Spartans down Toronto 3-0 in exhibition play

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Danton Cole era starts with a shutout win over the University of Toronto.

The Spartans emerged victorious 3-0 over the Varsity Blues Sunday at Munn Ice Arena. Michigan State received contributions from every class in a major confidence booster going into the regular season.

“I thought they did a good job, they competed very hard I thought they defended well, we created some stuff offensively, probably moved the puck maybe a little better then we thought they would,” Cole said. “Everything was real, from a coaching staff [perspective], real positive.”

The Spartans got the scoring started at the 7:03 mark of the first period. Sophomore forward Patrick Khodorenko sent a pass on the near side right below the goal-line. Instead of finding its intended target, the puck ricocheted off a Toronto defender and found its way into the back of the net. The unorthodox goal gave Michigan State a 1-0 lead and momentum for the remainder of the period. MSU dominated the first 20 minutes, outshooting the Varsity Blues 10-3.

Michigan State carried over that momentum into the second period. Off the draw, sophomore Taro Hirose forced a turnover and found himself alone on Toronto goaltender Fred Foulem. Hirose made a good deke to the backhand that beat Foulem but Hirose shot the puck over the net.

With about 12 minutes left in the second period, the Spartans got their first power play opportunity. Fans watched eagerly to see how the Spartan special teams, who were a major weak point last season, fared. They didn’t have to wait long as Khodorenko made a nifty dish to freshman forward Mitchell Lewandowski near the left dot. Lewandowski then send a quick shot toward the net that was deflected up and knocked in via the stick of junior forward Cody Milan.

After a short review, the goal was upheld and the Spartans took a 2-0 lead.

Milan has been a fringe starter most of his time in East Lansing, but showed some promise being put on the power play. Milan said contributing in those situations should help his confidence moving forward.

“It definitely gives you confidence out there when the coach puts you in situations like that,” Milan said.

When asked, Milan said he didn’t really know why Cole liked to put him on a power play unit with Khodorenko and Hirose.

Cole however revealed that he sees plenty of potential in White Lake, Mich. native.

“There’s a lot there and I think he’s trying to figure out what kind of player he is,” Cole said. “Probably what I like most is that he was a little bit more aggressive and with his skill set and his makeup. When he can be aggressive, he’s gonna be pretty good hockey player.”

Ten minutes later, Hirose found redemption for his earlier miss. Lewandowski send a long dump from his own defensive zone that would’ve been an icing had Hirose not beat out his man, forcing him to misstep and fall to the ice. Hirose took the puck in front of the net and deked Foulem out of his pads. Hirose gave him no chance to make the save and completed the highlight worthy play and give the Spartans a 3-0 lead.

Lewandowski’s third assist of the game marked an emergence in the young forward, who showed surprising poise as a freshmen in his first ever game.

“I was a little nervous coming to the rink today and right when we went out, but as soon as the puck dropped nerves go away and I just try to feel as comfortable as I can,” Lewandowski said.

The freshman must’ve felt comfortable because he was easily the best player on the ice, making good passes to set up teammates and nearly netting a goal himself in the third period.

“Mitch, he’s got a good awareness of spacing and where other guys are on the ice. Not just guys on our team, but guys on their team and he can really deliver a puck,” Cole said of Lewandowski.

The third period was uneventful aside from a few power plays that didn’t produce any results for either side. When all was said and done, MSU emerged with a well earned 3-0 victory having outshot Toronto 33-14.

Both netminders Ed Minney and John Lethemon saw action and made seven saves each in the game.

While it’s hard to put too much stock in this win, Michigan State is night and day from where they were a year ago against Toronto. The passes were shorter and more controlled, the forecheck was effective, and the Spartans played a well structured game in both the defensive and offensive zone.

Overall it was a good competent game of hockey played by the Green and White.

Now the challenge is to build on the strides already made and prepare for a home-and-home series against Bowling Green State next week to start the regular season.