Hildebrand, Yanakeff battle for playing time, opportunities
When Jake Hildebrand was looking at different college hockey programs, he wanted to know if he would have the opportunity to play.
The MSU hockey freshman goaltender said he asked head coach Tom Anastos if he would be given that chance as a Spartan, and Anastos said he responded by telling him if he earned ice time, he would be given it.
So far, Anastos has lived up to that promise.
“If you ask any goaltender, I don’t think he’s going to tell you he’ll be the backup,” Hildebrand said. “I wanted to compete as hard as I could. I know (goaltender) Will (Yanakeff) is a junior, and he’s a great goaltender, and I love the relationship we have, but I really wanted to be able to push for playing time as much as I could and make each other better.”
Hildebrand has made five appearances for MSU in 10 games, four of which he started. His most notable yet is last Saturday’s game against Michigan, in which he made 40 saves and held U-M to two goals in a 7-2 MSU victory.
Anastos said he thinks Hildebrand has “progressed nicely,” noting his confidence level and poise when in the net.
“What we’re doing is giving guys opportunities based on what we think makes sense,” Anastos said. “In Jake’s case, (we) try to give him some experience — the more experience he gets, the better I think he’ll be, same with Will … We’ll get to a point, like always, where we’re trying to find ways to win every single game. That’s our goal. So they’re competing for playing time both to get experience and also to get in the net so they can win for our team.”
Because of the nature of the goaltender’s position and only one netminder playing at a time, Hildebrand said it’s different than other positions, but he and Yanakeff reserve the competition strictly for practice.
“I think me and Will have a very good relationship both on and off the ice,” Hildebrand said. “I think when we’re on the ice, it’s time to get serious and we both know it. On the ice, it’s business, but off the ice, we have a good relationship. He’s showed me a lot since I came here.”
Ten games into the season, MSU currently leads the CCHA in power-play goals and is sixth nationally. Anastos said heading into the season, special teams were a big focus on the coaching staff, and he hopes to sustain the successful power plays.
Last weekend in a series against U-M, MSU scored two power-play goals in nine chances, bringing its power-play scoring percentage to 25 percent.
Sophomore forward Matt Berry scored one of those goals, and he said he thinks the power-play success will continue to develop.
“We’ve been trying a lot of different looks on the power play, trying to mix it up,” Berry said. “We got teams thrown off by what we did the previous weeks, and we’ve been working on it a lot in practice; it starts there. We’ve just been working hard on it, and the more we practice, the better we’ll get at it, the more success we’ll have.”