NCAA Frozen Four
Measures Up Michigan State's Tyler Howells
|Howells has 21 assists
this season, including a two-assist effort in the opening
round of the NCAA Tournament.
Tyler Howells is a skating anomaly. He’s
a Minnesota native who plays at Michigan State. He’s
a defenseman who measures just 5-foot-8.
And he’s a valuable member of a Michigan
State squad but hasn’t been able to hold down his
position for a full year in any of his four seasons in East
Yet Howells’ yo-yo between forward and
defense speaks to his skill, versatility and hockey sense
moreso than any shortcoming he has at either position. He
has helped fill vital roles at either position, and his
latest move back to D helped spark a Spartan blueline corps
that is otherwise lacking in offensive punch.
Howells enters the Frozen Four as Michigan
State’s top-scoring defenseman with 25 points, and
his 21 assists are second on the team. He also ranks second
on the club in career games played with 152, trailing only
fellow defenseman Ethan Graham.
Inside College Hockey caught up with Howells
following an afternoon practice at Munn Arena, where the
excitement of the upcoming Frozen Four was palpable.
Inside College Hockey: It's only
been a couple of days, but describe the experience since
you guys advanced to the Frozen Four.
Tyler Howells: It's just
been kind of cool. Some of the basketball guys have been
over at practice to wish us luck. Drew Neitzel was over
here. The whole school really comes together when you make
it to the Frozen Four – people who you normally wouldn't
see are behind us.
INCH: Can that kind of bandwagon
effect be distracting?
TH: I think hockey players
are a little different. Nobody on our team lets that kind
of thing get to their head. I don't think it's that big
of a distraction for us. It's been more fun than anything.
INCH: Your situation is kind of
unique in that you've played both forward and defense. How
has that progressed this year?
TH: I sat down with Coach
[Rick Comley] at the beginning of the year and he asked
what position I wanted to play. I said I'd like to stick
back on D, but that I'd do whatever we needed to help the
They were looking for more balance up front,
so I started the year at forward. I played with Chris Mueller
on our third line. When we went through some of our struggles
during the year I told Coach I would move back if he wanted,
and it's worked out well.
INCH: Is it tough to jump back
and forth like that? Is one transition tougher than the
TH: It's pretty easy for
me now having done it a lot. It was just that first move
back to defense that was pretty tough.
INCH: Can you describe your style
of play at each position?
TH: It depends. During this
year at forward I was playing more defensively, in a left-wing-lock
checking type of role.When I move to defense I'm more of
an offensive defenseman, trying to use my skating ability
and make good outlet passes.
INCH: Skating is definitely one
of your strengths; do you find that you can take advantage
of that more on defense?
TH: For me, on defense, you
get the whole ice to do something. It helps me out a lot
more to come out from behind the net and have the whole
ice in front of you. On D you seem to have a little more
time to make decisions and move the puck.
INCH: Anybody who you pattern
your game after?
TH: I have to go with a former
Spartan, John-Michael Liles. Guys like that who are more
offensive, maybe a little smaller, but use their skating
ability to make up for that.
INCH: We thought Dan Vukovic was
Liles for you guys?
TH: He has been putting the
puck in the net. What's neat for me, playing with Vuc, is
that he's so steady back there. He reminds me of playing
with [former Spartan] Corey Potter last year in that way.
INCH: You guys are the one team
that's new to the Frozen Four this year. Help give people
a little bit of a scouting report – who is the toughest
forward on your team to play one-on-one in practice?
TH: If I was to pick someone
one-on-one, I'd have to say [Bryan] Lerg. He's got great
skills, and if he gets past you, he never misses on a breakaway.
INCH: Anything in particular you're
looking forward to at the Frozen Four?
TH: I just can't wait for
the whole experience. I can't wait to get there.
INCH: You won the high school
state tournament in Minnesota. I've heard that's an amazing
spectacle – how do you think this will compare?
TH: That's something I want
to see. Certainly
INCH: You'll be one of the few
Minnesotans on the ice in St. Louis. Do you take some pride
in that or do you wish the Gophers were there?
TH: I really wasn't really
rooting for or against anyone in that game. I know guys
on both teams, and it was hard to see some of them lose.
Jeff Frazee was our goalie my senior year at Holy Angels
and I grew up playing with some other guys on that team
I know that was a tough loss for them, but
at the same time North Dakota's a great team. I'm not worried
about that right now – we just want to get by Maine.