Oxford, Ohio — Jake Hildebrand summed up MSU’s playoff series against Miami (Ohio) in one sentiment: the Spartans are a last place team playing a first place team on home ice with nothing to lose.
The team with nothing to lose has its entire season in its own control, and the “clear minds” the freshman goaltender referred to were clear enough to shut out the No. 3 team in the NCAA, 3-0, on Friday night.
“I would say we are growing in confidence,” head coach Tom Anastos said. “We’re finding a way to win. We’re just making things work. We’ve had injuries, we’ve had illnesses, and guys are stepping up and doing whatever’s asked of them.”
The Spartans (14-24-3 overall, 9-18-1-0 CCHA) stepped on the ice with a fire lit beneath them, and two quick goals in the first period were all they needed to hold off the Red Hawks.
Freshman forward Matt DeBlouw scored MSU’s first, burying a puck in Miami (Ohio) goaltender Ryan McKay’s five hole. The goal came off a tough effort by captain and junior forward Greg Wolfe, who managed to get the puck to the net while being pulled to the ice.
On the second goal, freshman defenseman John Draeger faked a shot from the point and passed to sophomore forward Matt Berry, who was tucked in behind McKay on the far post. Berry slammed the puck into the net before McKay had a chance to attempt a save.
“My eyes got real big — I was like, ‘There’s a juicy rebound,’” Draeger said. “I saw Berry, he was smiling on the back door, so I just thought I’d give him a good one and I was praying he’d bury the empty-netter.”
MSU maintained the lead until senior forward Kevin Walrod put away an empty net goal with less than a minute to play, but a 2-0 lead against one of the top teams in the country wasn’t enough to make the Spartans feel comfortable enough to sit back.
The second and third periods were battles for the third goal. Anastos said if Miami (Ohio) would have made it 2-1, that would have given them emotion on home ice — a risky combination.
“The next goal in the game matters a lot,” he said. “If there’s no goals, we’re good. If they get it, there’s a huge momentum shift, and if we get it, we gain the momentum.”
MSU played with a confidence in them they might have not had a few months back, and Draeger said the Spartans owe that to experience. MSU has won three of four playoff games so far, and six of the last nine matchups.
That experience was put to work Friday, and MSU will look to carry that momentum to Saturday night in the second matchup in the series. The game will take place at 7:05 p.m. at Cady Arena.
“Anything can happen,” Draeger said. “We’re gonna give them hell tomorrow.”