Krug: Double Threat
Spartans Blueliner Emerges as All-America Candidate
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
Long before arriving in East Lansing, Michigan-native Torey Krug knew all about the rivalry between the University of Michigan and Michigan State.
Says Krug, "I was a Spartan fan my whole life."
Certainly, then, Krug had plenty to cheer about growing up. After all, Michigan State was a near-fixture in the NCAA tournament. Of course, so was archrival Michigan — the Wolverines quite famously haven't missed the tourney in well over two decades.
But while Michigan has continued to make the tournament on an annual basis, the one-time status quo has changed at Michigan State, with the 2007 national championship now already a distant memory. The Spartans, led by first-year coach and former CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos, are currently in the midst of a previously unprecedented three-year absence from college hockey's biggest stage.
As a result, Krug, Michigan State's junior captain, has never played in an NCAA tournament game — perhaps all the more reason why, two weeks ago, a highly-anticipated game against Michigan, in a matchup of two nationally-ranked powerhouses, generated a playoff-like atmosphere at the Spartans' Munn Ice Arena.
Ultimately, a season-record 7,103 fans watched Krug and the Spartans turn a 2-0 deficit into a rousing 3-2 win against their foes from Ann Arbor.
"That's probably been the best atmosphere since my career started here at Michigan State," said Krug, who netted two goals in the game before assisting on Matt Berry's game-winner. "That crowd on Friday night was something special.
"When we go down a goal, the guys on the bench aren't hanging their heads. The coaches are confident in our ability to get back into the game."
That confidence, certainly, has grown exponentially, as Michigan State now sits in the No. 10 position in the national Pairwise ratings, and Krug is leading the team on both offense and defense. The Livonia, Mich., native leads the Spartans with 31 points in 33 games and is the CCHA's top scoring defenseman.
Krug also leads the Spartans with a plus-20 on-ice rating.
"I'm a 5-foot-9 defenseman, so most of the time, people say, 'Oh he's got to be an offensive defenseman,'" said Krug. "That's been part of my game this year. I've been trying to become more well-rounded and play well on both sides of the puck. Any time our team has the puck, I like to push for offense.
"The best defense is playing in the offensive zone. Defense first — my first priority is to make that first pass to my forward's stick — and then I jump up into the play and hope that the forwards find me."
The latest in the long history of Spartans-Wolverines showdowns ultimately resulted in a weekend split, as Michigan rebounded from Friday's tough loss to take Saturday's contest in overtime. On Kevin Lynch's overtime game-winner, the Wolverines took advantage of a defensive miscue by Spartan senior defenseman Matt Crandell.
After the game, Krug, now a junior, showed why his teammates elected him as the team captain prior to his sophomore season.
"You've got to put your arm around a guy like Matt Crandell," said Krug, who named as personal influences John-Michael Liles (Michigan State) and Andy Greene (Miami) — both of whom were captains and offensively-minded defensemen. "Matt is the hardest working player on our team. He comes to practice every day with a smile on his face. He knows it's time to go to work.
"Going in the locker room, there are three or four guys talking all the time. It's not just me talking. A lot of guys went up to Matt after that game. The beauty of sports, college sports, and of our game in general is the fact that we have another opportunity on Friday. I think that's the theme that you put in your teammates minds — that we're living to play another day."
The Spartans followed the emotional series against Michigan with a sweep of Alaska, with Krug registering three points during the weekend. The defenseman now has 12 points in his last six games, the best stretch of point production of his career; and in the last month alone, he has received recognition — on separate occasions — as the CCHA's Offensive Player of the Week and its Defensive Player of the Week.
Krug — who played forward when he was younger and in fact, on a team coached by Krug's father, won a PeeWee national championship alongside Michigan's David Wohlberg — is the only player in the league to earn both Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week honors this season.
"I give a lot of credit to our forwards" said Krug, citing in particular the team's third and fourth lines. "They've been playing great lately, and that opens up the back end for guys like me and my defense partners. They really give us a lot of time."
Now, with the regular season winding down, the Spartans set their sights on the possibility of playing at the CCHA Championship Weekend in Detroit, where a strong finish would certainly lead to a long-awaited return to the NCAA tournament for Michigan State.
And with Krug leading both the defense and the offense, the Spartans should have plenty of opportunities to, as the defenseman says, "play another day."