March 30, 2007
NCAA Frozen Four
INCH Measures Up Michigan State's Tyler Howells

By Nate Ewell

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 Lansing.

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.

INCH Measures Up:
Frozen Four Edition
Boston College's Nathan Gerbe
Maine's Bret Tyler
North Dakota's Chris Porter

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 team.

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 other?

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 as well.

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.