A hot goaltender can make or break a team.
Tim Thomas carried the Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup in 2011, and Jonathan Quick did the same for the Los Angeles Kings the following year.
For the MSU hockey team, finding its man between the pipes won’t come down to a single game or practice, but will be chosen on a weekly basis based on who the coaching staff feels has the hot hand.
Last season, then-“freshman goalie Jake Hildebrand”:http://www.msuspartans.com/sports/m-hockey/mtt/jake_hildebrand_823662.html and then-“junior goalie Will Yanakeff”:http://www.msuspartans.com/sports/m-hockey/mtt/will_yanakeff_714777.html split time with Hildebrand starting 28 games and Yanakeff in 14.
“They are very capable from a talent and skill level, and I can see a benefit of being able to play two goaltenders,” head coach Tom Anastos said. “If guys play hard in front of both, both guys can win. We are going into it very open-minded, knowing that we have two guys that have proven that they can win.”
Unlike other sports, Anastos said the physical nature of hockey and the back-to-back games throughout the season set up well for a rotating goalie system.
Last year, Hildebrand finished with a 9-17-2 record and a 2.35 goals against average, while Yanakeff ended the campaign with a mark of 5-8-1 and 3.06 goals against.
Yanakeff spent the summer in the weight room doing everything possible to get back in the net, and said both he and Hildebrand are ready to shoulder the load for the Spartans this season.
“It means a lot for a team knowing that you can have full confidence in two guys,” Yanakeff said. “Jake played really well last year. He really stood on his head and we relied on him a lot, especially at the beginning of the year when we were trying to find our game and figure things out. But that’s everything for a team when you can fall back on your goaltenders.”
He added the pair are good friends off the ice, but when it comes to practice and competition, it’s strictly business.
Hildebrand was an honorable mention on the All-CCHA Rookie Team his freshman year and had at least 27 saves in 22 of his 28 starts.
He said the healthy competition pushes each to the highest level, and forces both to be the best goalie on the ice. But after a tough loss, it’s good to have someone who has been there before.
“It’s good to have a healthy relationship with the other goaltender,” Hildebrand said. “You have a tough night and have a lot of shots and bounces don’t’ go your way. It’s nice to talk to somebody about it that knows what you’re going through.”
The Spartans have more experience on the defensive side of the puck this season, but Yanakeff said the team still will rely on the goaltenders to do their job, no matter what team they’re facing.
“They’re expecting everybody to play big, so when we get our chance to get in the net, they want us to play that way,” Yanakeff said. “Our main focus as goaltenders is the puck and stopping the puck. It doesn’t matter how you do it.”