Injuries force young icers to step up
John Draeger said if possible, he would stay on the ice for every minute of every hockey game.
Some days, his body probably feels like it does.
With injuries burdening the MSU hockey (7-18-3 overall, 5-14-1-0 CCHA) roster all season, Draeger, the freshman defenseman, is one of many players who has been given more ice time than anybody anticipated.
He didn’t know the exact number, but Draeger said he guesses he plays about 25 minutes a night. He also has played in all 28 games this season, alongside junior defensemanJake Chelios.
“I don’t think I’m tired, but I would say it definitely wears on us,” Draeger said. “Teams understand that we are short in numbers, so that’s part of their game plan dumping it in, and getting back on defense and definitely wearing us out.”
Heading into the season, head coach Tom Anastos said he was expecting adversity with the number of young players and not a great deal of experience.
One thing he didn’t anticipate, though, is the injuries that have plagued the Spartans.
Freshman defenseman Rhett Holland and senior Dean Chelios both are out for the season, along with redshirt freshman Branden Carney, whose playing career was ended by a neck injury.
Aside from those three, forwards Ryan Keller, David Bondra and Brent Darnell, among other players, have missed games because of nagging injuries.
Anastos admitted the coaching staff has been forced to play players for more minutes than normal, but that’s just them playing the hand they’re dealt.
“Where that impacts you a lot is in depth in your roster, in competition for play time,” Anastos said. “We’ve had games and situations where we didn’t have any guys to dress to play for the full roster that was healthy.”
Sacrificing the body
Freshman goaltender Jake Hildebrand has been a solid force for MSU this year, stopping upward of 30 shots most games, but there’s a few players in front of him dedicating their body to keep pucks from reaching him.
Draeger leads the team in blocked shots with 63, putting him fourth among Division I players. Freshman defenseman Travis Walsh is right behind Draeger with 48.
“It’s just bearing down and you’re going to take one,” Draeger said. “I think it’s a little bit of anticipation. It’s more of a will to block shots more than anything, takes a little courage.”
Anastos said the team’s focusing on shot blocking more so this season than last, and he sees improvement in his players in that area.
“That’s not one of the most glamorous types of things, and yet I think our team’s getting better in that area,” he said. “We have actually practiced it, and I think guys take pride in it.”