GREEN ICE: Looking at MSU's 2006-2007 hockey

Looked at by some as having one of the top freshman classes in all of the country this season, it'll be hard for Michigan State to duplicate the feat next fall. But they'll try.

Looked at by some as having one of the top freshman classes in all of the country this season, it'll be hard for Michigan State to duplicate the feat next fall. But they'll try.

So far for 2006, the Spartans have commitments from defenseman-turned-forward Ryan Turek, who signed his National Letter of Intent last year and deferred to 2006, defenseman Michael Ratchuk and forwards Andrew Rowe and Jay Sprague. Another forward, Dustin Gazely, has verbally committed for 2007.

Turek, 18, is a Northville native who has quickly climbed the hockey ladder. In 2003-2004, he started the season as a co-captain of the Oak Park-based HoneyBaked midget AAA team, but scooted in mid-season for the Texarkana Bandits of the North American Hockey League.

Last year he joined the Omaha Lancers in the United States Hockey League and he's back there this season. Turek, 6-foot and 175 pounds, was also a member of the 2003 United States Under-17 Select Team that captured the gold medal at the Five Nations Tournament in Prievidza, Slovakia. A defenseman until last year, Turek is now up front for the Lancers and an alternate captain.

"One of the most selfless things a player can do is to put the team above self," said Omaha coach-GM Mike Hastings. "Ryan did that this year by switching to forward. He will play a key role in this team's development."

Buffalo native Ratchuk is currently with the U.S. Under-18 Team in Ann Arbor and played for the Under-17's last year. So far this year, the 17-year-old has three goals and an assist in seven NAHL games. Ratchuk stands 5-foot-11 and tips the scales at 171 pounds.

Sprague, 19, is the most recent commitment to MSU as he announced his college intentions in late September. A Georgetown, Ontario native, Sprague is in his first year with the USHL's Indiana Ice and is off to a bit of a slow start with two assists in his first three games. Even so, college waits for the 6-foot-2, 205-pound winger.

"Jay Sprague was a player our staff was fortunate to see during the regular season and playoffs last year in Ontario," said Ice president-GM Paul Skjodt.

"Michigan State wanted to see him play at the USHL level and his performance at the Buc Bowl (preseason tournament in Des Moines, Iowa) sealed the deal.

Jay is a consummate pro both on and off the ice. We believe he will be an impact player for the Ice this year and a great addition to the Michigan State hockey program in 2006-07."

Playing in the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League with his hometown Raiders last year, Sprague tallied 26 goals among 65 points and was drafted by the Ice in last spring's USHL draft.

Both Rowe and Gazely are with the USHL's Sioux City Musketeers this season. Rowe, a Muskegon native who turns 18 in January, has a goal and an assist in six games and Gazely, from Novi, has an identical scoring line.

The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Rowe played high school hockey last year for Mona Shores. Gazely has some growing to do as he is only 5-foot-8 and 143 pounds.

The current Spartan freshmen are comprised of goalies Jeff Lerg (Livonia), the national junior player of the year last season with Omaha, and Steve Mnich (Northville), defensemen Brandon Gentile (Clarkston) and Matt Shouneyia (West Bloomfield), forwards Justin Abdelkader (Muskegon), a Detroit Red Wings' second-round draft pick last July, Tim Crowder, Tim Kennedy, a sixth-round Washington Capitals' pick in July, Kurt Kivisto (Milford) and Nick Sucharski.

Next season's recruits can sign on the dotted line starting next month during the early signing period.

Perhaps next fall will bring another superb influx of talent to East Lansing.

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