The MSU hockey team has had a great history in college hockey. With their fair share of conference, regular season and tournament titles, three NCAA National Championships and two Hobey Baker award winners, the Spartans have some great accomplishments under their belt. None of those accomplishments would have been possible if it were not for the hard work and dedication put in by countless MSU hockey players over the years.
Over the next five weeks, Behind the Mask will be releasing each of our top five greatest spartan hockey players of all time. Starting with No. 5 and working all the way up to No. 1. Each of us giving our own reasons on why each player deserves to be there.
Who will claim the top spot on the countdown?
* * *No. 3 Jeff Lerg (2005-2009) Brian Bobal
Michigan State has had a handful of stellar goaltenders throughout its history. Ryan Miller may be the most popular, but Jeff Lerg was the most underrated. Despite suffering from severe asthma, the 5-foot-6 goalie stood between the pipes from 2005 to 2009, the best years of the Rick Comley era. In his time, Lerg broke Chad Alban’s record for most games played by a goaltender in school history with 146 and placed his name in the top 10 of most goaltending categories.
Lerg made his debut in the 2005-2006 season, where he earned a modest 17-6-6 record that brought Michigan State to the regional finals of the NCAA tournament. They suffered a difficult loss at the hands of Maine. As for Lerg, he was named CCHA Rookie of the Year and CCHA Tournament MVP.
The 2006-2007 season would be historical for Lerg and the Spartans. Lerg would set a school record by starting his 61st consecutive game dating back to February of 2006. With a record of 26-13-3, Lerg boosted the Spartans back into the NCAA Tournament and a rematch against Maine. With the Spartans trailing 2-0, Lerg held strong as Michigan State rallied by putting four goals past Maine’s Ben Bishop to move on to play Boston College in the National Championship.
With the Spartans down 1-0, Lerg came up with arguably the biggest save in Spartan history on Boston College’s Brian Boyle. The save sparked the Spartans to rally with three goals in the final 10:07 of the game capped by Justin Abdelkader’s game-winning goal with 18.9 seconds remaining, which gave Michigan State its third national championship in program history. After their stunning run to glory, Lerg was named to the All-NCAA All-Tournament team and was also named USA Hockey’s College Player of the Year.
Lerg’s career was not finished there. He would combine for a record of 33-32-8 in his final two seasons and be named to the All-CCHA First Team in his junior year and All-CCHA Second Team in his senior year. Lerg firmly earned a spot in Spartan history and has earned the No. 3 spot in my countdown.
No. 3 Tom Ross (1973-76) Max Benoit
Tom Ross was a scoring machine during his time on the Michigan State hockey team. By the end of his senior year in 1976, Ross had rewritten the Spartan record books. He set essentially every offensive record possible during his career, and still holds the majority of those records today. The numbers that Ross put up just show how consistent and effective he was throughout his entire career.
The Detroit native is second in NCAA history in career points, tallying a total of 324 points over his four seasons in college hockey. Ross is also sixth in career goals with 138, as well as eighth in career assists with 186. Tom Ross currently holds the NCAA record for career power play goals as well with 72.
All of these marks just happen to be Spartan hockey records. Ross sits in the top 10 in NCAA history for points in a season (105), goals in a season (51), and power play goals in a season (29). The only Spartan offensive record Tom Ross does not own is goals in a season. That title belongs to the No. 4 player in my countdown, Mike Donnelly.
The Hobey Baker Award, given annually to college hockey’s top player, was established and first given out in 1981. If the Hobey Baker Award was given out during Tom Ross’s tenure, he would have had some strong consideration to receive it. Ross was definitely one of the top college hockey players in the 1970s.
It is a shame that there was not a better team around him during his time at Michigan State. If he was able to win a few titles with the team, he could have had a shot at being No. 1 on my list.
No. 3 Mike Donnelly (1982-1986) Jason Ruff
Mike Donnelly played for the Spartans during the heyday of the Ron Mason era. In a time when top talent was plentiful at MSU, Donnelly was an exceptional player who would end up with 196 points at the end of his four year career at Michigan State.
The year Donnelly’s impact was greatest was his senior year during the 1985-86 season. In his senior year alone, Donnelly racked up 59 goals, a MSU record, and 38 assists. Donnelly also enjoyed a scoring streak that lasted 16 games, a MSU record that still stands today.
With Donnelly leading the charge, Mason and the Spartans reached the 1986 Frozen Four. After defeating Minnesota 6-4 in the semifinals, MSU faced Harvard in the National Championship. While the Spartans trailed early, Donnelly led the comeback charge with two key goals, including the game winner late in the third period, to give Michigan State its second national title. In addition to a championship ring, Donnelly was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, a fitting ovation to an outstanding season.
Donnelly’s contributions to the Spartans during the championship game against Harvard, in addition to his amazing senior season, more than warrants his number No. 3 spot in my list of the top Spartan hockey players of all time.
Top MSU Hockey Players of All Time: No 4 Brian Bobal: Kip Miller Max Benoit: Ryan Miller Jason Ruff: Ryan Miller Top MSU Hockey Players of All Time: No 5 Brian Bobal: Bob Essensa Max Benoit: Mike Donnelly Jason Ruff: Mike York
Brian Bobal, Max Benoit and Jason Ruff are multimedia reporters for Impact Sports.
Photo: Jonathan Yales/Impact Sports