Walnut Creek native Khodorenko’s improvement continues at Michigan State
Rounding out his game bodes well for Patrick Khodorenko now and in the future.
The Walnut Creek native, who’s always been on speaking terms with opponents’ nets, is not only centering Michigan State University’s top line, but he’s also taken on more 200-foot responsibility.
“What we like about him is he keeps getting better year after year,” Spartans coach Danton Cole said. “It’s not like some guys who get to 19 or 20 and that’s what they are. He keeps adding parts to his game. Last year offensively was really good for him (37 points, 18 goals).
“This year we’ve added more responsibility. His line gets a lot of the top lines on the other team. His faceoffs have gotten better. He takes the puck to the net more. He keeps adding components to his game, and that’s an encouraging thing to see that he doesn’t accept it’s good enough.”
Cole knows this better than anyone. He coached Khodorenko at the U.S. National Team Development Program from 2014-16, and Cole was hired as MSU’s coach in 2017. His influence has been huge.
“I knew what he was going to bring to the table and what he was going to demand of his guys,” said Khodorenko, a senior. “He’s detail-oriented and defensive-minded. He lets the forwards be creative, but he demands a lot of them defensively.
“My defensive game has improved the most. Learning how to play against top guys, penalty killing, just staying between my guy and the net. Learning how to play with the defenseman as a center is super important, being able to interchange positions in the ‘D’ zone and neutral zone has been really good for me.”
Another huge influence on Khodorenko is his father Alex, who worked with him as often as they could find ice time in Northern California.
“We would do one-on-one skills sessions – you could call him my skills coach,” Patrick said. “We learned a lot from Konstantin (Lodnia). We’d have group sessions in Anaheim and learn a lot from him, then bring that back to NorCal.
“That contributed a lot to my skill level. We did a lot sticks and pucks. I probably did that five times a week out of season.”
Khodorenko played for several clubs in California, including the Oakland Bears, San Jose Jr. Sharks, Anaheim Wildcats, Santa Clara Blackhawks and LA Selects. He reached the Tier II Bantam final at the USA Hockey Nationals with Santa Clara in 2011, and he won a Tier I Bantam title with Detroit Honeybaked two years later.
He’s on a track to continue playing after he graduates with an economics degree this spring.
“For ‘Patty’ to play to play in the NHL, (defense is) going to be an important component,” said Cole, who played 11 professional seasons, part of seven in the NHL. “He’s a guy who’s 6-foot, 6-foor-1, 200 pounds, and he’s real strong. He’ll have a chance to play in the big time if he can find himself a role and get his foot in the door.
“The offensive part isn’t going to go away. He can pass and he shoots and skates real well. They’re looking for guys who are responsible defensively, and that will give you a chance to stick around and show what you can do offensively. If you can’t handle yourself on that side of the blue line you’re not going to be in a lineup for an NHL team.”
Despite being a senior college player, time still is on Khodorenko’s side.
“He just turned 21 a couple months ago as a senior,” said Cole. “There’s a lot of freshmen in college hockey who are 21. On the ice, he’s always been a very mature player, but off the ice, his leadership has grown.
“We always talk about guys finding their voice in the room and he’s more comfortable in the spotlight now. That’s a big part of it because when you move on to the next level, you want to have that confidence. You want to jump into a locker room and on the ice and feel good about who you are. And I think Patrick does.
“He’s not a loud type guy but he’s very genuine, works hard and cares about his teammates. As you get to know him you find out what a neat young man he is. He does well in school. He’s been a model citizen for us on and off the ice.”
Khodorenko, who has attended an NHL development camp in Columbus, is pointing toward the pros, but first things first. The Spartans are in the thick of the Big Ten race, and Khodorenko badly wants to play in the NCAA Tournament.
“I came here because I saw an opportunity to help rebuild a proud program,” he said. “Every year, it’s been a struggle, but it’s paying off this year. The team is looking better and doing well in the Big Ten. Hopefully, we can keep it up.”
Photo/Michigan State Athletics
— Chris Bayee
(Feb. 3, 2020)