Hockey Preview: Spartans Have Shot

The top line of Kennedy, Abdelkader and junior Tim Crowder will remain the same. Kennedy, a Buffalo Sabers prospect, is a pre-season Second Team All-CCHA selection. Despite being the team's leading point getter from last year Kennedy looks to improve upon last years totals.

EAST LANSING - Although the expectations are high for Coach Rick Comley and the Michigan State Hockey team in 07-08, the mood at Media Day on Tuesday was laid back and confident.

"I like this team and its talent, said Comley. It's one that's proven it can win close games. MSU is ranked second nationally by USA Today and was picked by the media to win the CCHA.

They open with 10 of their first 13 games at home in the friendly confines of Munn Arena. However, they will be tested in the season opener as they travel to the Palace in Grand Forks to clash with the top-ranked team in the nation and fellow Frozen Four participant from last season, North Dakota.

"I'm excited about it," Junior Justin Abdlekader said. "I know a lot of the upperclassmen are looking forward to it."

Despite lofty expectations, the Spartans will perhaps be a better team than the National Champions from a year ago. They return 74% of its offense from last years team, along with pre-season All-CCHA goaltender Jeff Lerg.

They also add six freshmen to the mix, including a pair of NHL draft picks in defenseman Jeff Petry (EDM) and forward Corey Tropp (BUF) who could make instant contributions.

Strength Between the Pipes Michigan State returns last years starter Jeff Lerg, who appeared in all 42 games for the green and white a year ago compiling a 26-13-3 record.

The 5-foot-6 junior from Livonia, Michigan was USA Hockey College Player of the year in 06-07 and was also named to the Frozen Four All Tournament team, where he compiled a .954 save percentage along with a 1.25 goals-against-average in four tournament games.

Lerg is a pre-season First team All-CCHA selection and will be an integral part to the Spartans success in 07-08.

Backing up Lerg is sophomore Bobby Jarosz, who appeared in three contests last year, allowing just one goal in 37 shots faced. Junior Steve Mnich is yet to see any game action. Both backups are unproven and it will be interesting to see how they perform if pushed into duty.

On the Point

Seniors Dan Vukovic and Jeff Dunne along with sophomore Mike Ratchuk will anchor the Spartan blueline this season. Vukovic appeared in all 42 games a year ago, amassing just 12 points, but saw an offensive breakout during the NCAA Tournament. He also led the team in plus-minus last season.

Vukovic, Dunne, and Ratchuk will need to step up in 07-08 because the Spartans lost two of their top blue liners from a year ago in Tyler Howells and Ethan Graham. Howells was named to the All-Tournament team in the 2007 Frozen Four.

A lot of responsibility will also be placed on freshmen Jeff Petry and A.J. Sturges. Petry, the 45th overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, should provide the Spartans physical defense with a powerful slap shot.

"I'm more of an offensive player," Petry said. "I think one of my key attributes is my shot. Just trying to get the shot through on net is one of big points to my game."

While playing for the USHLs Des Moines Buccaneers the last two seasons, Petry recorded 60 points (19-41-60) and 139 penalty minutes.

Sturges, the brother of junior forward Dan, joins the Spartans after a year with the U.S. National Team Development Program. The Spartan defense returns a lot of talent but will need underclassman to step up if they want to return to last years National Championship form.

Forwards

Michigan State returns its top four scorers from last season with seniors Bryan Lerg and Chris Mueller, and juniors Tim Kennedy and Justin Abdelkader.

The top line of Kennedy, Abdelkader and junior Tim Crowder will remain the same. Kennedy, a Buffalo Sabers prospect, is a pre-season Second Team All-CCHA selection. Despite being the teams leading point getter from last year Kennedy looks to improve upon last years totals.

"Last year I had a great year but I worked on some of my skills I felt needed to improve. said Kennedy. Thats what you have to do when you want to repeat as champions."

With the departure of Jim McKenzie to the Ottawa organization, captain Bryan Lerg and Mueller will be joined on the Spartans second line by freshman Corey Tropp. Comley will look to Tropp to replace McKenzies size and tenacity on the ice, although Comley knows it will be tough to replace him.

Upperclassmen Zak McClellan, Nick Sucharski, Dan Sturges, and Matt Schepke will all have bigger roles on the team this year and could see an increase in their production.

Overall, the Spartan forwards are experienced and proven bunch who are expected to provide more offensive punch in 2007-08.

Captains

Besides the already mentioned captain Bryan Lerg, fellow senior Chris Mueller will wear a letter for the second consecutive year and juniors Justin Abdelkader, Tim Kennedy, and Jeff Lerg will serve as alternate captains.

A Banner Night

The 2006-2007 National Championship banner will be raised on Friday, October 19 prior to the teams regular season home opener vs. Colgate. National Championship tags have already been imprinted onto the ice at Munn, located just inside each blueline.

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