The first time MSU hockey took the ice against Minnesota under Tom Anastos, the Spartans walked away with their heads high from an upset victory.
This weekend, Anastos plans on feeling that triumph again.
His team heads to Minnesota for a Friday-Saturday season-opening series against the highly ranked Gophers with hopes of starting this year off on the right foot.
“Minnesota has a lot of returning experience,” Anastos said.“They’re a very skilled team. They’re going to be playing at home; they’re all going to be very excited.
“We’re going into a very hostile environment with a very inexperienced group, and we’re excited about it.”
When MSU took on Minnesota last year, the Gophers were sitting pretty with a No. 3 ranking, compared to the Spartans’ No. 20 ranking. Minnesota walked out of Munn Ice Arena a few days later after a two-game series, and they left with a loss and a tie bruising their ego.
The two teams are in a similar situation this year. Minnesota sits at No. 1 of the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, whereas MSU didn’t make the top 15. The Gophers also sit at No. 2 of USCHO.com’s ranking, where MSU is at No. 16.
“What I like about playing a team that’s going to be considered a top-favored team nationally right out of the gate is it gives you a measuring stick of where you are and where you need to get to,” Anastos said.
Freshman defenseman John Draeger said the key to beating Minnesota is remembering the basics of the game and sticking to the “simple” things.
“I just rely on making simple passes,” Draeger said. “You kind of get into a rhythm and make passes, get down the ice … you just step up, become more offensive. You’re getting into the zone and making big hits, just simple stuff, and then your game just flourishes from there.”
Minnesota’s arena is home to an Olympic-sized sheet of ice, sitting at 200 feet by 100 feet. MSU and most other teams are used to a smaller sheet: 200 feet by 85 feet.
Sophomore forward Brent Darnell said the bigger ice could be an advantage to a team that’s used to it, but he doesn’t think the effect will be detrimental to the tone of the series.
“At the (NCAA) Tournament, you can be playing on (Olympic ice), too,” Darnell said. “I don’t think it’s going to affect the game as much as people talk it up to be, but at the same time, they’re so used to playing on it that it can definitely be an advantage to them.”
With 12 new players making up the MSU roster this season, Anastos said the entire team is making the trip to Minnesota this weekend, when usually a few scratches are left behind.
He said not only will it help bring the boys closer, but it will give the newer players an idea of how the program travels and takes care of business on the road.
“We’re going there to win,” Darnell said.“We want to get two wins, absolutely. Minnesota is a really good team. They’re very talented, but I think we can match up well against them.”