Saturday night, the MSU hockey team took a collective sigh of relief.
After winning only one of the past 10 games — two of which were ties — the Spartans (6-13-3 overall, 5-10-1-0 CCHA) headed into this weekend against No. 2 Notre Dame (15-6-0 overall, 11-2-0-0 CCHA) knowing it was do or die.
Alhough the two teams split the series — Notre Dame winning 1-0 Friday night and MSU winning 4-1 the following — the weekend is a huge confidence boost for a struggling Spartan team.
“Anytime you can beat the No. 2-ranked team in the nation, I think it’s an eye-opener,” MSU junior forward and captain Greg Wolfe said. “If these guys are the No. 2 team in the nation and we can play with them and have a one-goal game then beat them, the sky’s the limit for us. I think the young guys will take that and run with it.”
Despite Friday night’s loss, the MSU bench was pleased with the effort the team displayed. Senior forward Chris ` remained confident that as long as the Spartans keep digging, the results will come.
“There was a lot of positives,” he said. “Everyone worked really hard, finishing their checks. We’re still struggling to find the back of the net. It’s going to come.”
Following Friday’s game, head coach Tom Anastos said his team competed hard for a full 60 minutes — a sentiment he wasn’t able to say after the prior weekend’s 3-0 loss to Ferris State. He added MSU needed to capitalize on more chances and rebounds heading into Saturday evening’s game, and that’s exactly what the Spartans did.
Sophomore forward Tanner Sorenson put an end to eight periods without a single MSU goal early in the first period, netting a quick wrister less than two minutes into Saturday’s matchup.
Sophomore defenseman R.J. Boyd also achieved his first career goal as a Spartan that night, and sophomore forward Brent Darnell scored his sixth of the season and third against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish’s Anders Lee put up Notre Dame’s only tally.
MSU freshman forward Matt DeBlouw capped off the night with an empty net goal.
After Saturday’s win, Anastos said that series was the best six periods of hockey he’s seen his team put together all season, adding it will define the rest of the season’s expectations.
“It puts us on the hook because we knew we were capable of a good, solid effort, and we demonstrated that,” he said. “It sets an expectation and you’re not always going to get the results that you want, but I really thought that Notre Dame was way better (Saturday) than they were (Friday). That was a tough game. It was physical, they were strong, they outsize us, they came hard at us and I really loved the way we battled back all night long.”
Moving forward into the second half of the season, Wolfe said the team just needs to continue to play with the excellence it did against Notre Dame.
“From the standpoint of our work ethic and our willingness to do whatever it takes, that was the best performance I’ve seen,” he said. “It’s really nice when every single guy is committed to the same cause and everyone’s working together.