This Friday will mark the end of dreaded week of exams for most of the student body, but for the MSU hockey team, one last test will present itself on Saturday evening.
That test will be dressed in crimson and gold as the Ferris State Bulldogs (7-6-3 overall, 6-5-1-0 CCHA) travel to East Lansing for the two teams’ first matchup of the season at 5:05 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena.
“They’re a tough team to play against,” senior defenseman Matt Grassi said. “They play a very structured game. For whatever reason, we haven’t had much luck against them, but we have a new look to the team this year. I’m confident with our team that if we keep improving daily, like we have in the last two months, that we’ll have success.”
The runner-up for the national championship last season, Ferris State has yet to lose to MSU (4-10-2 overall, 3-8-1-0 CCHA) in their past four meetings.
The Bulldogs currently sit at No. 19 in the USCHO.com’s NCAA hockey rankings and No. 6 in scoring defense, something MSU’s struggling offense will look to break.
“They pretty much go out there and work as hard as they can for 60 minutes, and they play really consistent hockey,” captain and junior forward Greg Wolfe said. “They buy into their systems — their whole team’s on the same page. They block a lot of shots, they clog the middle. It’s really hard to generate consistent scoring chances against them.”
At Tuesday’s weekly press conference, Grassi and Wolfe both noted the importance this game has on the team’s confidence heading into winter break and, eventually, the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 29-30.
The team currently is on a six-game winless streak (0-5-1) with losses to Notre Dame, Ohio State and a tie and a loss to Miami (Ohio).
Throughout those six games, the Spartans managed to score only six goals. In their last win, on Nov. 10, MSU scored seven goals.
Despite MSU losing to Notre Dame 3-2 on Friday, then 5-1 on Saturday, head coach Tom Anastos said he is not frustrated with the team, and he doesn’t see any frustration in the staff or the players.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt in our minds that we’re better today than we were Oct. 1,” he said. “We don’t have the tangible evidence of that, but we’re watching the team everyday. We do think the morale of the players is really good, and we’re focusing on making our team better.”
Freshman goaltender Jake Hildebrand got the start on Friday, making 36 saves and allowing more than two goals for the first time all season. Junior Will Yanakeff took the net Saturday night for the first time since Nov. 9.
“(Hildebrand)’s been playing really, really well,” Anastos said. “We thought this was an opportunity. Will hasn’t played in a while, we wanted to see if we could find an opportunity to get him in the net. Jake has been playing so well that it’s hard to get (Yanakeff) in the net. Will won last year at Notre Dame for us, so we thought, ‘We’re going to see if we can change some dynamics.’”
Anastos said there was a balancing act between ensuring both current team and overall program reach success.
“We’re not just focused on team goals, we’re focused on program goals,” he said. “Those things don’t always come together sometimes.”