When the Spartans men’s hockey team (1-2-1) kicked off CCHA play last season, Lake Superior State (2-2-0) handed them a winless series.
As both teams take the ice once again this weekend to start conference play, MSU head coach Tom Anastos looks to find a new fate in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
“That wasn’t a good way to start our conference season,” Anastos said of last season’s CCHA-opening series. “We had to kind of fight our way back into league contention over the course of time. It’s really important. They have a team that plays really well, particularly at home — they are very disciplined in how they play. They’re not an easy team to play against, they make it very difficult on you and that will be a tough place to play.”
Last weekend, MSU walked away from its Niagara series with a win and a tie — netting three pucks in the third period each night.
The Spartans are approaching this weekend with the mentality of getting off to a quick start and hopefully getting some goals in a period other than the third.
All four of MSU’s games this season have been nonconference, and senior forward Anthony Hayes said taking the ice against another CCHA team raises the intensity a “significant amount.”
“We’re just going to have to stay poised — just like we were (last) weekend — and stick with the game plan,” Hayes said. “We can’t try and … rush things to happen. We’re just going to have to stick to what we do well: get the puck deep, bang bodies, play well, outwork the opponent and other than that, I just anticipate a hardworking, hard-hitting series.”
One LSSU player both Anastos and senior forward Chris Forfar noted was junior goaltender Kevin Kapalka, who led the CCHA in league saves last season with 771.
Forfar said Kapalka plays opposite than most goaltenders he’s used to — something that’s strange for Forfar to adjust to while playing.
“It’s definitely weird,” Forfar said. “You’re coming down expecting to shoot glove-side high and all of a sudden that’s their blocker. I remember when we played up there last year or two years ago, but (Kapalka) threw out his shoulder and just kept coming back in. (He’s a) very tough competitor. He ranks high on my list of goaltenders. It’s going to be hard getting the puck past him.”
As the Spartans head north for the weekend, their sights are set on getting a jump in conference play. Anastos said it will be a tough competition, but he and his team are focused on starting this season off on a positive note, unlike last season.
“This year, it’d be nice to come out a winner,” Forfar said. “We’re not discounting Lake State. We know that they’re a hard team to play against. They always play hard, they play sound defensively and they have a lot of talent in their forwards. We’re going to go out there focusing on the first game doing what we can to compete hard every shift.”