Breaking Silence: Delay the Autopsy (for now)
I'm back I guess? Walking the tightrope
Well let’s get back to this, huh? My password was saved thank God so that I could actually sit down and write these thoughts out today, with no editor and just let the thoughts of over a full calendar year flow. My son is turning 2 years old in 20 days, my hockey advising work has become exponentially more time consuming (thankfully in time for daycare payments) and uhhhhh MSU hockey was not exactly a good mental health experience last season that I wanted to write about?
However, now as I have gotten time back in my day (see: daycare), I have become so honored that people have sought me out for opinions on MSU Hockey, and I want to get back to actually providing more than an occasional twitter thread on my thoughts. I would love this place to be forcibly wiped from the internet, #HireJerBear, but until that happens let’s talk about where the MSU hockey program sits. Since it has been so long this may be a running bullet list, that I try to continue to build on as I write more throughout the off-season heading into the 2022-23 season.
So we went 1-15 in 2022. How is Danton Cole back?
I won’t say I am shocked that Cole is back, but I was not certain he would be, and to be honest since Selection Sunday was just yesterday, I uhhhh may consider he is not out of the woods entirely yet. The 1-15 stretch was horrendous. Yes, Mitch Lewandowski was out injured, yes Griffin Loughran was ineligible for the 2nd semester, and I think with those 2 guys in the lineup this team finishes at least 6th in the league and is more something like 6-10 in the second half. However, in year 5, it can’t be on losing 2 good to just ok players separating you from 1-15 and 6-10. Not here, not at this program, despite this program being a cellar dweller for a decade plus, it can’t happen.
Danton Cole is back, I believe on a burning seat, with one season to save his job and I am not sure how Alan Haller judges what success is next season. He gets to have one year with Munn renovations, delayed by 2 years and a pandemic, finally complete, renovations he is instrumental in fundraising his ass off for. Alan Haller didn’t have to grant him this season, maybe didn’t even want to with much gusto, but has seemingly made this decision.
Do you support this? How wrong were you?
I will say in a vacuum I am on board with another season for Cole. Between a Covid season last year where the team tried to bring a large Freshman class into college hockey on no real training camp, and this season where they were close to breaking through before injuries, I am willing to give another season. Do I think we challenge for the tournament next season and feel like long term we know end of next season Cole is for sure the guy? I can’t say I feel that way today.
I still believe Danton Cole is a good hockey mind and coach. If he were to leave MSU he would be on an AHL or NHL bench very quickly for his mind. Where he has not met my expectations to this point is: style of play, getting guys to buy in and play hard (this has slipped since year 1, when he was amazing at squeezing a lot out of an undertalented team), and most damning of all he took his eyes off the ball in recruiting, farming it out to assistants and not being involved enough in my opinion. That last part can change very quickly, but won’t impact the results on the ice right away and if we are searching for a coach next Spring I believe that can be where DC feels he let himself down the most. He can help by getting back to a more offensive style of play that he had when he first came to East Lansing. If you are against the wall push back for your job by playing an aggressive style, don’t sit in a shell and pray Pierce Charleson wills you to a 2-1 win.
So we just aren’t making any changes?
Well, about that.
I’ll go to bat for making an argument to keeping Danton, and a bigger bat for Luongo maybe. You won’t catch me doing that for Exter. A poor reputation among recruits, commits, families, advisors, and NHL scouts is not great for a guy leading your recruiting department. Is he a sacrificial lamb or a scapegoat? Sure. Yeah. Is it undeserved? Not in my opinion. Too many commits lost to other programs and the OHL, while also being told that Exter barely checked in with commits during the season to have me wanting to argue about the unfairness of this.
I was never crazy about using one of your three bench positions on a guy with a goalie background, but I was willing to give Exter a shot after he was involved in building great classes at Ohio State. That never really paid off at MSU, and I think despite his great work with the goaltenders in East Lansing, this staff needed someone to go and he was the largest target.
So how does the roster improve next season?
I plan on covering the incoming freshman in depth, so I will mention them by name here but offer more over the spring/summer. So far 3 players have signed their NLI: forward Tiernan Shoudy, defensemen Matt Basgall, and forward Daniel Russell. I also expect in the later signing period forward Gavin Best to sign as well and there are some possibilities beyond that but I mainly expect just those 4 to arrive as Freshman.
Good crop there, but there is no NHL sure thing. Good college hockey players possibly, but not elevation to conference supremacy right away, and this staff needs more than that to save their job. So, time to take a page from Mel Tucker and hit the transfer portal hard for an immediate infusion of talent, as a band-aid mind you, not a long term plan.
I want to plug here Mike McMahon, as a great source for all things the portal in college hockey. I use his newsletter ($$) to help gather who is an option out there for MSU. I have heard from sources MSU has been busy hosting portal visits, especially from Brown University, as Ivy League players cannot play as grad players so many are seeking new homes. In my estimation I would plan for MSU to take 2 defensemen, 1 goaltender and 1/2 forwards in the portal. They need to do this for talent, depth, and increased competition.
At forward I think they should be pursuing players such as:
Justin Michaelian (SR. Ferris State)- Wixom, MI native, had 23 pts in 35 games played last season. Adds college experience and leadership with a punch offensively.
Justin Jallen (SR. Brown)- 8, 9 and 10 goals scored his first 3 seasons at Brown. Late riser from Minnesota High School hockey. I assume a school like St. Thomas in his home state would be competition, but B1G Hockey may be more enticing.
Tristan Crozier (SR. Brown)- Was a captain at Brown, and after a senior class that showed some lack with discipline I think more leadership can help. Playmaker and depth forward, solid on the PK type.
As you can see you won’t find sure thing big goal scorers in the portal, but need to close on what is out there to increase competition.
At defense I would target:
Brandon Estes (SR. Union)- The gem of the portal right now besides Drew DeRidder in my mind. Will have lots of suitors, after putting up 29 pts in 37 games. Is 25 and likely weighing portal options with minor pro options. Hope that you can hit a grad degree he likes.
Drew Bavaro (So. Bentley)- Has up to 3 years of eligibility which is great. Almost a PPG Dman this season. Florida native so you are not fighting home state schools.
Tomas Mazura (Frosh. Providence)-6th round selection for the Edmonton Oilers. Very limited college action and USHL games. Would be a project.
Jacob Nordqvist (SR. Lake State)- Solid all around, playing in state, for 3 MSU alums. Make an inquiry at least.
I do not expect Drew DeRidder to pull his name out and come back to MSU. His parents were actively upset with the entire staff and Drew’s experience. He’s not coming back in my mind. So you are going to need a battery mate for Pierce Charleson, as Jon Mor ain’t it, and Luca Di Pasquo needs a USHL season before college.
Oskar Autio (SR. Penn State) - Played in the league, and has decent numbers. Wouldn’t be called upon to be THE GUY, which may help his numbers too. Best goalie in the portal besides DeRidder.
That is the sole goalie that makes sense as a 1 year gap with any real experience last season, so… if you don’t hit on him? I guess take one you like from leftovers as a 2 guy no matter what and ride Charleson. Judging goaltenders did just get a little harder though as you fired the coach on staff who was a goalie, so this will be interesting.