For the first time in months, Will Yanakeff sang to arena music.
He might have had to travel more than 3,500 miles to do so, but for MSU hockey’s junior goaltender, it’s a sign his confidence finally is restored.
“I was just happy; I was enjoying myself,” Yanakeff said. “I actually remember myself during the game, signing along to the music … Bobbing my head to the music — that’s how relaxed I was. It was a good feeling.”
Yanakeff and the Spartans (10-21-3 overall, 8-17-1-0 CCHA) traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska, last weekend for a two-game split series with the Alaska Nanooks, winning 1-0 on Friday night and falling 4-2 the following.
Yanakeff played in both games — it was the first time he took the net for two-consecutive games since Nov. 3 and Nov. 9. He stopped 76 of 79 shots, earning him the CCHA Warrior Goaltender of the Week.
“It was a little bit of reassurance to know that I still have it, that I can still play,” he said. “There was a little bit there where I definitely doubted myself.”
Yanakeff came into this season playing seven of the first nine games, going 3-5-1, before freshman goaltender Jake Hildebrand took over and played in the majority of matchups since. From Nov. 10 until now, Yanakeff only played in five games, including both against Alaska.
Yanakeff said he started off the year with performances that weren’t particularly strong, and Hildebrand simply played well enough to deserve the nods. Head coach Tom Anastos said despite the struggles Yanakeff has gone through, he has proven to be an encouraging teammate, offering support to Hildebrand whenever needed.
“I (give) him a lot of credit, because I know he came into the season with high expectations,” Anastos said. “Things didn’t go particularly the way he or we expected, and yet his work habits haven’t wavered. His commitment to the team has been as strong as ever — probably stronger.”
Because of Hildebrand’s success, there hasn’t been reason for him to not be in the lineup, but Anastos saw the opportunity to get Yanakeff in net against Alaska. Anastos said there was a chance to allow Yanakeff to build his confidence back, and he played at the level the coaching staff knew he was capable of.
As the season has progressed and the team has seen Hildebrand grow into one of the most consistent players for the Spartans, Yanakeff has undergone growth off the ice and learned how to deal with the situation presented to him.
“You can’t really expect things to happen, you just have to do the same things consistently every day, working hard, competing in practice and doing the right things on and off the ice,” Yanakeff said. “I think consistently doing that, it gives you a really good chance to be successful, and they say hard work pays off in the end.”