The line of Crowder, Kennedy and Abdelkader who accounted for 101 points of the Spartans 356 total points last season. The experience and chemistry should play a huge part in 2007 as this line improved from 81 points in 2005-2006 to over the century mark last season.
Published reports stated that Abdelkader had continued to talk to the Red Wings about joining them in time for their upcoming training camp, but GSN expects him to don Green-and-White for one more season.
From an offensive standpoint, the Spartans are only losing their captain Chris Lawrence. Lawrence only had seven total points, with just one goal, but his leadership on and off the ice was the central core of the team.
Looking to fill that gap could be last year's assistant captain and now Senior-to-be Bryan Lerg. Lerg led the team with eight game winning goals to go with his 36 total points, second only to Tim Kennedy, with 46 points.
Joining the team in the fall will be center Ben Perlini from the Soo Thunderbirds. Ben has a very similar playing style to that of Tim Kennedy. He creates plays from sheer hard work and determination. He is willing to take the hit to make a play, but with a 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame he should be doing most of the hitting.
He could also be paired up with 6-foot-3 forward, Adam Henderson. Adam had 22 goals on the Spruce Grove Saints (AJHL), which led the team, to go along with 46 total points. Combining both finesse and physical play, Adam and Ben could produce lots of scoring opportunities for the Spartans this fall.
The question for the fall will be filling the gap on the defensive side of the puck. Between the pipes again will be Jeff "Lil' Guy" Lerg, who fought through a slow start to post a .913 save percentage along with his 26-13-3 record, including playing lights out in the tournament.
However, four of the five seniors leaving were key components to his success.
Tyler Howells led all Michigan State defenseman with 26 points and Ethan Graham second with 13 points, both finished their MSU careers. Also Howells, Snavely, and Graham were all in the top ten in plus/minus and ate up valuable minutes on both the power play and penalty kill.
New recruit and third generation Spartan A.J. Sturges will (6-foot-4, 185-pounds) will bring some size to Michigan State's somewhat small defensive core.
State received a taste of Sturges could do during their early season exhibition with the US development team. "The good thing about A.J. is he really knows what he is, and he plays within those perameters. (He's) a good defender, good defensive stick, good body position (player)," coach Ron Rolston said of the incoming freshman.
Sturges had three goals, two which came on the power play, could provide some immediate help to the Spartan power play, which seemed to struggle at times last year. Incoming freshman Jeff Petry, son of former Detroit Tigers pitcher Dan Petry, could also help on the power play.
Recently drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the second round, he had 18 goals to go with 27 assists on the Des Moines Buccaneers [USHL].
Ratchuk and Petry could be a very potent one-two punch from the point this fall. Ratchuk, who started off the season hot, but entered a cold as the season progressed, will hopefully play up to the level he is capable for the whole year.
Another incoming freshman, Austin Handley will join the Spartans defensive front. Austin is considered one of the top blue line prospects heading into the CCHA this fall. Daniel Vukovic will be the glue to Spartans defense. Vukovic led last year's team in plus/minus with +19 and has the most experience of the remaining defensemen.
He will need to be at the top of his game in order for Jeff Lerg to have an outstanding year.
Like they say the goalie is only as good as the defense in front of him.
With Lerg now a junior, the Spartans moved to add some depth in the net, adding goaltender Jordan Tibbett into the fold. Tibbett and his 6-foot-1, 175-pound body, combines size with good athleticism. He has the ability to be an outstanding goalie, but has not had the amount of starts to prove his worth.
In 22 career games, split between Des Moines and Omaha (USHL), he posted 4.19 goals against average and will be given a chance to watch and learn behind Lerg before being expected to get any meaningful playing time.
The 2007-2008 Spartans could be one of the most exciting teams to watch in the CCHA. The Spartans have their top scorers returning and an eager freshman class. After last year's unexpected and stunning National Championship, the Spartans have a shot at re-establishing themselves as one of the Nation's elite programs.
With nearly 75% of last year's title team returning, there is no reason to think that MSU can't make another run at a second consecutive Frozen Four appearance.
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