the lineup too that I expect will get regular playing time.
We'll have more numbers on defense, which I think was a real challenge for us last year. Started the year with some injuries, and during the course of the year it just presented a challenge for us, because we played guys so many minutes, and we're hopeful that we don't have to do that again this year. And we had prepared for that. In goal, obviously, there is lots of opportunity as well like there is in the other positions for somebody to establish themselves.
So we're going in knowing that we're replacing a conference Player of the Year, all-American caliber goalie in Hilde. Certainly Ed Minney went home which I was concerned about, because I thought he handled his first two years here in a very professional way. We've seen his growth both from a maturity standpoint, and I say that very positively, just like any college student would be growing up. And it's not easy not to play much but to come out and practice and compete every day, and he's coming in from a National Team program where he played the predominant number of games.
So I thought he handled that situation really well. I thought he improved his skills during that time, and I was concerned. I sent him home with the message, don't think you're just coming here and we're just going to hand you the net. You've got to earn the net. And you have should have every opportunity to do that, but your first test is having a productive off-season. And he came back in really, really good condition. So it's a real positive sign of his commitment that we were excited about.
Thought he played well in the exhibition game and the half game that he played. I thought he's practiced well so far. I also thought Johnny Lethemon who was brought here to compete to play has done a good job adapting as well.
So both of those guys are going to need playing experience. Our intention is that at the beginning of the year to give both opportunities to play and see how that goes towards their development and somebody solidifying that position. If we have two guys that can play and that forms a level of consistency, we'll certainly be open minded to that as well.
We do have a third goalie who is a freshman too, Spencer Wright. He won't be a guy I'll probably talk too much about, especially in the early times here, but he's a guy that has potential to play here down the road. He's a young player, really good skills, really good work habits. Comes from a family of Spartans. So I'll oftentimes refer probably to the other two guys at least for now, but he's a guy that we won't forget about, and he's going to be an important part of our team and his role for the years to come.
On defense, we have a lot of youth. Like I said, I like the depth in numbers. It concerns me that we're youthful, but I am encouraged by what I see. I like the compete level. I like our ability to be able to skate back there. I like -- I believe we'll have an improved ability to move the puck more efficiently, especially with our numbers.
It's nice to see a guy -- Jerad Rosburg will be a red shirt freshman because he missed last year with a knee surgery, but he looked really good in the early going, and we weren't sure how he'd recover. He's recovered great. He's looked really good. He has a sense of maturity back there, but he gives us size, he gives us physicality and toughness. I think he's got good skills and good hockey IQ to be able to play a game at both ends of the rink.
So I think we have some improved dynamics back there depth-wise that will help us not only defensively, but offensively as well.
Up front, we're going to need contributions from new people, and we're going to need guys who are returning guys to step up. When you look at like our team captain, Joe Cox, very consistent performer. We get what he has every night and we get that on a very consistent basis. We expect we'll get that all season long.
Thomas Ebbing is kind of cut out of the same mold. Maybe not as vocal as Joe. But same type of work habits and commitment. And I think in the early going we've been pleased with the off-season and commitment and conditioning, and the early season progress of guys like Villiam Haag and Cody Milan, and Brennan Sanford and Dylan Pavelek, and JT Stenglein.
We've moved Chris Knudson from defense where I really didn't think he'd get much opportunity to play up to a forward spot. We'll see. He'll probably start at the fifth line forward and see if he can compete to earn some time up there. But it's going to be important for our team, especially early, for those guys to take a step and make a contribution.
Then some of our freshmen who have caught our attention early, starts with Patrick Khodorenko and Taro Hirose, very skilled players on both sides of the puck. And Sam Saliba, Logan Lambdin, those guys up front have made an early impression. Bring with them a lot of offensive success. Three of those guys were top scorer in their leagues last year. Two of them more goal oriented, the other one probably more distributor oriented.
But it's a good mix. So we've been encouraged by that early. But, again, cautiously encouraged because we know that we lack experience. So with that, we're anxious to get started.
Early practice has been really good. We'll get back at it today at 3:00 o'clock to keep building on the things we've built on so far in the preseason, and we're anxious to get going at Lake Superior. Questions?
Q. One of the decisions that you made when you first arrived was recruiting guys who were going to step into the program older and you could have cut some corners but didn't. How much of an advantage is that going to be this year when you have guys coming in who aren't 16, 17, 18 years old, but who are older now in the process?
TOM ANASTOS: I think you have to be open to having a balance of that. Because college hockey, if you look at it, has gotten older. The average freshman is nearing, if you don't know this or not, but it's creeping towards 21 years old. So contrary to the rest of probably most of the other sports, there is no place to go park and play for a while after high school. Yet, Junior Hockey, American based Junior Hockey and even some Canadian based Junior Hockey is trying to keep kids in their system longer and longer. So college hockey has changed a lot. I think you have to have a balance, kind of like we do this year where we have some true freshmen, and Mitch Eliot who I didn't mention has had a really good preseason so far, and we're really excited about. And Patrick Khodorenko, another true freshman. And we have a couple guys turning 21 in their freshmen year including Logan Lambdin and Sam Saliba.
So I think you need that balance. I think our recruiting, as crazy as it gets in our sport, it's getting younger. You're getting commitments younger, yet you're waiting longer for kids to get to school. We have to find that balance and play that game too, and we will continue to.
Q. You've got all your own players here and all your own recruits. How much of a personal responsibility do you feel now to have this program make a significant step forward?
TOM ANASTOS: Well, I've always felt that from the first year that I came here, and I've always looked at every player here as my player, whether I recruited them or not. We're hooked together. So actually Joe Cox and Rhett Holland are players that are still here that were committed here before I came. So we're not quite there, as crazy as that sounds.
But I don't look at that. I look at it as I'm their coach and they're my players and we're in this together. We have to get to where we want to get to.
I like how things are lining up. I like it a lot, actually. I think when you look backwards and try to learn from areas and how to address it. One of the concerns I had in my first year here in coming out of my first year was the big turnover of players. I think we lost 11 or 12 players that year. We put in elaborate plans to try to change that. And here after all that time we've got ten players again in this class. So there are some things you just can't control, red shirts, injuries, early departures, things like that.
So to me, there's always a sense of urgency, yet I don't want to take shortcuts. So I'm very encouraged by the make-up, the look of our group. We're going to have to be patient as guys gain experience. And with the players we have lined upcoming ahead that are committed to us, I'm as much and even more optimistic than ever before.
But we want the culture to be a winning championship culture, and to do that, you have to prove it. So all of us feel motivated, and we always have, to do that as soon as possible.
Q. In terms of having an offense where things are easier, having a season where offense comes easier, how badly do you want to see that? As for you guys, you've had a few grind-it-out seasons where that's not the strength.
TOM ANASTOS: We have very much so, actually, and I'd love to see the puck go in the net more. We've recruited to it. We've talked about it. Again, you try to bring in players that have demonstrated that in the past, and then you hope, just because you've demonstrated it in the past, doesn't mean you're going to do it at the next level you go to. You have to translate that from level to level.
So in the group that we have this year, it's probably from an offensive productivity perspective, probably the best we've had, at least in my time here, and, again, they've got to gain experience. But I think there are other components to it. I think the talent level or skill set is one. I think how we're able to play based on the total skill set and depth of our team is a portion of it, systematically. Like we want to play in-your-face, on the attack. We want our defensemen to be able to be up with the rush, be up in the offensive zone because we think it's necessary in today's game to do that to create offense, and we haven't had all those dynamics together.
So I'm optimistic that as we gain experience, those things are going to result in more dynamic offensive play. I just thought if any of you had a chance to watch the exhibition game, again, we gave no, we spent zero time on the power play. We didn't score on whatever we had, six or seven opportunities. But, boy, did we have great chances. We've moved the puck around. Guys had no direction. It was go out and play. We put five guys together in two groups, and we were really happy with that, so that was a positive sign.
We've got to get our power play better. We've got to get more offense from our defense, and obviously we've got to do a better job creating quality scoring chances.
In that particular game we had 80 shot attempts, and we missed the net like 40 times, and that's not good enough. So we've got lots of improvement to make, but I think we have a lot to work with too. And I think it solves the game as you mentioned. I think it gets people excited. It gets people entertained. It gets people enthused about the team. It's fun to play. It's way more fun to go score a goal than back-check. You've got to do both, you know?
Q. I think Canadian teams, for the most part, have improved their competitive level in the last 10 to 12 years. So were you satisfied with the increased skill level that you saw from your team? And kind of adding on top of that, I know Osburn and Appleton played the point in the power play quite a bit last year. If you need more scoring how much of a comfort factor is that that they're able to come back and kind of pick up where they left off?
TOM ANASTOS: Well, I thought the exhibition game against Toronto was a very good opportunity to play. What I liked about their team was they're usually an older, more mature, physically strong team, and they showed that during the course of the game, which I thought was positive. I'm sure we'll play many teams throughout the season and play at a faster pace. That was their second game in two games. At the same time I think it was their sixth game, and we were just on the ice for a day.
So I thought it was a good quality exhibition game, and I thought we were able to see guys do some fundamentally good things from a talent perspective, so that was all positive.
As it relates to power play, I think we have the potential in our group this year to add pieces that create more dynamics to a power play, so it's not so easy to defend. Where we have a combination of one-time shooters, guys who can pass, guys who can play on their off side, their strong side. We've got a couple defensemen who could work into the mix, yet are not afraid to play five forwards if that's the best thing to do. So I think we have more pieces to potentially work with.
Again, I'm going to keep saying, this as guys gain experience, because I think a lot of those pieces are young. Then there are other guys we didn't give much opportunity to in the exhibition game because we wanted to see some of the new guys.
But kids like Haag and Stenglein and Milan, hopefully they can take a step and make a difference, and add to the depth. Because that will be needed and necessary, and if they do, that could help us accelerate the process.
Q. There are guys on your team that can skate faster, guys that can probably lift more in the weight room. But you mentioned he gives you everything every night, and he's probably the toughest kid you've had, tough as nails. He'll go down and block a puck with his face. We watched him last year against Michigan. What's that mean when your captain is your leader in toughness, maybe not the most talented guy, but the toughness and his ability for guys to see that?
TOM ANASTOS: It gives him incredible influence on the rest of the guys. And I really felt that one of the challenges we had last season more so than any year I've been here is I didn't feel we've ever embraced an identity. For whatever reason and that's important for any team. I think Joe sets a standard every day that's infectious for everybody around him. Because if you go against him in practice, you better bring your A-game, because he'll run over you at whatever size he is. He'll run over you. He'll bring you to a different level.
So I don't believe in leadership through setting an example because you've got to set a good many example. But he influences other people whether it's verbally, how he goes about his business, and he does it in a way that's very infectious. So we're very fortunate to have a guy like him who -- and we had Mike Ferrantino was much the same way last year. We're going to miss that, not having that around. But Joe steps right into that role, and I can't think of having a better captain than a guy like that.
Q. I was reading about the Ron Mason tribute stickers. When you see that sticker on your players' helmets, what are some things that come to your mind as you enter this season without Ron around this program?
TOM ANASTOS: There's so much because obviously he cast a big net over lots of players. I think the players who took the time to come back from not just Michigan State but from all the different schools he represented. The coaches that attended and took the time to come here are coaching at all different levels. The people from the community that came here or the campus community, so he really touched on so many people during such a long career. It's going to be different. I'm not sure we'll really realize it until the time comes when he's not around here when we're playing.
But it's a great reminder of the impact he made on all of us, me, the rest of our staff, and so many people who played in this building or got a chance to watch him coach during that time. So I think it's an appropriate tribute that we'll have this season. We looked at different options and we thought putting something on our helmets was appropriate for every game, and certainly behind the net is an opportunity in our rink. So we're excited to do it.
Q. To add a student assistant coach and one who is so dominant in Mike York, how is that another advantage that you have heading into this year?
TOM ANASTOS: That's a real fortunate opportunity for us. I don't know York particularly well. I watched him and as alumnus we'd say hello at alumni gatherings. And the way we made the connection is at our alumni golf outing this year I found out he was enrolled to finish school and came together in two days. So we're very fortunate to have somebody with his experience level, his passion for Michigan State and his time just out of the game.
He played last year. He was in his German league that he played, and I think he was a Top 10 or 12 scorer in that league. So he's not that far removed from playing the game. And it gives a new set of eyes, a fresh set of eyes that is always welcome here. So we're very fortunate that he's here, and he'll make an impact. You talk about offensive, he's one of the most gifted offensive players to ever play here. So that will give us perspective that is valued, needed and wanted.
Q. You have about 15 or so underclassmen on this team. How important is it going to be for your senior group to really carry the load and lead those guys over the course of the season?
TOM ANASTOS: I think it's always important for this senior group to make an impact if you're going to have a successful season. I think that will be one of the tests for this group. I think there are some of the players in the senior group that feel that they've been in lead roles. I think there are others amongst that group that feel they'd like to elevate their game to be in a bigger role, and I'm hopeful that they're able to do that. Because if they do, it will trickle down and provide us some depth that we need and it will also make a positive impact on the younger players.
So I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I'm hopeful and I'm going to give tons of support and opportunity for those guys to do that.
Q. It sounds like when you're talking about senior guys you're talking about depth and leadership. And you want to see the young guys on the ice. It sounds like you can feel the wave of talent with these young guys. How much do they determine what the season becomes?
TOM ANASTOS: The young guys? I think they'll have a big impact because some of them are going to have pretty significant roles yet I think it would be very helpful for even them to get acclimated to this level if they're spoon fed a little bit and not overtaxed early. Also I think it's going to require incredible patience from us to deal with mistakes that will be made and give guys opportunity to gain experience.
So that's where from an upper-class perspective, if the guys can really step up. I mentioned a couple names in Haag and in Stenglein, those guys were big, offensive producers before they came to Michigan State and they just haven't been able to make that transition quite yet. I know they desired to and they're working towards it.
If they can take that step, that takes a little pressure off and can divide it off amongst more players, which will be positive. Because I really believe one of the challenges we faced last year is we had injuries early, and I believe we played some guys too much too early, and I think it wore them out. Appleton would have been one of them. I thought he hit a wall early. I thought he regained himself toward the back end of the season. But I want to make sure we're learning from that and in the case of our defense, something happened, but we had no choice in terms of our numbers.
I think if those freshmen can play just a part, especially at the beginning of the season as they gain experience, I think that will allow their game to elevate. I'm not trying to compare any of them to Jack Eichel, but I remember we played BU here and Eichel came as a freshman next year, and I saw him at the start of the season, and this kid's a world class player. I saw him at the start of the season. We played against them, and I think we lost 2-1 or whatever it was, 2-0 maybe. And he was a very good player in the game. Then I saw him in the second half of the year and he was a dominant force. Helped lead their team to the national tournament, national championship game.
I'm not suggesting any of our freshmen are of that caliber. But I think the kind of gain he made over the course of time as he acclimated himself was a significant one. And I think most players can make significant gains if they're used right and the opportunity presents and their talent is good enough. So we're going to trying to do that with our team, and I think the upperclassmen have a lot to do with our ability to do it.
Q. The football team likes to play with a chip on their shoulder, does being picked last give your team a chip?
TOM ANASTOS: No, I think it probably adds to it. I wouldn't say that's a focal point for us. But we'll have plenty of chips on our shoulders because we haven't proven what we want to prove. So there's plenty to play for. There's plenty to be hungry over. There's plenty to be pissed off about because we want to be a championship caliber team. So some of it has to be self-generated, a lot of it is just internal expectations and you get what you earn. We all recognize that.
So when you look at something like that, do I put a lot of stock into it? No. Yet at the same time, you're out trying to influence the whole hockey community that you want to be a champion. So you have to work towards it and prove it. So, yeah, I think anything that we can use to add to the chip which is already there we'll build off of.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports