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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY HOCKEY MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 25, 2013
COACH ANASTOS:¬† Great turnout.¬† Great to have all of you here.¬† Getting to that time of year, leaves are turning colors and time to start thinking hockey so we are happy to have you here.
What I thought I would do is just give a couple remarks, maybe a brief remark about kind of recapping where we were last season, and kind of where we think we are heading into this season and then we'll just field questions going forward.
So a bit of a recap last year, if you keep in mind where we're coming from, coming off of an NCAA Tournament team, lost a lot of players to graduation, and of course Torey to the pros early.
We introduced 12 new players last year at this time, which when I sat here with you guys last year, it was a pretty uncomfortable place to sit knowing what was ahead.¬† I don't think we had any surprises during the course of the year; in addition to having 12 new players, I think a real pivotal piece of that was we had major turnover on defense where we lost five defensemen, four of which played‑‑ in a 60‑minute game, four of five of which were playing 25 to 30 minutes a night.¬† We knew introducing that many new bodies back there was going to be a real challenge and it proved out to be exactly that.
We also had two season‑sending injuries last year.¬† Dean Chelios didn't play all season; early in practice, last year he blew his shoulder out, had season‑ending shoulder surgery.¬† Rhett Holland had a recurring injury that he had before he came here and got that repaired in the off‑season.¬† So both of those guys are back as red‑shirts, and in Dean's case as a senior, and Rhett as a freshman.
We also had two off‑season surgeries.¬† David Bondra kind of fought through the year, I think some of you will remember.¬† There were games we dressed him because we didn't have enough healthy bodies to dress.¬† We dressed him so he could serve penalties or something but he couldn't really play.
And a newcomer that you'll have an opportunity to meet and see is Joe Cox.¬† He was the captain of the Muskegon Lumberjacks and had a great season last year, and in the last game got a pretty serious knee injury.¬† He's still recovering, on a good path.¬† I think has been cleared to start progressing more aggressively in his skating and his activities, and he's working real hard to be back by somewhere around the start of the season.
We had a lot of unhealthy bodies that got fixed up in the off‑season, so that's a good thing.¬† We had obviously an inexperienced, very youthful team, especially on defense.¬† Our goaltending kind of emerged where we went into last season expecting Will really to carry most of the freight, and yet it evolved where Jake Hildebrand really emerged as a freshman, and I think that's positioned us to have goaltending be an incredible strength for our team this year with two experienced guys.
And during the course of the season, I thought our team really worked through time periods where we were struggling, we lost confidence, we fought through that, we gained confidence, and I think at the end of the season, we were probably playing our best hockey of the year, which was a good thing.
Coming off that, no one wanted the season to end.¬† We did take some baby steps in progress.¬† When you look at the past several years, last year was the first year the seniors had ever won a playoff game, which I know is kind of mind‑blowing, but that was a step in the right direction to get back where we want to be.
And then of course, going to Alaska, two out of three weeks towards the end of the season and pulling off a series win out there before going to Miami where we ultimately lost that series; but again, first series playoff win, series win, for those seniors in their four years here.
So small steps; I think big steps in terms of experience.¬† So now we look ahead to this season's team.
As I mentioned, I think we should expect our team to be strong in goal.¬† I think Will Yanakeff has come back here very eager and hungry to prove what he's capable of, and we think he's capable of playing at a very high level.
Jake Hildebrand wants to build on what he established as a freshman last year.¬† And it will be different.¬† There will be higher expectations for him.¬† And so he'll have to manage those expectations and see if he can continue to take his game and compete for time with Will and raise his game to a very high level.¬† But that should be a strength of our team.
Our defense has gained experience, yet I think it's still an area that we are going to have to really work on to get better.¬† Jake Chelios is now in his third full season of playing defense, so it's important for our team, if we are going to have success, that he has a big year back there as a senior defenseman.
Rhett Holland looks in terrific shape.¬† His shoulder is 100 percent.¬† He was brought to the program here to add some size and strength and toughness, particularly back on the blue line, and we expect him to do that.¬† I think he was one of the top performers in all of our off‑season training testing when the guys came back to school, so we have high expectations there.
And then you have Travis Walsh, who really was thrown in and got tons of ice time, and RJ Boyd who earned more ice time during the course of the year; we expect them to continue their development and be key contributors back there.
Then we have a player who we brought in as red‑shirt freshman last year, and it was a very strategic move on our part to deal with the rostering situation we had with so many players leaving.¬† But Brock Krygier is a player who in early season so far, and mind you, we have not spent a whole lot of time with the players.¬† But in the time that we have spent, he's really made gains in his strength, it looks like in his confidence level, and now he's going to have a chance to compete for some time, and we think he has a chance to do that overtime.
Offensively is an area that we were weak at last year, scoring goals, producing offense.¬† The good news is, the players that we graduated last year only accounted for 14 goals, so we haven't lost a lot of goal scoring.¬† But of course we didn't have a lot of goal scoring to lose.
So we have to find ways to become a better offensive team.¬† One way is through recruitment and recruiting players that have a proven track record of scoring goals.¬† That's going to take time.¬† And I think the other area is to develop a bit of a more offensive mentality where guys are thinking about taking more spots and getting more pucks‑‑ our opponents last year had almost 233 shots a game.¬† We only had just under 26 shots a game.¬† So to score goals, you have to shoot the puck more and we have to develop that mentality.
We need some guys to step up.¬† We need our upper classmen, we need guys like a Dean Chelios, who is probably in the best shape of his life, and he's shown a real mentality early here that he's real hungry to establish himself on our team.¬† He has the capability of scoring goals so we'll look to him and hope he can step up.
Same thing with Greg Wolfe, our captain, and there's a number of other guys both in the senior and junior class.¬† Most of the guys who led our team in scoring last year were sophomores, and freshmen, in the case of Matt DeBlouw, and they are all back, so hopefully they can continue their growth in that area as well.
I did mention last week at our Big Ten Media Day that we have lost a couple guys early.¬† Three of our players had surgery last week that will set them back probably as little as six and as much as probably ten weeks, and Nate Phillips is one of our goalies.¬† Johnny Draeger, sophomore defenseman, who we had high expectations for playing lots of minutes here.¬† So that's going to be an early season setback we'll have to overcome.¬† And Matt Berry, who was a sophomore and led our team in scoring last year, he had it, as well.¬† So injury is a part of the game and we'll have to deal with that, but that's something that we are going to have to overcome especially early in the season.
I will mention our freshmen and then happy to answer your questions.¬† We like the class that we have.¬† What we have seen so far early, we are very pleased with from physical conditioning to the relentless tenacity that we are looking for and their competitive spirit.
We have added size to our team.¬† We think we have added skill to our team, and a number of these guys have proven backgrounds contributing offensively, whether it's goal scoring, whether it's‑‑ we have got some guys who can really shoot the puck.¬† You'll see guys like Villiam Haag, who is out of Sweden; Mackenzie MacEachern, JT Stenglein; these guys can really shoot the puck.¬† And hopefully that will add and increase our shots on goal, and ultimately I think they will develop into good offensive players here during their time at Michigan State.
Joe Cox is another guy, and Thomas Ebbing, who we have high expectations for and as they get acclimated we think they are going to be important contributors to our team and to our program in the next couple years.
So, with that, I'm happy to start answering your questions.
Q.¬† What kind of injury for Berry and how long will he be out?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† I'm going to refer to all of them, just because of the sensitivity to them, as lower body injury, and all three of them have a similar injury. ¬†They sustain them in different ways we think in their off‑season preparation, whether it's skating or working out or whatever.¬† They will be out anywhere from on the low end, six weeks, to the high end, probably ten weeks.
Q.¬† He had surgery?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† Yeah, all three of them had surgery, same day.¬† Same day.
Q.¬† You mentioned your discomfort level a year ago.¬† So what's your comfort level today and why?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† Well, I knew last season going into it we were going to have tons of challenges.¬† I knew our opening weekend was going to be incredibly challenging knowing we were going with very little practice to play Minnesota and play a team that we beat the year before and they were licking their wounds.¬† And they had a Frozen Four team essentially returning, and it was everything that we thought, unfortunately, it would be.
This year, for the most part, we have guys who know what the expectations are.¬† We have guys that have college experience now, where last year, we didn't have that.¬† Literally, I think I saw a note that Jeff put out, we have four freshmen who played every single game last year.¬† That's the first time that's happened here since I think the early 2000s.¬† And yet, we had up to, I think eight freshmen in the lineup at any one time.
Well, I put great value on experience.¬† I think championship teams, most often, there are exceptions, have a lot of experience, and you see it in the pros all the time or late season trades to try to add those final pieces with experience; it adds so much, and we had very little of it.¬† Virtually half of our roster was new.
And it included some transfers, and that was strategic to try to lessen the bite to these large class sizes like we lost.¬† But this year, I feel more comfortable because we have more experience, not as much experience as I'd like, but we're gaining on that.
So we are going in knowing that we have a couple things.¬† One is we have playing experience.¬† No. 2 is, we have some preparation time before we really play real games this year, which hasn't been the case for the past two seasons.
And No. 3 is, I think we have at least roster depth on our team.¬† We'll see what our talent depth is.¬† We'll find that out overtime, but we have roster depth.¬† We'll have people‑‑ we'll have a lot of competition for both playing time and for spots in the lineup on game nights, and I think that's going to be a valuable thing for our team.
Q.¬† What are reasonable expectations?¬† Do you have those yet for this group, or is that something you form over the next month?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† I think reasonable is relative, and I think, you know, we knew coming in with the transition we were making, that progress‑‑ progress needs to be measured every season.
I can't give you a win number, but I can tell you our goals haven't changed.¬† We want to be competing for our league championship.¬† We want to get into the NCAA Tournament.¬† We want to give ourselves a chance to compete for the NCAA Championship.
How close are we?¬† Can't tell you right now.¬† On paper, we're inexperienced.¬† We're unproven in many ways, so that would tell you we have a long way to go.¬† But it hasn't changed our focus.¬† That is our focus.
Q.¬† You finished the season pretty much splitting time between Yanakeff and Hildebrand.¬† So can you talk about what you've seen from them in the off‑season and how you expect the season starting win them two?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† They are both in good shape.¬† We haven't been on the ice in a meaningful way to get enough evaluation in where they are, but both of them are very competitive guys.
They are very capable from a talent and skill level, and I think‑‑ I can see a benefit of being able to play two goaltenders.¬† Don't want to bring up a quarterback comparison I guess, but it's much different than that sport where over the length of playing‑‑ last year we played 42 games, and even two years ago, my first year, we played both goaltenders.
So I see it as a benefit if you can play both, and if guys play hard in front of both and both guys can win.¬† So we are going into it very open‑minded, knowing that we have two guys that have proven that they can win.
Q.¬† Defensemen last year with the numbers had to play a lot of minutes.¬† Can you size up the pairings right now, and talk a little about what Draeger's injury is going to mean for those guys if he's out till December or whatnot; how much does that mean in terms of ice time for these guys right away?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† Too early to tell you pairings because we haven't really paired anybody up yet.
The Draeger loss is substantial, just because he's gained a lot of experience last year, and I think of all of our defensemen, he played the most on our team.¬† So he played close to 30 minutes a night.¬† Those 30 minutes are not going to be easy to replace.
But at the same time‑‑ one of the things about last year that always bothers me is‑‑ and it's just something we have to fight through, and we knew it.¬† We introduced these guys almost to an unfair situation.¬† The perfect world is you bring in is some freshmen and they get an opportunity to play with some upperclassmen and they are able to evolve over a period of time.
We didn't have the luxury to do that.¬† We had to throw guys right into the fire, and to their credit, they fought and they competed and they battled, and they came out of it with a confidence by the end of the season that there was progress.¬† And yet, at times during the season, it was at a pretty low level where a guy's confident was very fragile.
So I think we should be a lot better for that.¬† I think guys are in excellent shape coming into the season.¬† I think we have to play a style of game to make sure that we are not just relying on our defense; it's a team defensive commitment that surrounds and starts in our goal, but when we don't have the puck, everybody on the ice has to commit to playing good team defense.
And when we get the puck, one of the things we didn't get a lot out of our defense last year was offense, and that was a big reason we struggled offensively.¬† If you look the year before and you look at the point productivity we received from, obviously Krug who led the league in scoring, but also Crandell and Shelgren and Buttery, those guys were all an important part of our offense, and we lost all of those guys to graduation and obviously Torey to the pros.
So this group of defense that we have, as it was last year, really didn't contribute substantially to our offensive play, and we need that to develop overtime.
Q.¬† With the addition of Penn State, this is the first year of Big Ten hockey, and really the first branded conference to really kind of accept hockey and really go with it.¬† What does that mean for you guys as a team and Michigan State as a school, and what does it mean for college hockey going forward?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† Well, I know our team is fired up about playing in the Big Ten.¬† And I think as time has grown near, it's been talk for two years and now it's here.¬† You see the uniforms show up with the Big Ten on it and you see advertisements promoting Big Ten hockey on national television.
We were at Big Ten Media Day last week, and Hilde and Wolfie went with me and they walked away fired up over all the talk about Big Ten hockey and the plans for it.¬† So I know our players are very excited about it.
And I think from a sport perspective, No.1, Big Ten is putting substantial resources into Big Ten hockey to make it successful, and there's no doubt in my mind that it will be.¬† And at the same time, I think that a successful Big Ten hockey league is going to help the sport, really put the sport on a different platform that we could have never done without a big‑time, all‑sport conference like the Big Ten is.
I think there's lots of future benefits, one of which is probably something that most of us won't see, but I keep telling people that the Big Ten has a powerful voice in the NCAA structure and in the legislative process.¬† We never had that as a single‑sport conference in hockey.¬† It was very difficult to get issues moved forward throughout the NCAA process.¬† Well, now we have a direct vehicle that has a powerful voice at that table and I think that will benefit our sport.
Q.¬† As a follow‑up‑‑ Joe Fan who is not a hockey fan can probably identify with some of those teams like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State, goes back to the branding.¬† Do you think this will have a tangible effect on attendance or is that guesswork right now?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† Well, I'm going to guess but I do think it will, I definitely do.¬† I think that's one of the benefits of playing in the Big Ten.¬† Every sport has their core fan, but I also think in our case, I know, in spite of us‑‑ like last year, we had a number of sellouts, we led our league in attendance.¬† We were a Top‑10 team in the country in attendance, and so that part is coming back as we hoped it would.
And I think this is going to lend to help that, because we are going to continue to have our core fans, but we want to introduce more fans to the game, and now Big Ten rivalries, Big Ten names, Big Ten brands, I think more people will associate with.¬† So I think that's a real benefit.
Q.¬† Is it going to be a wide open race, or is Wisconsin and Minnesota going to perhaps right now be the dominant teams or just too hard to say right now?
COACH ANASTOS:¬†¬† It's so hard to predict that, because you're basing everything on last season, where teams were, the players they have coming back.
Minnesota had a team last year that was in the Frozen Four.¬† They had most of they are players back, people expected them to be in the Frozen Four again, and they weren't, you know.¬† I think they are going to have a real good team.¬† They lost a number of guys to the pros early, but they were planning for most of them and they have some very talented guys coming in to replace them.
Wisconsin is a team that has a lot of experience at the end and they had some success at the end, and I think they were playing with a lot of confidence and they returned most of those players.¬† So it would make sense, not only from your perspective, but as you saw, the coach's perspective, that they would be a preseason favorite.¬† But when you drop the puck, and all the dynamics can change with an injury, with a hot goalie, with new players emerging, you just never know.
So as I said before, I can't sit here and tell you where I think we'll end up or what kind of season we'll have, but I feel way better about our team today than I did a year ago.
And our goals are the same regardless of where we are in our rebuilding process.¬† We want to be champions and that's our focus.¬† It's not like, we want to take this step this year.¬† We'd better take this step this year, because we want to be champions sooner rather than later.¬† So I think it will be a very competitive league and a number of teams will have a chance to win.
Q.¬† You talked about the Berry injury.¬† Obviously when you have your returning leading scorer out for that amount of time, it affects a team that's looking to get more goals.¬† What do you need from some of the other guys to immediately come in, or do you need the returning guys to step it up or both, a combination of both?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† Ideally, both would be terrific, but I think it has to be led by the upper class.¬† I just think that for us to have a good level of success; we need our senior class to take the responsibility of really stepping up and having their best‑‑ their career season.
And what that does to your team is‑‑ they are the most experienced players on your team.¬† They can then help facilitate the transition of the younger guys, and that's something we need to put in place here if we are going to have success.¬† You see the most successful franchises in sports; that's what happens.
And you know, while in college, we have greater turnover, if you‑‑ I remember when the Red Wings were the Dead Wings and the Canadiens were kind of the NHL model.¬† And you looked at the players that they had that set the tone for the next level of Canadien that came through‑‑ and I was kind of fortunate, even though I ended up playing in the Minor Leagues, I had the good fortune of seeing that firsthand.
Well, when the Red Wings finally got to that point, look at the snowball effect that's had for the last 20‑plus years.¬† And they are fortunate, they can have a captain in place for 20 years or have a Nicklas Lidstrom be a 20‑year player.¬† We don't get that.¬† Our best players will likely leave too early.
But at the same time, you want to have high expectations and high performance from your veteran players.¬† And you know, it would have been nice in last year's team to have a Crandell or Buttery or a Krug or a Shelgren working with those new defensemen that are coming in to have a chance to adapt.¬† While Grassi and Chelios did the best they could in that regard, Jake had just played one year of defense and Matt Grassi coming off essentially a half a season, and so they didn't get the benefit of that.¬† And for us to have success, we need our upperclassmen to take that responsibility.
Q.¬† That being said, as far as offense, you have five freshmen coming in, and one red‑shirt freshman at forward.¬† When you look at those freshman, they all have good scoring backgrounds.¬† Is there a tendency for you to downplay their talent and their expectations just because of the fact that they have got to transition; or, are you excited about what they bring to the program, because this group here seems to be the most talented group that's been here for a while.
COACH ANASTOS:¬† Seems like it is, but we've had about three or four hours on the ice with them, and very little competition.¬† So I'm not trying to downplay them at all.
I'm trying to have fair expectations, and even my time here before when I coached with Ron in the 90s, you would always get excited about the young guys, you know.¬† And when you go recruiting, you see the older players and then you get excited about the younger players.
So there's this tendency to over‑hype things.¬† So I don't want to over‑hype.¬† I'd rather undersell and overdeliver for sure, but at the same time, I do think they have skill sets and some intangibles that we very specifically were targeting in our recruiting, and I'm anxious for them to bring that to the table.
At the same time, I think they can make that transition easier, faster, what‑have‑you, if our upper class leadership and our experienced guys can help facilitate that.¬† And that's really the culture that we ultimately want to build here.
So I do think when you look at Mackenzie MacEachern:¬† A big strong guy for his age, I think he's 6‑2 or 6‑3; he's got a nice scoring touch; he's got good hands; he can see the ice well; he can get up‑and‑down the ice.¬† That's a skill set we need on our team.
Villiam Haag, real strong kid, got a great release on his shot, smart player, protects the puck real well; strong, powerful skater.¬† Again, has a proven track record to score.
Thomas Ebbing is a playmaker.¬† I joke all the time because we were recruiting Mackenzie MacEachern, and he was a darned good player.¬† And every time I go to watch him, Thomas Ebbing always played better.¬† I don't think I've told those guys yet‑‑ but that's how it‑‑ and it developed later where we actually had Mac committed and then eventually Thomas evolved at a later time.¬† But I think he's got a bright future.
JT Stenglein is a goal scorer.¬† He has proven it in the USHL, which is the best junior league in America and he's done that with consistency.¬† So we don't see any reason why he won't continue to do that at the college level.¬† And he also plays, you know, power forward‑type game.¬† He'll add a physical presence to our team, which is much needed.
And Joe Cox comes from a military family who he is a very disciplined, hard working, terrific potential leader on our team.¬† He has a nice dynamic that he's got good skills where he can make plays, he can score goals; even though I wouldn't call him a goal scorer, and yet, he takes great pride in doing the grunt work, killing penalties, blocking shots, being a great teammate that you need in a hockey team to become a good team.
Q.¬† What leaders are developing?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† I think‑‑ well, we are trying to do both.¬† The challenge in recruiting leaders is with the limitations on recruiting, it's very difficult to really identify that.
You can't just base it on who team captains are, because often times that's a popularity contest or it's just assigned to the player who is most talented on their youth hockey teams.
We try to do both.¬† We are working; we just got done with an exercise the last two days that we have been working with this company called 'The Program' as a piece of everything that we do here to try to help better develop team leaders, more cohesive teams and better teammates.
So that's an ongoing process, and our coaches and their staff spent considerable time over the last two days assessing different stages that our players are in as to where they are evolving as team leaders.¬† So I would say it's both.
Q.¬† You outlined earlier the potential speed bumps going through the injuries, the youth and everything, but correct me if I'm wrong, your tone was:¬† None of that will be used as an excuse, and that you should be‑‑ despite those potential roadblocks, taking a step up.
COACH ANASTOS:¬† Yeah, there's no excuses.¬† Injuries are part of the game.¬† Losing key players, part of the game.¬† Our goals haven't changed.¬† Our eyes are on the same targets that they would have been regardless.
Does it make it more challenging?¬† Yeah, sure.¬† You know, losing any player makes it more challenging regardless of their point productivity.¬† But no, won't be using an excuse.¬† I share it with you only to inform you.
Q.¬† You touched on a lot of freshmen, but with 17 returning letter winners, does that make that transition easier; that you don't have to just throw all these guys into the fire to get people on the ice, but you can develop them and bring them along the way you want?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† I'm hopeful we are a step closer to doing that, and as you gain experience, that's what you hope for.
I grew up, I mentioned to you, I always followed the Montr√©al Canadiens, and then I was drafted by them and part of their organization.¬† And back when they were really in their heydays, they moved guys along very methodically through their system and they gave it time.
If you look at the evolution of the Red Wings and their ascension to where they are today and you listen to Ken Holland, he talks about, we want guys to go down and bake in Grand Rapids and make sure that they are good and ready before they move into the NHL club.¬† There's great value to that.¬† We didn't have that luxury last year, and we don't have the luxury of a pro team to be moving guys in and out of rosters from other places.
So we are just going to have to fight through that over a period of time.¬† When I took the job, I knew there was going to be roster challenges, just given the makeup of the classes, and we are trying to put strategies in place to manage that.
We thought we made some pretty good progress in managing that piece of it last year, and yet, we had a couple guys who had season‑ending injuries and then got red‑shirted, so that's not something you plan for.
Hopefully we will get‑‑ and we won't get far enough this year.¬† Hopefully by next year we have more guys with considerably more experience, and so when new guys are coming in, there's more support for them to make their acclimation to this level of hockey.
Q.¬† Last year as the season wore on, it seemed like guys mentally, even though they were grinding out games, kind of got caught up and mentally brought down sometimes by the losing.¬† What have you done in the off‑season to maybe erase that or help them learn from that and use those experiences to build this year?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† Well, we definitely talk about it.¬† I think you can dwell on the negative if you choose.¬† You know, we could choose, but we are focusing on the pros.¬† We fought through it.
We reached a point in the season last year where our confidence was at a very low level.¬† It was‑‑ I use the word fragile, it was very fragile, because you can see in practice, we couldn't complete a fundamental pass.¬† Guys are very frustrated by that, and we fought through it.
And in many ways, the way the season went, it was not so unpredictable, and I had told our players that we were going to go through periods that were going to be very challenging, so we deal with things head on, and at the same time, the way we ended the season, we were playing pretty darned well.¬† We found a way to play with that particular group that gave us a chance in every game to be successful and so now I think there's a level of confidence that we can build off that.
I also think that if I'm an upperclassman or a returning player, I see the kinds of players that we brought in in our freshman group, and I'm excited because I think they can complement what we are trying to achieve.
So I think we'll have a different level of confidence starting season than we did a year ago for sure, and certainly at the lowest point of last year because we fought our way through it.
Q.¬† There was a couple players who you knowingly red‑shirted last season just to give a year to develop and gain strength.¬† Is there any incoming freshman you can expect the same thing from this year?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† We don't have any plans‑‑ that was pre determined as a strategy to reduce our roster size of moving 12 players in.
So what we try to do‑‑ not to try to bore you with these details, but we had 12 new players come in and we were trying‑‑ we didn't want to lose 12 players in one season four years from now or ten players even.¬† We don't want to have to go through that again.
So we found two transfers.¬† There's not a big pool for transfers.¬† We found two guys that happened to be transfers, in Nickolas Gatt and RJ Boyd.
And then we targeted two spots, because recruiting walk‑on type positions on our team are very important.¬† We have 18 scholarships and this year we have 28 players on our team.¬† So not everybody is a scholarship player; some are partial; some are none; some are full.¬† It's across the board.
So we identified a couple of players that had a passion to play at Michigan State; we thought had the potential to play at Michigan State but probably weren't ready to play at Michigan State.¬† And so we thought we could bring those players in; they could be practice players for a year.¬† We could train them all season long to make gains in their strength; contrary to a different type of training that you're training the players who are competing to play every week.¬† We trained them like they weren't going to play.
We are happy we made that decision.¬† So that reduced our roster size, other than of course Holland had to be red‑shirted, and so that's going to add to the younger class again but we are happy we made that move.
We don't have those same roster spots this year to do and we probably wouldn't do it anyway right now because we have enough guys in that role.¬† But we'll see how that strategy plays out over a period of time.
I think both of those guys, Brock Krygier, who I mentioned and Connor Wood, who is a forward, the dynamics will be different for them.¬† Last year they could come, they could work hard, they could practice, they could train and they knew they were not going to play on the weekend.¬† And now there's going to be more pressure to try to get into the lineup.¬† And so how they manage that mentally, how they prepare themselves, what kind of push they can make to play, we'll have to wait and see.
But I still think they are a long way from where they will be, but they are making very good progress and I know our coaching staff is pleased with what they are doing.
Q.¬† With the creation of the Big Ten Conference, what are the biggest differences you're going to see, maybe scheduling and whatnot?¬† And you mentioned the league and being able to approach the league directly, those types of things; what differences will you see in that?¬† And also with the amount of exposure you'll see increase, how much does that benefit your program as far as recruiting and going forward?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† Well, schedule‑wise, in particular, the schedule is going to be very demanding.¬† We have a balanced schedule, so that's kind of a nice thing.¬† We haven't seen that in CCHA in years and years and years.¬† We had a very unbalanced schedule.
This is a balanced schedule, which the good thing is you're playing everybody the same number of times.¬† The challenging thing is, they are all real competitive programs and it will be a very demanding schedule.
I think for our team, I think it's‑‑ I know our guys are excited about it.¬† I think one of the big differences is the buildings we'll be playing in across the league.¬† You're going to play in buildings that are full every night with a capacity from 5,000 to I think 13,000.¬† That creates probably a different level of pressure when guys are playing on the road, adapting to that.¬† It's different than going to a building with 2,500 people.
To me, leading to the second part of your question, I think it lends a lot to what we are trying to do recruiting‑wise.¬† It's a great place to come.¬† It's a great environment to develop if you want to try to be an NHL player.
For our fans, it creates the kind of rivalries that they are used to in other sports.¬† Schedule is very demanding, and I always reference‑‑ can you imagine, basketball had a tough stretch last year where they play at Minnesota and then at Ohio State, at home with Michigan or whatever.
We go to Wisconsin and we play two in a row, and the next week we might go to Michigan and play two in a row; and the next week somebody comes and plays us and we play two in a row.¬† So the schedule in itself for hockey is very demanding, particularly with the physicality that goes on in the sport.
Q.¬† Does that exposure give the Big Ten a leg up as far as recruiting?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† Exposure is substantial.¬† It is substantial when you compare what's going on nationally, and we have already heard and seen in our recruiting, people taking note of that.¬† I thought we used to do a decent job in the CCHA in creating television exposure for our members but this is taking it to a level never seen before, and I think we are just on the cusp of what it will be ultimately.
So definitely, it will raise the exposure‑‑ that's what I said, kind of raises the platform that we are on for the sport, not just the Big Ten.¬† Way more people will get to see college hockey and the passion behind it and the level of play behind it.¬† And for us in particular, I think it should benefit in our recruiting and in our player development, too.
I think all those opportunities help‑‑ I give Torey Krug 100 percent of the credit of his success and in how he managed what he went through last year leading up to the Stanley Cup final:¬† How he managed the media; how he interacted with the community; how he fit in with his teammates; how he performed on the ice.¬† That's all on him.
Along the way, I'm sure if you talked to him, I'm sure he'd say Michigan State really helped himself prepare for that, because we do deal with media; we are on TV during games and have to manage that aspect of it.
As you guys know, in some instances, some coaches, they try to block out all the distractions.¬† We are trying to help our guys to train themselves to block out the noise on their own, rather than us have to block it out, because you can't control everything.¬† We use examples:¬† Last year we were in the playoffs.¬† We are in Alaska, things are going great.¬† Seems like we are taking all the momentum of the game, and the glass breaks.¬† We got a 25‑minute delay.¬† We just had all the momentum, trying to close out a series.
Well, fortunately the guys were mentally tough, blocked out any distractions, focused on finishing the job.¬† That's just one small example of what a lot of this that we'll be going through and players go through in competing in a league like ours and preparing themselves for that very next level of hockey.¬† We think it's a benefit.
Q.¬† You had two guys with over a hundred shots and two guys with over 80 shots.¬† Is what you were speaking to earlier as far as getting the puck on the net and everything‑‑ because you ended up with your opponents having 1,300 shots and you had just over 1,000.¬† Is that what you were talking about when you were talking about getting the puck on net and having more guys on a range of 60, 70 shots?
COACH ANASTOS:¬† I'd love to see top goal scorers getting 200 shots a season.¬† That's a lot, but I think part of it is a mentality.
I think if you look at other sports, let's use basketball, for example.¬† Shooters like to shoot the ball and they think about shooting the ball.¬† We don't have a lot of guys on our team who are of that mentality; they are looking maybe to be pass‑first guys.
So I think some of the guys that we are bringing in have more of that shoot‑first mentality. ¬†But I also think we have to encourage what we have here to try to change their mentality a little bit to think about shooting the puck more.
And with the way the game is played today, there's a lot of rebound goals.¬† There's a lot of weird rebounds.¬† There's a lot of scrums that are created or scrambles that come off of shots on goal, or even sometimes shots wide of the goal; we have lively boards here.
But that's a factor and a mentality we need to play with on offense.¬† So we have got to convince the guys that we have right now that we have to think about shooting the puck way more than we have in the past.¬† And we have been preaching it, but it's a mentality change because a lot of guys just aren't hard‑wired that way, and so we have got to be harder on guys to think that.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports