Column: Large crowds inspire hockey team at home
Record be what it might, this season’s MSU hockey fans are a group that just won’t quit.
The crowd has supported MSU (6-13-3 overall, 5-10-1-0 CCHA) through its four wins at home as excitedly as it did for its four home losses.
Saturday’s sellout, a 4-1 win against No. 2 Notre Dame, was the sixth consecutive home games with more than 6,000 fans at Munn Ice Arena.
Freshman goaltender Jake Hildebrand said he is surprised at the turnout given the team’s record, but he’s appreciative and eager to give back to the fans.
“The fans have been unbelievable this season,” Hildebrand said. “We haven’t given them the results they deserve for as much as they support us. We’re striving toward that goal, and we’re going to keep working hard until we give them the results they deserve.”
Head coach Tom Anastos is dedicated to revamping the experience of Spartan hockey games, exemplified by the renaming of the student section last fall — formerly the Slapshots — to The A-Team.
Since then, he has frequently addressed the need to make sure fans are given a reason to attend games, and that responsibility rests with the team.
He also noted the band and student section brings energy to games.
“I think, from lots of information I receive and comments, that I realize, is people know we’re going through a change, and yet they appreciate that the team is playing hard,” Anastos said.
Regular fans are knowledgeable about the sport, and they appreciate Anastos’ concern with making their experience a good one. In turn, the crowd — particularly The A-Team — has remained enthusiastic regardless of a few frustrating losses.
Freshman defenseman Travis Walsh said when he hears the students cheering, it gives him a little jump.
He recalled the electricity of the crowd from years ago, growing up around Munn Ice Arena watching his grandfather Ron Mason’s team play, and said the atmosphere has been reminiscent of those days.
Hildebrand said he “absolutely” feeds off the excitement from the fans — after all, he does give them a lot to be excited about.
“After you come up with a big save or something like that, they’re right there supporting you,” he said. “You just keep going, even if you’re tired. I notice it the most in penalty kills when (the other team’s) putting a lot of pressure on us in our own zone and we can’t seem to get the puck out. A couple blocked shots or saves and you can hear the crowd, the puck goes down the ice and the crowd just starts roaring.”
Alyssa Girardi is a State News hockey reporter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.