Breaking: Tennyson signs with Sharks

Matt Tennyson has signed an entry-level contract with the San Jose Sharks.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie first tweeted the news around 5 pm EDT and a WMU official confirmed the signing.

Tennyson will forego his senior season to sign with his hometown team – he grew up in nearby Pleasanton, Calif., and played for the San Jose Jr. Sharks.

WMU loses its top offensive threat from the blue line, but on the bright side won’t have to replace three defensemen after next season should Danny DeKeyser decide to leave.

DeKeyser, Tennyson and Luke Witkowski, a senior next season, were considered the Broncos’ top defensemen this season.  Tennyson was voted Second Team All-CCHA this season and was a finalist for the league’s Best Offensive Defenseman Award. He also became the first WMU defenseman since the 2001-02 season to score 10 goals in a season.

His final career stats at WMU: 22 goals and 54 points in 117 games.

More to come as it breaks.

With Krug gone, NHL pressure builds on DeKeyser, Tennyson

MSU head coach Tom Anastos and defenseman Torey Krug at Sunday's presser. Krug, a junior, announced he had signed with the Boston Bruins. (Photo courtesy: MSU Athletic Communications/Matthew Mitchell
Photography)

UPDATE: Danny DeKeyser wrote via Twitter on Monday evening that he will stay at WMU for his junior season.

One day you’re in history class …

… the next, you’re at Boston Bruins practice snapping D-to-D passes with Zdeno Chara.

That’s reality for Torey Krug, the now former junior captain at Michigan State who signed an entry-level contract with the Bruins on Sunday. Krug will practice with Boston this week in an attempt to earn a roster spot for the team’s remaining regular season games.

Not eligible to participate in the Stanley Cup playoffs, he’ll return to East Lansing after the NHL regular season ends April 7 to resume classes.

Sorry, prof, can I get an extension on that assignment?

It’s one thing to sign an NHL deal after your senior season. It’s an entirely different experience for a handful of sophomores and juniors who are faced with a decision similar to Krug’s: stick with the world of timed quizzes and cafeteria food, or step into hockey heaven — even if you’re only there for a week.

Seems like a no-brainer, but there are questions. Which teams are interested? Which team provides the fastest route to a full-time NHL shift? Will my girlfriend and I stay together if I leave? What does my family think I should do?

Krug said there was a lot to consider, and he listened to many opinions. “You try to make the best decision that you can,” he said.

Ultimately, though, it came down to one thing.

“This is my dream, to play in the National Hockey League.”

That’s pretty much the long and the short of it.

Will Danny DeKeyser and Matt Tennyson follow?

With Krug now off the market, the already intense focus on the WMU defensemen ratchets up to what must be cell-phone-exploding levels.

Krug led the CCHA in scoring as a defenseman – something that’s only been done four other times college hockey – but DeKeyser is still considered the prized prospect. Though he could be a bit stronger on his skates, he suffocates opponents with his Go Go Gadget reach and ability to close gaps. And he’s strong on the boards for being just 186 pounds.

Perhaps more impressive than watching DeKeyser play this season: watching NHL executives watch him play. Toronto GM Brian Burke, Calgary’s Jay Feaster and Detroit’s Ken Holland were all in Kalamazoo on the same night in November. Holland, forever one step ahead, also brought assistant GM Jim Nill, Kris Draper, Chris Chelios and Jiri Fischer, now the team’s Director of Player Development.

Tampa GM Steve Yzerman and Dallas’ Joe Nieuwendyk have made multiple appearances on campus, and Capitals GM George McPhee flew in on a private jet to attend a practice.

All of which was a really good thing for Tennyson, because it led to the question, “Who’s number 7?”

The more scouts and GMs watched DeKeyser, the more they noticed his teammate. Tennyson skates well and is responsible defensively – and his offensive instincts are what really make GMs perk up — 11 goals and 13 assists placed him among the nation’s best scoring defensemen, and his bomb of a slap shot is NHL heavy. And ready.

Of course, now is the time head coach Andy Murray makes his pitch for them to stay. He could site the impact on their development if they left early, or sell them on the unfinished business the Broncos feel they have after back-to-back first-round losses in the NCAA Tournament.

Or Murray could get out of the way.

Tom Anastos, MSU’s head coach, said he was “elated” for Krug. Hard to imagine Murray would be elated if he lost two of his top four defensemen in one summer, but it’s also hard to fathom that a veteran NHL coach would stand in the way.

ALONG THE RAIL …

  • NHL clubs are also heavily courting J.T. Brown, the dynamic sophomore forward from Minnesota-Duluth whose father is a former NFL running back. The Philadelphia Flyers are said to have a lot of interest in Brown, and GM Paul Holmgren gushed about DeKeyser.
  • Brown’s teammate, senior Jack Connolly, will almost certainly sign an NHL deal. Whether it’s this week or this summer remains to be seen.
  • Krug is a strong student. He’s going to be an academic All-America nominee, because he has a GPA over 3.3. And he’ll reportedly take classes this summer before he heads off to Bruins training camp in the fall.
  • Apparently, such a thing is common at Michigan State: Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader is just about to finish his degree. According to an MSU official, he would have done it sooner had it not been for those long playoff runs and that Stanley Cup victory. What a pain.

Decisions

It won’t be long.

In fact, it’s probably already started.

WMU’s 3-1 loss to North Dakota on Saturday afternoon signaled the end of its season — and the beginning of an NHL feeding frenzy that will swallow Danny DeKeyser.  Like a giant harvest moon, a question — the question — hung above everything the Broncos did this season.

Is Danny going to leave for an NHL deal?

Now, the question must be answered.

Prior to the NCAA tournament, DeKeyser was reportedly 50-50.  And it makes sense: he probably wanted to see how his team would do in the tournament.  Now, thanks to the help of a formidable North Dakota opponent, it’s decision time.  Maybe he knows without a doubt what he wants to do.  Maybe he doesn’t.

But until we know, here are few thoughts and angles to consider:

  • DeKeyser’s agents (officially called “family advisors” since he’s still an amateur) will probably encourage him to sign now.  They will cite uncertainty over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that the NHL and NHLPA will negotiate this summer (the idea being that their client should get his money now before the salary cap shrinks).  His agents will also cite the potential for injury and the overall uncertainty and risk of the unknown by waiting.
  • The NHL season ends two weeks from tonight.  A club could sign DeKeyser, pay him a healthy signing bonus, have him play three or four NHL games and — here’s the kicker — burn a year off his entry-level contract.  So a three-year deal — required for rookies — would, in effect, be two.  And teams like that, because it gives them more flexibility.
  • Conversely, had the Broncos made a run all the way to the Frozen Four, DeKeyser would have the bargaining power.  The sense of urgency among NHL clubs won’t be the same in April as it is now, because their regular seasons will be over and they can’t pay any bonuses or salary.
  • Why DeKeyser should stay: most NHL clubs don’t think he’s ready, physically, for the NHL.  They’ll sign him, but they’ll likely send him to the American Hockey League for a year so he can develop.  Who knows?  He might not mind.  But if he stays for his junior season, he’s more likely to walk directly onto an NHL roster if he leaves after next year — especially if he shows signs that he’s gotten stronger.
  • Why DeKeyser should go: this life is so short.  Say what you want about his agents’ scare tactics, but they’re right.  Something could happen.  And now that he’s won a CCHA championship, the next achievement would be an NCAA title.  Unfinished business, to be sure, but a lot has to go right for that to happen.
  • Another reason: He needs to play more games.  NHL and AHL teams play twice as many as the NCAA.  That’s a grind and DeKeyser’s career in the long-term would benefit from experiencing it now rather than later.

So if he decides to leave, one other question remains.

Where?

Relentless excellence

Photo courtesy: wmubroncos.com

Perhaps the snapshot moment of the entire weekend at Joe Louis Arena was the look on Greg Squires’ face as he flew into the post-game victory pileup Saturday night, because it was a face that appeared to release four years’ worth of every kind of emotion imaginable.

His wide open mouth screamed for joy, for the satisfaction he and his teammates now feel for having something to show for the last two years of hard, positive work.

But his eyes.

From afar, it looked like those eyes were crying. Or at least welling up. Maybe Squires’ eyes water when he screams. Who knows.

But that must have been one helluva cathartic release.

Nine conference wins his freshman year. Four his sophomore year. Nights that were downright miserable to watch. Imagine what it must have been like to play? Frustration, defeat, pain. Over and over again. Three coaches in four years. The sun finally rose last year, and Squires and his teammates grew. However, there was still disappointment: losses in the CCHA final and NCAA tournament. The disappointment was kind of like barely missing a four-footer on a practice green, though. The Broncos knew they had another shot, and they knew the kind of aim and touch necessary to deliver.

And they delivered excellence. Relentless excellence. An effort so bright that it incinerated lucky bounces for the other team or bad calls by the referee. The kind of excellence that can only produce one result.

A screaming, happy face.

ALONG THE RAIL …

  • Want more emotion? How about captain Ian Slater, another senior, crying and trying not to vomit as he paced the Joe Louis Arena service hallways unable to help his team after a major penalty and game misconduct in the final minutes.
  • Frank Slubowski won MVP because he and his eight octopus legs stopped virtually everything, but don’t overlook this kid’s ability to handle and pass the puck — and what it meant to both victories.
  • Re-lent-less ex-cel-lence (adj.): The state of Western Michigan’s pursuit of the puck. Warmer temperatures have moved in, but really? Gnats with numbers on their backs?
  • To that point, and speaking of points, the way the Broncos defended their blue line was a major reason why neither Miami nor Michigan could set up shop in the attacking zone. Instead of giving their opponents a little time and space at the points, the Broncos bum-rushed them and the results were fluttery dump-ins (turnover), disconnected passes (turnover), and poke checks out of the zone (turnover, turnover, turnover). To be a RedHawk or Wolverine defenseman must have been maddening.
  • The mental impact of WMU’s ability to score first in both games was absolutely huge. Especially against a pair of bigger teams who have had regular success in those types of games. Huge.
  • How about J.J. Crew’s effort while shorthanded Saturday? The one where he single-handedly killed 10 seconds and required multiple Wolverines to knock him off the puck in the neutral zone. That was perhaps better than the shortie he actually scored the night before.
  • Found it a bit odd that the Wolverines choked away the last 10 seconds of the first period by standing with the puck behind their net. They probably weren’t going to score on a rush up ice, but the fact they didn’t even attempt to break out had a particular sense of surrender about it.
  • Wish they would keep face-off statistics so we could officially see just how bad the Broncos spanked both of their opponents in the circles. Another huge reason they won.
  • Finally, this team, if it plays like it did this weekend, can make a serious run at a national title. Why not? Who cares if North Dakota is next? Everyone is hopeful this time of year, and it’s easier to hope and think big when a well-coached hockey team makes the low-risk percentage play in seemingly every micro-situation on the ice.

Saturday proves Broncos win when defense dominates

WMU is headed back to the CCHA Tournament semifinals for the second year in a row. The next step in this momentum build: win the thing.

A final score of 5-2 and a shots advantage of 40-29 might suggest WMU’s offense drove Saturday’s series sweep of Lake Superior State.

Au contraire.

That win — and, now, a return trip to Joe Louis Arena — was earned through one of the Broncos’ hardest defensive efforts this season.

Forwards back checked … and back checked … and back checked, even with a four-goal lead late in the third period.  It was stifling.  The Lakers had nothing.  No passing or skating lanes through the middle.  No time and space along the boards.  No clean, lethal shooting angles.  Definitely no real chances at the doorstep.  At times, it looked like 8-on-4.  What, did Andy Murray crack open a vintage, special reserve game plan from his NHL cellar?

The Broncos made the low-risk, high-percentage play all night, like it was ingrained in their DNA.  Not even a power play could give the Lakers an edge.  Their lone man-advantage in the second period resembled a guy (Western) playing fetch with his dog (Lake State).  If you were seated beneath the press box just inside the Laker blue line — and therefore unable to see much of the WMU end without standing — you might have thought the Lakers were dumping the puck into one of those automatic putting machines that spits the ball back to you.   Chu-chung. Chu-chung. Chu-chung.  Down the ice it sailed.  Go get it, boy!

Stifling.

And when the puck is in the possession of defensemen Dan DeKeyser, Luke Witkowski or Matt Tennyson — or Garrett Haar or Dennis Brown or Jordan Oesterle, for that matter — forget about it.  Dogs with pork chop.  And when WMU wins, that usually means defense turned into offense: Tennyson had a goal and an assist, DeKeyser had two assists, and Witkowski scored his first goal ever at Lawson Arena.

Defense won that series.

And it will have to drive the bus again next weekend for the Broncos to have a shot at beating Miami or Michigan.

ALONG THE RAIL …

  • Dallas Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk watched Saturday’s game near the student section.  “Probably not,” he said when asked if DeKeyser was ready, physically, to make the jump to the pros.  But he said it with a tone and smirk that suggested neither he nor the other 29 NHL general managers care.  He also said neither he nor his colleagues truly know if DeKeyser is good enough to make it, but they feel he has the toolkit — the hands, the head, the speed.  “And it’s really hard to find good players.”
  • Watching the game alongside Nieuwendyk?  Gary Roberts, the former 21-year NHL veteran who is widely considered the top hockey fitness and nutrition expert.  He’s on staff with the Stars, but also runs a high-performance fitness center in Toronto during the summer that is legendary for its insane regimens.  Perhaps he’ll get his hands on DeKeyser?
  • Nieuwendyk is also interested in Tennyson.  “Is he nasty?” Nieuwendyk asked during a first intermission chat.  “Nasty,” of course, is short for “would opposing players, if they cherished their life, want to skate anywhere near him?”  (The blog’s answer: No.)
  • Ottawa Senators assistant GM Tim Murray attended Saturday’s game, as did Washington Capitals director of player personnel Brian MacLellan.  And the usual birddogs from various teams perched themselves around the concourse.
  • Rick Comley, the former Michigan State coach who now scouts the CCHA and WCHA for the Chicago Blackhawks, said during Friday’s game that WMU’s top-six defensemen are the best in the nation.  Though he said he hasn’t seen everyone out east, he has talked to people out there and by all accounts, “Hands down, these guys are the best.”  Comley agrees DeKeyser could probably benefit from another year of college hockey, but said college players in today’s game want to jump at the first chance they get, particularly if big money is involved.  “They want to go now,” he said, then lamented about how tough it was to keep good players in Lansing when he ran the show.  “And agents are stirring everything up, calling all the (NHL) clubs and saying that so-and-so is going to sign and such-and-such team is after him.  It’s crazy.”  And he made a good point: if you’re DeKeyser or another blue chip prospect and you decide to stay another year … and get injured?
  • Will Andy Murray coach WMU next season?  Multiple sources said this week that Murray has interviewed with teams in Europe, though nobody could confirm an important distinction: is he actually interviewing or simply fielding calls and offers?  There are rumblings that Murray finds the rules and bureaucracy of college hockey annoying.  And, recent murmurs suggest some close to the program don’t feel Murray is the guy for the job because his NHL and pro experience hasn’t translated well.  Every coach has a shelf-life and some wear out their welcomes sooner than others, but it would be stunning if WMU had to replace its hockey coach for a third summer in a row.
  • Finally, a couple of videos

Saturday

Jeff Blashill, Dane Walters and Ian Slater during the 2011 CCHA Championship press conference at Joe Louis Arena.

There have been plenty of defining moments during the Bronco hockey culture shift the last two years.

The firing of Jim Culhane.

The hiring of Jeff Blashill.

More wins than losses last year.

A trip to Joe Louis Arena.

Nearly beating Miami there.

A bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Almost winning the first-round game.

The hiring of a veteran NHL coach to grab the reigns.

It was almost too magical, too flash-in-the-pan to be real.

Did that really happen?  Bronco hockey?

People want proof this isn’t some parallel universe, and there’s no better proof than a Saturday night sweep of Lake Superior State — which, if it happens, will be the most defining moment of Bronco hockey the last 24 months.

Seriously.

Look, any team can get lucky and have a wild ride for a year.  The established programs?  They chew up teams like Lake Superior State in the quarterfinals and ask what’s for dinner.

They just win.

Which is why, if the Broncos win Saturday, those power point presentations and videos to support national public claims about being a hockey superpower won’t seem so silly.

This program will be legit.

Note: Full post, including ‘ALONG THE RAIL,’ coming Sunday.  We’ll recap a Friday conversation with a Blackhawks scout (and whoever else we talk to Saturday),  plus ask the question: if they win, will Saturday be the last home game for Dan DeKeyser, Matt Tennyson and, yes, Andy Murray?