Danton Cole now is head men’s hockey coach at Michigan State University, but on Saturday night he paid a little extra attention to the players he used to coach for the U.S. National Team Development Program.
“I probably spent more time than usual watching the other team play,” said Cole, following his team’s 3-0 victory over the Under-18 team at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.
But Cole also liked the way his team performed, including players with NTDP connections such as forward Patrick Khodorenko (two goals), defenseman Tommy Miller (West Bloomfield) and goaltender Ed Minney (20 saves for the shutout).
“Patrick has been outstanding all year, he’ll end up getting drafted (by a NHL team) this year,” Cole said. “Tommy Miller will get drafted as well. Ed’s been working extremely hard, John (Lethemon) has been kind of carrying the mail and has done a really good job. But he (Minney) deserved to get in there and it was really good.”
Cole also kept mental notes on the opposing goalie — Fenton native Drew DeRidder, who stopped 19 of 21 MSU shots (the third goal was scored into an empty net). DeRidder is a Michigan State commit.
“I thought he looked excellent,” Cole said. “I’ve been seeing Drew for a long time. Pucks hit him, he’s real athletic and he always seems to be real square to the puck and work hard. It was fun to watch him play.”
According to Khodorenko, it was fun to play in front of a larger crowd (3,244) at USA Hockey Arena than he remembered in 2015-17 and also get two goals.
“A lot more people compared to when we were playing here,” Khodorenko said. “It’s cool to see a good crowd here tonight.”
Khodorenko broke a scoreless tie at 7:23 of the second period when he banged in feed from Taro Hirose on the power play. DeRidder had no chance on the back-door tap-in.
NTDP Under-18 head coach Seth Appert said his team played well, but could not cash in on some early chances. And then Minney and the MSU defense got stronger as the game progressed.
“Credit to State, they played hard,” Appert said. “They played hard, it’d be easy for their players to be on Christmas break in their mind. It’s an exhibition game for them, and they won, they played their tails off.
“You can see why they’re having success. You can see why they beat Michigan they did last week, Danton’s a great coach and they played really hard tonight.”
Here are several takeaways from the game:
Two Spartans who formerly played for the NTDP, Khodorenko and Minney, knew the U18 team would come out all fired up — especially with a big crowd.
“We knew we had to come play our game,” Khodorenko said. “They’re going to be a fast, skilled team and we just got to play our game.”
Minney said matching the intensity of the younger team was essential for the Spartans to nab the two points.
“It’s kind of the same way every year,” Minney stressed. “You have some young guys that are super skilled, and they get up to play these games. They love playing these games.
“I was there so I know how it is. … So the key was to come out and be just as desperate as they were to win this game.”
WELCOME BACK PT. 1
During a timeout during the first period, Tommy Miller was given a warm ovation after it was announced to the crowd that he was a member of last year’s Under-18 gold medal winning team at the IIHF World Junior Championships.
WELCOME BACK PT. 2
Also back in Plymouth were other Spartans with ties to the NTDP. Cole, associate coach Chris Luongo (Novi resident) and goaltender coach Joe Exter.
In addition to Tommy Miller, other Spartan players returning to face their former team were Khodorenko and goalie Minney (who played for the NTDP when it was based in Ann Arbor).
UNABLE TO CASH IN
Early in the second period and the game scoreless, Team USA enjoyed a lengthy 5-on-3 power play. But the NTDPs could not beat Minney on several close-in scoring tries. Moments later, a penalty was called against the U18s and Michigan State’s Khodorenko one-timed a shot past DeRidder.
STARTING A TREND
Both Cole and Appert said it makes sense for USA Hockey Arena to regularly host college teams in coming seasons.
“I think we should collectively try and get five or six schools every year to come down here,” Cole said. “This is a big market, and there’s a lot of kids here that have a lot of options. If they can see how good college hockey is, and how much fun it is in a building like this, then hopefully they’ll stay and play college hockey.”
Appert, in his first season with the NTDP, said games such as those against MSU and Michigan (played on Dec. 2) present a win-win situation. College teams augment relatively light schedules while USA Hockey gets to build its brand.
“It’s one thing for us to go in their buildings,” Appert stressed. “But to build our brand and let the people in this area know what this is all about, it’s really appreciated that Michigan, Michigan State came into our building this year.”
Concurring was Team USA defenseman Bode Wilde, of Birmingham.
“I hope they continue to play Michigan and Michigan State as the seasons go on,” Wilde said. “They’re the local schools, and they draw good crowds. It’s good publicity for this program (NTDP), and it’s always fun because there’s always a couple guys committed there.”