As the MSU hockey team returns home this weekend for the first of a home-and-home tilt against Bowling Green, finding a quick start on offense is on a lot of minds. And with the stagnant presence of the Spartans’ offense in the first two periods of games this season, it probably should be.
The Spartans (2-3-1 overall, 1-1-0 CCHA) have struggled for early offense this season, scoring only third-period tallies in their first four games, going 1-2-1 during the stretch.
Last weekend’s series split against Lake Superior State marked the first time the Spartans have scored outside of the third period, securing both a first- and second- period score to halt the streak on separate nights, courtesy of sophomore forward Tanner Sorenson and freshman defenseman John Draeger, respectively.
But as the Spartans move into conference season, a slow offensive start certainly isn’t one they can continue to afford when gunning for the win column.
“As a team, we know we can’t be doing that anymore,” Sorenson said. “I guess we are young, so it’s a learning curve. But I think now that everyone knows we’re back in conference play, every game matters. I think we’re going to come out real pumped Friday to play.”
Even as head coach Tom Anastos joked last week about tricking his team into thinking the early periods are the third one, generating offense still is a concern.
The Spartans have been trailing in a majority of the team’s action this season, but for many, including junior forward Greg Wolfe, they’ve played effectively when they’ve been able to seize the scoring advantage.
“It was definitely a change playing with the lead (against Lake Superior State),” Wolfe said. “I think everyone kind of took … a break, like: ‘OK, finally. We have the lead now; let’s keep building off it.’ Basically, our goals were the same. We just wanted to keep improving every period, basically, and just develop some consistency.”
As the team continues to build cohesiveness and find chemistry on the ice, Anastos said the Spartans will find their way, so long as they maintain the mentality preached by him and his staff.
“We’re trying to build a mentality that we’re not changing,” Anastos said. “I know it sounds like a cliché, but we’re trying to approach the process, which means every shift, we’re trying to win. So if we’re behind, we’re trying to score the next shift to get closer. If we’re ahead, we’re trying to win that shift so we don’t let somebody else get closer.
“We are literally trying to simplify the game to thinking that small because if you focus on the result, ultimately, you get yourself in trouble.”
In the team’s first home-and-home series of the year — the first of four this season — the Spartans take on the Falcons of Bowling Green (1-4-2, 0-1-1-1). The Falcons are coming off a series against Ohio State, which includes a 1-0 loss in the opener before closing it out with a 3-3 tie and a CCHA shootout victory.
The Spartans hold a 71-29-8 all-time record against Bowling Green, including going unbeaten in their last eight matchups. The puck drops at 5:05 p.m. Friday at Munn Ice Arena before traveling for the closing game of the weekend series at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday in Bowling Green, Ohio.
For Anastos, getting a hot start this weekend might be a challenge, but the opportunity comes at as good of a time as any for the Spartans, with a comparable aggressive-style team such as Bowling Green.
“I expect them to be a real hard team to play against,” Anastos said. “They’re in year three of a rebuilding process. I think they’re really understanding of what the coaching staff there expects of them. They’ve changed a lot of players over the course of time, and they’re very demanding of their players. I expect they’ll come in here and at home and be really physically involved.”