The Spartans, fresh off a 25-12-8 record, CCHA Championship, and Mason Cup victory, are preparing for what looks to be a very promising next season. However, let's take a quick look at what transpired this season first.
Due to great goaltending, solid defense, and an opportunistic power play, the Spartans overcame a mid-season slump to rally and get a No.1 seed to the NCAA Tournament.
The defense continued to shine in the tournament as they beat New Hampshire 1-0, before dropping the season finale to Maine by the score of 5-4.
This season started with head coach Rick Comley feeling some heat, and a quick start out of the gate for MSU was needed, and that was achieved as MSU raced out to a 8-1-2 start to begin the season.
However, then came a lull that saw the Spartans stumble through a 1-6-2 stretch of play.
Rick Comley tried to shake up the direction of the team in changing goaltenders from Dominic Vicari to Jeff Lerg, and, as they they say, the rest is history.
Lerg got hot, and stayed hot through the rest of the season, and the young freshmen gained valuable experience over time. Jeff's play help put the Spartans over the top for the latter part of the season.
The Spartans finished January play at 6-2-2, and in February were 6-0-1, which was among the longest winning active streaks at the time in college hockey for the season.
MSU had also won five in a row at the end before their season ending loss.
It was a season that saw exciting wins over Cornell, New Hampshire, and three wins over CCHA regular season champion Miami, including the Mason Cup CCHA championship game.
So how does next season look for the Spartans?
First, the Spartans must say good-bye to some seniors who played an important role in this years success.
Moving on are senior forward David Booth, who was outstanding much of the year and ended up with 13 goals and 22 assists. Forward Colton Fretter also moves on, and takes his 10 goals and 19 assists with him. Another senior moving on is defensemen Corey Potter, who started slow but ended the year strong with four goals and 18 assists.
Another player moving on is junior redshirt Jared Nightingale, who was second on the team in +/- with a +10. Rumors have flown that goalie Dominic Vicari may leave as well, but hopefully that is not the case. Vicari is valuable, and just found a hot goaltender in front of him. Sometimes the defense didn't play sound in front of him as well.
Now for the good news, the Spartans welcome back some able veterans, and some new faces as well.
Forward Drew Miller will return and bring his team leading 43 points back with him on 18 goals and twenty-three assists. Miller does blocks a lot of shots and does a little bit of everything. Bryan Lerg provides punch with 15 goals and 23 assists as well. Bryan plays well on both ends of the ice and seems to score key goals at crucial times.
Then there are the dynamic freshmen of Tim Crowder with 17 goals and 13 assists, Tim Kennedy had four goals and fifteen assists, and Justin Abdelkader. Crowder was especially effective in the post season scoring critical goals, at times, Kennnedy seemed to take over, and Abdelkader who had 10 goals and 12 assists, and was very physical, laying big hits all over the ice.
There is solid depth up front with Chris Lawrence, Jim McKenzie, Nick Sucharski, and Chris Mueller providing experience.
McKenzie had 11 goals and 17 assists and is a physical presence who is not afraid to mix it up. Lawrence played limited minutes but in spots looked good. Mueller was especially effective with 11 goals and 16 assists. Sucharski is a guy that has a bright future ahead of him as a mere freshman. He played well as the season went on. Kurt Kivisto could also see some action next year.
On defense MSU will be expecting big things again from Tyler Howells who had a +22 rating, which lead the team, and he added 10 goals and 14 assists. Ethan Graham really came on as a solid defenseman capable of playing a lot of minutes. Chris Snavely and Daniel Vukovic improved as the season went on.
In goal for MSU is once again young Jeff Lerg, who has battled asthma and puck to become one of the outstanding goalies in all of college hockey with a 1.96 goals against average, a .928 save percentage, and a 17-6-6 record. Dominic Vicari hopefully returns after posting a 8-6-2 record, a 2.62 goals against average, and a .896 save percentage. Undoubtedly those numbers would have improved had he played more.
The Spartans will also welcome some new faces next year. Forward Matt Schepka is a 5-foot-9 196-pound scorer from Warren, Michigan. Playing for Omaha in the USHL he scored 37 points and had 19 assists. He also had eleven game-winning goals, and this is a guy who will have to help replace the loss of Booth. Schepka also had a nice +12 in the +/- category.
Another forward playing for Omaha is Ryan Turek, who is from Northville, Michigan ,and who scored 17 goals and had 11 assists. At 5-foot-11, and 180-pounds he can be physical at times.
Another forward coming to MSU is Jay Sprague from Indiana of the USHL. At 6-foot-2, 205-pounds, he's a big kid who scored 17 goals and had 16 assists.
Finally, defensemen Michael Ratchuk is 5-foot-11 and 171-pounds, and comes from Buffalo, New York. Last year he played for the USNTDP under eighteen team and had 11 goals and 15 assists in 47 games. He can play on both ends and move the puck, which will be important on a team losing both Potter and Nightingale from the blue line.
Looking even further ahead, the class of 2007 will welcome forward Andrew Rowe who plays forward for Sioux City in the USHL. He had eight goals and eight assists in 50 games.
AJ Sturges played defense for the USNTDP under-17 team and four goals and four assists.
Dustin Gazley is a forward who scored 16 goals and who had 14 assists in 55 games and a +6 rating.
2008 recruits so far include Honeybaked Midget goalie Jordan Tibbett, and teammate and defensemen Austin Handley.
So it looks like the future of Spartan hockey is in good hands.
As far as next season is concerned, MSU will have a lot of depth at the forward position, but must count on some newcomers on defense to help out with key losses there. In net, MSU will have Lerg, and hopefully Vicari, if so, MSU looks solid for a good to great year.
MSU will probably be picked in the top five to ten clubs in college hockey, and expectations will be high for another productive season. In fact, expectations will even higher for Rick Comley and their bunch again to attain more with a solid nucleus returning.
While Rick Comley is officially off the hot seat, a backward turn next year could find some people disgruntled again.
If the veterans all get a little bigger and stronger in the off-season and keep working, and the freshmen, most notably Schepke and Ratchuk, make an impact, the Spartans should be fine.
GSN as always will continue to bring you exciting Spartan hockey coverage as it becomes available.