Michigan State’s hockey program is one of the proudest in the nation, supplying professional leagues across the world with some of the finest talent from hockey’s past and present.
Top five lists are always difficult to create, especially when the pool of deserving candidates sits so deep. Regardless, here’s a valiant attempt at naming the five best hockey players who’ve ever jammed their heads through a green and white Spartans jersey.
5) Anson Carter: As an offensive threat from the right wing for 10 NHL seasons, Anson Carter scored 202 goals in his career. He played for three teams, and finished third in the league in shot percentage after the 2005-06 season.
Carter never made an All-Star team, but has the proud distinction of being traded—straight up—for Jaromir Jagr, one of the greatest players who’s ever lived. Not a bad footnote to own.
4) Bryan Smolinski: Bryan Smolinski suited up for eight teams in a 15 year NHL career. He totaled 651 points as one of the game’s scrappiest centers, scoring eight game-winning goals in 2002-03 (seventh in the league), and four short-handed goals in 2006-07 (fifth highest in the league).
Smolinski qualifies as a journeyman, but one who made massive contributions to some competitive teams. He participated in the postseason in 12 of his 15 seasons, which is undeniably impressive.
3) Ryan Miller. An East Lansing lifer, if we’re strictly talking about goalies, Ryan Miller would comfortably sit first, second, and third atop this list. The 32-year-old, one-time All-Star won the 2009-10 Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the league, has the 36th most saves (12382), and 10th best career save percentage in NHL history (91.4%).
His achievements stretch beyond nine successful seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, though. He won a silver medal as Team USA’s starting goaltender in the 2010 Winter Olympics, and was named MVP of the tournament.
2) Duncan Keith: The book on Duncan Keith has yet to be finished, but what’s so far been written is incredibly impressive. Two years ago, as a 26-year-old cog in a Stanley Cup hoarding Chicago Blackhawks machine, Keith was arguably the best defenseman in hockey. He was named winner of the James Norris Memorial Trophy (for best defenseman in the league), and the next season he was an All-Star for the second time in his career.
Right now he’s 28, about to enter his prime as a key member on a young roster that should be in playoff contention for the foreseeable future. By the time the book on Keith is finished, he might be the best Spartan ever, but where we stand today he’s simply traveling down the right path.
1) Rod Brind’Amour: If you’re grading a hockey player based on longevity, hard work, and a consistent ability to find success, nobody in Michigan State’s history was better than Rod Brind’Amour.
A one-time All-Star and two time Frank J. Selke trophy winner (awarded to the best defensive forward in the NHL) through 20 proud seasons of action, Brind’Amour is perhaps best known for captaining the Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, and he currently ranks as one of the 50 most productive point scorers in league history—1184 points, good for 46th all-time.
Brind’Amour retired in 2010 as a 39-year-old man whose laundry list of accomplishments border on unforgettable. He may not be the most talented or naturally gifted player on this list, but it’s difficult to argue against the overwhelming eminence of his entire career.