As the MSU hockey program prepares for its first-ever meeting with Penn State this weekend, Jake Hildebrand has more personal matters on his mind.
The freshman goaltender for the Spartans (6-15-3 overall, 5-12-1-0 CCHA) will take the crease opposite Matthew Skoff, a Penn State (9-12-0) goaltender and close friend of Hildebrand’s.
Hildebrand grew up in Butler, Pa., about an hour from Skoff’s hometown of McKees Rocks, Pa., and both worked with the same goalie coach growing up, Shane Clifford.
The two have known each other since they were in elementary school old, and continue to keep in touch and workout with each other during the summer. They also were teammates and roommates in the United State Hockey League for the Sioux City Musketeers.
Hildebrand said Clifford will be traveling to East Lansing this weekend for the games and to see the two goaltenders he knew since they were just kids.
“He’s coached both of us, I believe, since we both started playing,” Hildebrand said. “It’s kind of cool for him seeing guys that he’s watched grow up play against each other on such a big stage.”
After years of club hockey, this season is the Nittany Lions’ first as a Division I program.
A large donation to the hockey program funded Penn State’s addition of men’s and women’s varsity hockey teams and financed a new arena.
The Nittany Lions currently are an independent team, but will join the Big Ten next year in the conference’s inaugural season.
Although they’re his opponents this weekend, Hildebrand is excited to see what this new addition will do for hockey in his home state.
The Penn State varsity programs plus the 2013 Frozen Four in Pittsburgh might inspire a drive in fans and young kids to want to start playing hockey, Hildebrand said.
“All the Minnesota kids go to Minnesota, all the Michigan kids go to Michigan schools,” he said. “It would’ve been exciting if (Penn State) would have gotten this a few years ago, and it would have been big by now.”
Hildebrand has more personal ties to this weekend’s games than the other players, but that is not stifling his desire to get two wins.
After getting swept by Ferris State last weekend and losing to the U.S. National Team Development Program on Tuesday, MSU is eager to regain confidence and notch a couple wins on its belt.
“They’ll come in here and play really hard,” head coach Tom Anastos said. “They’ll be really difficult to play against; they’re real aggressive. They’re actually a little older than our team, so they have maturity and strength.”
Senior forward Chris Forfar also has a small connection to the team, having played with Penn State forward Tommy Olczyk.
“He’s supremely dedicated to the program,” Forfar said. “You look at some of the teams they’ve played and some of the teams they’re beaten. We cannot come into this weekend and take them lightly.”