After competing with fellow goaltender Drew Palmisano for a starting spot last season, junior Will Yanakeff might have assumed the competition would be lessened this year following Palmisano’s departure.
But freshman Jake Hildebrand is bound to make Yanakeff’s job a little tougher.
MSU hockey head coach Tom Anastos said he has expectations that Yanakeff will kick off the season and be that “go-to guy” while the team gets comfortable, but he’s going to give Yanakeff, Hildebrand and sophomore goaltender Nathan Phillips equal opportunities to prove themselves.
“Every night, our goal is to put the best team on the ice to give ourselves the best chance to win,” Anastos said.
Yanakeff and Palmisano bounced back and forth as alternating starting goaltenders last year, with Yanakeff starting 10 of the final 12 games.
Yanakeff was fifth in the CCHA in save percentage — .922 — and overall win percentage. He also was the only Spartan named to the Preseason All-Conference team in the CCHA, by vote of coaches.
“Will Yanakeff had a terrific season last year,” Anastos said. “He really stepped up. We expect him to continue to grow in that position.”
Hildebrand joined Cedar Rapids halfway through the 2009-10 season, after an injury and trade of Yanakeff opened up a spot. He then spent two years playing USHL hockey in Sioux City before completing his final season in Cedar Rapids.
Despite the competition between the two, Hildebrand said he and Yanakeff have a great relationship both on and off the ice. He said Yanakeff is a great goaltender who forces him to train harder, and he tries to make Yanakeff feel the same way.
“(He and I) talk every day on and off the ice,” Hildebrand said. “Off ice, he’s been here for two years already, so he knows the ins and outs, what goes on; I think it’s a great relationship. On the ice, we compete with each other a lot, so on the ice, it’s business, and off the ice, it’s friendship.”
Although Yanakeff admitted to being the presumed starting goaltender bringing a lot of pressure, he said he thinks it’s good pressure that he’s thriving off of.
“It’s definitely forced me to work harder and compete harder,” he said. “It forces me to be dialed in every day and come to play every day.”