5FW Originals: From Spartan To Solar Bear; Palmisano Makes Jump To The Pros

After four years at Michigan State, Drew Palmisano is beginning his pro career in Orlando (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

Drew Palmisano knew he had big skates to fill.  Well, sort of. 

Palmisano’s freshman year was the senior season for Jeff Lerg, the diminutive goalie who had led the Michigan State Spartans to a national championship in 2007.  After the 5-foot-6 Lerg graduated in 2009, the net was Palmisano’s, and the Ann Arbor, Mich. native made the most of it in 2009-10, posting a career-best 2.44 GAA and .917 save percentage.

“Jeff was a role model ever since I got to Michigan State,” Palmisano said. 

“I modeled myself after his work ethic.  He’s a good guy to model yourself after.  But he did leave big shoes to fill at Michigan State, not only with what he did on the ice by winning a national championship, but the stuff that he did in the community off the ice as well.  So I didn’t really try to replace him as much as I tried to do my best to fill the role and help the team win.”

With Palmisano manning the pipes, the Spartans finished with a winning record in two out of his three seasons as a starter, and they advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008 last year, losing to Union in the regional semifinals.

“Michigan State was a really good four years,” Palmisano said.  “We had a couple up and down years, but we had good teams and had some pretty big wins.  Especially our sophomore and our senior year, we really excelled and it was really fun to be a part of that team.”

Ultimately, Palmisano played in 81 games for the Spartans, but gradually lost playing time to Will Yanakeff in his junior and senior seasons. 

“(I was worried) a little bit,” said Palmisano when asked if he felt the reduced playing time, especially in his senior season, would affect his pro prospects.

“But I knew I was going to get a shot, wherever it may be.  You just have to make the most of your opportunities and chances, and that’s kind of how I’m looking at this.”

This, of course, is an opportunity with ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears.  After the Spartans season ended, Palmisano and his agent started looking around to see what opportunties were available, and he got a call while playing golf with family members that the Solar Bears — affiliate to the NHL’s Minnesota Wild and AHL’s Houston Aeros — were interested.

Unfortunately, with the possibility of contracted goalies coming down and many from other organizations needing places to play, job stability for goalies at this level is shaky at best.  While that fact has not escaped Palmisano, he’s only focusing on what he’s able to control.

“I’m just looking at it like I’m competing just like everyone else,” he said.  “I just have to do my best, work hard and show the coaches what I’m capable of doing out there.”

Palmisano says people often describe him as a smaller goalie — he stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 160 pounds — but he likes to be efficient and not use a lot of extra movement around the net.

“I just want to make myself look as big as possible,” he said.  “I’m on my game when the pucks just seem to be sticking to me.  I like being a little acrobatic and making that big save every once in a while.”

Palmisano’s just hoping he gets a chance to make those saves with the Solar Bears later this year.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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