MSU’s Taro Hirose leads College Hockey in scoring
Being generous has pushed Taro Hirose to the top of the NCAA Division I scoring list.
Hirose, Michigan State’s junior left wing, leads the country with 42 points and 29 assists – in 26 games – going into the Spartans’ weekend series against Big Ten rival Wisconsin at East Lansing’s Munn Ice Arena Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (5:30 p.m.).
Hirose, a 22-year old from Calgary and an MSU alternate captain, says he looks to pass first and shoot second.
“Even when I’m in high-scoring areas, a lot of guys are looking to go down and block shots and get in lanes,” Hirose told www.USCHO.com. “So I try to look off of guys’ heels and in between their sticks and legs for openings where my teammates are.”
His linemates, Patrick Khodorenko and Mitchell Lewandowski, have made the most of Hirose’s natural inclination.
“My teammates know that I like to play that way,” Hirose said. “So they’re good at just getting open and finding space, and hopefully I can find them.”
The trio make up Michigan’s State’s top unit and has been dubbed the “KHL Line” – for the first letter of each of their last names. Khodorenko is also among the nation’s top 20 point producers with 14 goals and 29 points, while Lewandowski has 11 goals and 27 points.
“Pat, he’s sort of a workhorse. He’s a bigger guy in the lineup so he does a lot of work down low,” Hirose said. “Off the rush, he’s really fast and likes to take the puck to the net. He’s probably the shooter on our line.
“Then (Lewandowski), he’s got unbelievable vision and poise with the puck. He’s not going to just throw pucks away: he’s looking to hold onto it and make a lot of plays anywhere on the ice. That gives us the chance to enter the zone with speed and create chances off the rush.”
Hirose is a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top College Hockey player in Division I each season.
“It’s sort of surreal for me right now – I never expected to be in the Hobey conversation or leading the nation in points,” he said. “It’s crazy what’s going on right now, but I just really focus on what the team’s doing and trying to help them win.”
The Spartans are 9-13-4 overall and 5-8-3-2 in the Big Ten.
After 12 goals and 30 assists for 42 points in 36 games last season, Hirose’s aim coming into 2018-19 was improving his goal-scoring ability.
“Scoring was something that I wanted to focus on more this year, and be attacking more and shooting the puck,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about how to get shots through and where the big scoring areas are for me. That’s been a huge thing for me so far, being able to contribute in that way.”
He’s obviously been successful, already with one more goal than he had during the entire 2017-18 season.
His numbers have improved in each of his three seasons in East Lansing. He had six goals and 24 points in 34 games as a freshman in 2016-17.
Hirose, who was not drafted by an NHL team and could sign with any organization as a free agent, credits Michigan State coach Danton Cole and assistant coaches Chris Luongo and Joe Exter for his improvement and development and that of the entire program.
Cole is in his second season after taking over from Tom Anastos, who had been the Spartan coach for six seasons before resigning after the 2016-17 season.
“They bring an intensity that wasn’t here before,” Hirose said of Cole and his staff. “Every time we go out for practice or games or anything that we’re doing, all the guys are all over us and making sure that we give 100 percent effort.
“They know that we can make mistakes, and those are going to happen, but as long as we’re working hard and being intense with it, we can overcome those mistakes.
“That’s been a huge aspect for us, and the teaching aspect. Making sure guys are learning to play the game the right way and doing things right every day has been a huge aspect for the whole team.”