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The 2014 TOC Hockey Preview: Defense and Goaltenders

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In part two of our season preview, we'll look at the backend of the Spartans' roster

An entrance of Munn Arena
An entrance of Munn Arena
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So, we have already taken a look at the forwards who will be asked to improve on their ghastly numbers from the past two seasons, and now it's time to take a look at the Spartans responsible for keeping pucks out of their net. The Spartans return six defenseman and their starting goaltender from last season, a year in which they were 20th in the nation, surrendering just 2.58 goals per game. The Spartan defense was responsible for keeping games close most nights and if they can continue that this season, with moderate offensive improvement, this team could shock some people.

Defense

#4 Travis Walsh (Jr.)- With the injury of John Draeger last season, Walsh became the most dependable and consistent Spartan defenseman. The 5'11" junior plays bigger than his size and is very effective in his own zone. Walsh did only compile 7 assists last season and has yet to score a goal in his collegiate career. While he may see some time this season on the power play, with the graduation of Jake Chelios, Walsh is counted on for what he does in his defensive zone. On a team that values shot blocking greatly Walsh was the team leader (85) and finished tied for tops in the conference last season.

#5 Ron (formerly RJ) Boyd (Sr.)- While it may be only an exhibition game, Boyd has already matched his goal output from last season, scoring in the exhibition tie against the University of Windsor. Boyd, who played a season at Sacred Heart University before transferring, is a Florida Panthers prospect and hails from the sunshine state. Like Walsh, Boyd is an adept shot blocker, finishing second on the team last season with 65. Boyd may get some rotation time on the power play, on  the second unit while Draeger recovers from an injury, but similar to Walsh he will be relied upon in the defensive zone.

#6 Chris Knudson (So.)- Knudson appeared in only 13 games last season and will be fighting to get more opportunities this season. In the exhibition game he played on the second pairing with Boyd but that could change with Draeger coming back soon. Knudson was the top scoring defenseman with Wichita Falls, his last season in junior hockey, posting 22 points in 55 games. He registered 0 points in 13 games last season but did post the best plus/minus among all Spartans in B1G play, at +2. It's hard to project what Knudson can do this season as he will be jostling with players like Carson Gatt and Brock Krygier for ice time.

#7 John Draeger (Jr.)- For the second season in a row at B1G Media Days Tom Anastos was the bearer of bad news on Draeger, as this time it was a hip surgery that delayed the start of the season for the Minnesota Wild draft pick. Draeger only appeared in 24 games last season, yet still managed to block 64 shots and put up 8 points, only two off the pace of his freshman campaign. Draeger and Josh Jacobs will likely be the leaders of the defense this year and counted on to infuse some offense by skating the puck up themselves more. The good news is that Draeger is skating again and may be able to go against UMass this weekend.

#8 Josh Jacobs (Fr)- The crown jewel of the 2014 recruiting class, Jacobs is probably the best recruit to come to Michigan State since Anastos became head coach. The 2nd round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils was a leader on the Clark Cup winning Indiana Ice and put up a staggering +39. He possesses above average offensive talents but is well balanced as he plays great in his own zone. Jacobs, a pre-season all B1G freshman selection at SBN College Hockey, will be counted on to produce right away and will be on the 1st power play unit.

#11 Rhett Holland (RS So.)- After appearing in just 3 games his freshman season (shoulder surgery) Holland found a bigger role last year, playing in 31 games registering four points and 48 blocked shots. The 4th round selection of the Phoenix Coyotes will be battling for third pairing minutes this season also, so expect improvement to see Holland on the ice. Holland is a defensive defenseman and will be an asset on the penalty kill.

#17 Brock Krygier (RS So.)- Also battling for bottom pair minutes will be Brock Krygier, who after a redshirt Freshman year, played in 35 games with 4 assists, was a +4 (team leader first time a freshman had done that since 1995-96) and had 56 blocked shots (seeing a team point of emphasis?). Krygier was the 7th defenseman in the exhibition game and that has been something Anastos has liked to do in the past, especially against high powered offenses such as Minnesota or Ohio State. Look for Krygier to stay a reliable defenseman to push for minutes.

#18 Carson Gatt (Fr)- For the 4th season in a row there will be a Gatt on the Spartan blue line, as Carson, younger brother of former defenseman Nickolas, comes to East Lansing from the Muskegon Lumberjacks. Gatt actually played last season for Brock Krygier's father Todd in Muskegon. Gatt will have to earn his minutes, especially when Draeger comes back but is one of the few defenseman with a high offensive upside. He registered 5 goals and 13 points in Muskegon last year in just 38 games. He also showed some flashes of offense while playing at Detroit Catholic Central. Expectations should be low for a freshman defenseman and Gatt will be someone to watch develop over four years.

Goaltenders

#30 Jake Hildebrand (Jr)- Last year's team MVP and it wasn't close. Hildebrand took over the starting job early in his freshman season and hasn't looked back. While his goals against and save percentage took a slight hit from where they were his freshman season, Hildebrand was still rock solid last season, earning an invite to his hometown Pittsburgh Penguins' development camp this summer. If MSU can find a way to score 3 goals a night, they will win a ton of games with Hildebrand in net, as he allowed two goals or fewer in 21 of 32 games last season. He will be pushed this year by freshman Ed Minney, which may get even more out of Hildebrand, as there was real no competition last season. If this team wants to challenge for a top three ranking in the conference, it is likely to need much of the same from Hildebrand this season.

#45 Edwin Minney (Fr)- The Spartans may be developing a goaltender pipeline from Pennsylvania, as they grabbed arguably the top 1996 birthdate goaltender in the country in Ed Minney. Minney played last season in Ann Arbor, for the US National Development Program, posting a 22-9-1 record, with a 2.64 GAA and .900 save percentage. Surprisingly, Minney went undrafted after being the 2nd ranked North American goaltender in the Central Scouting midterm rankings. Look for Minney to play in maybe 6-10 games barring injury this season and provide some rest for Hildebrand in the long season.

#32 Nate Phillips (RS Jr.)- Has never appeared in a game but is probably the closest thing the hockey team has to a Mike Sadler on twitter.

#34 Zack Cisek (Sr)- No game action in his career. Won two state titles at Detroit Catholic Central.

Next Up: Look for the first weekend series preview up this Friday, as the Spartans will host the UMass Minutemen at Munn Arena. UMass swept the Spartans last year in Amherst 3-1 and 5-2. The Minutemen are 0-1 on the season after getting boatraced by Boston University 8-1 this past Friday.