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October 2, 2019

Danton Cole

East Lansing, Michigan

DANTON COLE: Well, fall and hockey is always interesting, and we get our little bit of time and we get eight hours a week, four hours on the ice and we've been kind of building up, and it's been a good process so far. I've enjoyed it and I think our guys have done a really nice job. Our season this year really got started about a week after last year's playoffs ended and guys got their week off and they started working out and doing skills on the ice, and they did a really, really nice job of leadership throughout the spring and the summer was outstanding. And we made a lot of progress, and the guys showed up in great shape, real good idea of what we want to do and a good of idea of what kind of identity we're going to have.

So that's been an awful lot of fun for us as coaches, and it's been a good fall, and now we start progressing a little bit, which it is a great thing to go through. We have a green and white game here later on in the afternoon and get a little bit of a game feel to it, and then Monday we'll play Canadian University and get those going, and scheduling wise, just so you guys know, having it at this time instead of later in the evening, right now with the expansion going on, the fire exits, we've gotta build a bridge out and we gotta keep five doors open on this side. So that'll be ready for Monday's game. It wasn't ready for today. It would have been a huge expense. So we kept it at this time just to make sure we didn't have too many people in the building.

And then the game on Monday isn't probably perfect, but we had a game scheduled. We were going to have it on Saturday. That university ended up canceling on us, so Coach Exter and Coach Luongo were beating the phones up pretty good. And we felt it was important for us to have that game before heading off to Northern. So Monday became available with Western Ontario did a great job of helping us out on their way back from Ohio State. So we decided that was more important. Those are two questions that kind of came up with fans wondering how the scheduled worked out, so thought that might be of interest.

You know what, we're excited where we're at. All the things we talked about since I stood here two and a half years ago in terms of the type of players we wanted to identify to come and play here, the type of players who had signed national letters of intent and have come here, working on the attendance and making Munn a really hard place to play, and then we always talk forth is that the expansion of Munn and getting that to where we want it as a building tied everything together. And on all fronts we're very excited. 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. I can't wait to get started. So questions?

Q. I noticed you got a lot of production from that first line last year. Has there been a player who's maybe inserted himself to fill in the role that Taro had last year?
DANTON COLE: Yeah. We've tried a few guys. Nicolas Müller has done a really nice job for us. 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. So he's able to make plays at a high pace; good hockey IQ, and he's fit in real well with those two so far. And you'll see him today. He'll be on that line. He'll be on the power play with them, and hopefully that'll continue to look good to us.

Q. Dennis Cesana was a Big Ten All Freshman last year. Were you guys surprised how comfortable he was at kind of the top of that power play playing with Rosburg coming from Alberta Junior Hockey League where you don't see a lot of guys come from?
DANTON COLE: You always hope when guys come in, you want to project where they're at in juniors, and what he did in juniors his two years out in Brooks, we felt pretty good coming in, but you know what, once you get him on the ice a couple of days and see his vision, and really his poise is probably the best part out there, because you gotta be able to wait and make plays, and with that group in particular they're going to pass the puck and he'll be there. So pleasantly I want to say surprised, but we were glad that he came in and did what we thought he could do. He's had a great summer. He's going to have another outstanding year. But his hockey IQ I think would be the other thing that allows him to do that and fit in with that group.

Q. As far as goaltending goes, you had the freshmen DeRidder last year; played pretty well, and then you had the senior Lethemon. Is there a true No. 1 going into the year or are you kind of going 1A, 1B, a lot of back-to-back stuff?
DANTON COLE: Yeah. I think it'll be a battle again this year. They were kind of back and forth with it last year. And that's not a bad thing in college hockey. It's like the NFL where they say if you have two No. 1s, you don't have a No. 1. So I think they'll battle back and forth, and if one guy grabs not the ball but the puck and runs with it, that's fine with us. But that competition within those two was really good. Statistically they were fairly close in a lot of ways. I think at the end John had some more wins at the end, and he got the shirts in the Playoffs and played very well, and you hope that they continue to drive each other.

We've had success with that here, in the early years with Bob Essensa and Norm Foster. They did it for four years right down to the Final Four; Norm played the semifinals and Bob would play the finals. So you can do that and then you can also ride one guy. But I do think there's some value in that, especially with Drew being young last year, having the senior there, or the junior, to bump back to was beneficial for us. So we'll see how that plays out. That's players determine that.

Q. What is the one area of your team that you actually want to see improve in order to push yourself up the standings to be a contender?
DANTON COLE: Yeah, as an ornery coach, there are a lot of areas. We want to be better in everything. I think that one area that'll I want to say as a group I want to say our defensemen is the one area. And by saying that's the one area, that'll allow me to talk to a few different areas. We had three freshmen playing most last year on the backhand, plus a freshmen goalie on half our nights, and that's hard to do in college hockey, let alone the Big Ten. The Krygiers had great summers. Dennis had a great summer. They've looked really, really good, and I think that'll help us keep some more pucks out of the net.

The other thing is I've always been a big believer that when I went from -- I was in Tampa and I got traded to New Jersey, and we would get out of our zone in Tampa, and we never had odd-man rushes. It was just hard to get it out of our zone and it was hard to get it in the other team's zone, and we just had to kind of grind and grind and grind. Got to New Jersey and that collection of defensemen was outstanding. There's at least two Hall of Famers on it, and there might be a couple others. But just the difference in terms of getting passes, coming through the neutral zone, having them join the rush, I think offensively we're going to be better because our defensemen are better at moving the puck. And transitionally you just can't do it if you don't have the guys back.

Now, at times we did it very well last year. And you can see our first two series, Northern the first night we were awesome. The second night we looked like freshmen, and we weren't quite so good in the transition. Same thing with Ferris. So I hope there's a little more consistency there.

The point I was trying to get to was it makes it so much easier for the forwards and you just get more opportunities when the D are clean and moving things. So I think that's one area as a whole that will look a lot better this year.

Q. Two captains for the first time in ten years. Can you take us through that thought process?
DANTON COLE: The guys voted, Sammy did a great job for us last year, and we had the vote, and it was really tight. And Tommy had a lot of votes last year as a sophomore. He's a good leader. He's a really driven young man, and we just thought it was close enough and transitionally that that was the way to do it and the way their votes came in and Rosburg and Khodorenko were the next two guys that had just worked for us. And as a staff I think it's real important that we're comfortable with the captains, and we were exceedingly comfortable with those guys. They all have a little different personalities, and I'm not opposed to two captains. The year before I was here they had three. We've had one. We've had none. So it works itself out, and I think the way this is set up is real good, and our leadership with those guys and the other seniors has been outstanding.

And what we're trying -- I want to get to the point of where that the culture that is there is just that the bar is really high and the way guys operate on and off the ice is something that as coaches you have to drive it. You have to build that culture every day. It can't ever get away from you. But when the players are driving it, it's way stronger, and what they did in the spring and the summer was that they took control of that locker room. It's their locker room now, and for us and Luongo and Coach Exter, that's a very exciting thing, and it's been a process, and I don't know that we'll ever have it the same way all the time. Usually it changes in the off seasons, but this is a championship leadership that we've had and that's a great thing for coaches.

Q. Can you touch on the other two freshmen in this class and what they bring to this club?
DANTON COLE: Yeah. Both Detroit kids. I've known both of them actually for quite a while, being in the hockey scene down there for a long time. But Josh is a true freshman, had a great year in the USHL last year. He's a true center. He can make plays. He'll get lots of time on probably the second power play. He might bump up at times to first one. But really sees the ice well, serious, hard working. He's just a very, very good hockey player, and he's going to go to baptism by fire here early on. He's going to have to play and figure it out and ramp up enough before the Big Ten comes to handle the center position. But I've had him with Sammy Saliba quite a bit, and that's been good. He's been able to learn from him, and it's like having another coach on the line. So he's doing a great job, and he'll contribute greatly.

Jagger Joshua has been outstanding. Some guys come back and they've really improved and they're a surprise. I knew Jagger was going to be a good player. He's smart, he's big; he's got really good instincts and does a lot of things on the ice, a lot of intangibles that I wasn't sure when he was going to be in good player form. Still, I can't say 100 percent. But he's been ahead of where we thought he would be. And right now I've got him playing on the line with Nodler and Saliba, and we'll kind of see how that looks, two freshman in that high sliding in the lineup, we'll see how it goes, but we've been real happy with all of them. And we obviously had some offense we had to replace with Taro leaving, and I think those three guys will put a big dent in it.

Q. With three freshmen in the lineup you're going to have to be counting on a lot of people that are coming back. Who are some of the players that you're looking for to take the next step and make more of an impact?
DANTON COLE: I'll start on the back end again. I think Jerad Rosburg is poised to have a really good year. I thought his progression over the time I've been here has been great. He's been healthy now and had a great summer; finished very strong last year, and I think he's going to be one of the better defensemen in our league, and this is a league with a lot of good defensemen. He's going to get some time in the top power play, so he'll get some points that maybe last year he wasn't getting.

Talking, some of the other guys, I think that Tommy Miller I thought he had a really good freshman year playing with Carson Gatt, and I thought he was very average the first half of last year and I thought he was outstanding the second half. And he's picked up right where he left off, and he's even better. So I don't know if the offensive numbers are ever going to be real sexy with Tommy, but he's going to play a lot of minutes and be very good for us.

I think up front if Sammy can stay on the wing, I think he's more comfortable there. I think we'll get more production out of him there. But he took on a huge role for us and had to be a second line center, he's not a huge guy in the Big Ten, and that was a real -- it was a team-first kind of thing, and I think his offense struggled because of it, but that's the kind of guy Sammy is. So I think he'll find his way, some pucks to the back of the net.

Logan Lambdin is one of our fittest guys. If he keeps skating and shooting the puck like we've seen here in the four weeks or so we've been on the ice, I think he's going to have a nice bump to his year.

And our juniors is an interesting group with Tommy Apap and Brody Stevens played together a lot last year. We look for them to get some things done, get some puts in the net. And quite frankly, in the second half they were a little like Tommy Miller in that sense. In the second half when they played well and could match up against the other team's top lines and chip in some goals, that's when we had a lot of success.

Hey, everybody's gotta get a little better, and that's one thing we work at around here is, you know, that's our goal is every day get a little better, and I think the guys have. And last but not least, we talked about them earlier, the goalies. Good goalies make good coaches. And those guys, they have to be better this year, and they know that, and they've put the work in. And I like Leth's progression year over year. He needs to keep getting better.

Drew is a true freshmen goalie, and there's not a lot of those. He held up real well, and record wise I think he got shorted a little bit. He had some ties that probably should have been wins as well as he played, and hopefully he can pick back up there, and like I said, those guys are going to have better years, and we need them to be better.

Q. Dan, you talked a little bit last year near the end of the year and at the close of kind of being ahead of schedule of where you thought you would be. What's the thing you're most pleased about as far as that's concerned, as far as maybe being ahead of schedule as where you thought you would be at this time?
DANTON COLE: I think two things, and everything -- I think culture is -- culture beats strategy all the time. And I think that where we've got things right now, I think is in a pretty good spot, and I think our depth behind that is also a lot better than it was. And those are two real important things for college hockey.

So, you know, the recruiting, I think Coach Exter has done a great job. I think the pipeline and the guys we have coming are just really good hockey players. We're excited about that. We're excited about the guys that filled in. But I think the way our guys, like I said, the way they move on the ice, the way they move off the ice is real important. I think them understanding what we are and what it takes to be a good hockey team is vitally important, and they're setting the groundwork for a lot of good things to come, and I hope some of that is included in this year.

Q. Coach, Jim Slater came back over the summer, pretty big name coming back as a volunteer in systems. Talk about what he's brought so far in just this short amount of time here.
DANTON COLE: Yeah. Jimmy has been great, and when hours get expanded, we'll be able to use him more and more, but he's real fired up about being involved in coaching. I think skill wise, it'll be, you know, we have time before practice, a lot of time to take guys out, doing face-offs or shooting. And just, you know, the experience that he has is great. And that kind of gets your foot in the door. All the games he's played and all the different situations and pro and Europe and obviously here and Olympics. But what I really like about Jimmy -- and that's good. That's good that he has all that. He has all the skills and knowledge of hockey. But his passion for the game and passion for Michigan State is outstanding.

Our guys -- Muzz was great, and that's a tough person to fill, but Jimmy's done a great job, and guys, like I said, they're very excited to work with him. And he's going to bring -- I always like having other coaches around and guys that see games and played for different guys, and the hot stove in the mornings is always a little different when you have different people in the room. So it's been great. If he wants to coach, I think he's got a good future ahead of him.

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