MSU hockey seeing key contributions
Berry, Hildebrand providing key spark for Spartans
MSU goalie Hildebrand playing on a roll following shutout win over Michigan, recognition in Big Ten weekly honors
It’s pretty simple — you can’t lose if the other team doesn’t score.
This was the case for MSU (6-9-2, 0-1-1-1 Big Ten) in its last game and could become a new pattern for the Spartans behind the recent strong and clutch play of sophomore goaltender Jake Hildebrand.
Although Hildebrand wouldn’t admit it, he stole the show during the 49th annual Great Lakes Invitational, including a shutout of then-No. 3 Michigan (10-4-2, 2-0-0 Big Ten). Hildebrand wouldn’t take all of the credit following the game, stating that it was a total team effort in helping him earn the first shutout of U-M since Nov. 14, 2009.
“Getting a shutout, it always feels good for the goaltender,” Hildebrand said.
The stellar effort against the Wolverines, which followed a 41-save game the night before against Michigan Tech (7-11-6, 5-5-4 WCHA), was Hildebrand’s first shutout of the season and helped him earn the Big Ten First Star of the Week.
The weekly award was the second for the Butler, Pa. native, winning the Big Ten Second Star of the Week on Dec. 10 after stuffing all three No. 1 Minnesota (13-2-3, 3-0-1 Big Ten) shootout skaters, lifting MSU to the upset shootout victory.
The recent standout play from Hildebrand has come as no surprise to head coach Tom Anastos, who said entering the season that he knew goaltending was going to be one of the team’s high points. Until most recently, Hildebrand hadn’t lived up to the expectations.
“He’s played really well — (he’s) played really the last several games like we saw him play last season,” Anastos said. “I don’t think he started the season at the same level for whatever reason, (but) I think he settled in. He’s playing with great confidence, you can see the team has confidence around him and he’s seeing the puck real well, and the other thing that is really important is he’s making key stops at the right times that you need it, and he did that in our game against Michigan.”
The sophomore goaltender was the best in the Big Ten during December with the highest save percentage of 0.946, which would rank as the nation’s best if he had done it the entire season. Hildebrand also has only given up no more than two goals once in the last seven outings, including games against four top five ranked teams, with an astonishing 1.714 goals against average during the stretch.
The stretch has risen his overall save percentage to 0.925 on the season, ranking third in the Big Ten and 18th nationally.
Hildebrand’s outstanding play during the past seven games isn’t going unnoticed throughout the locker room.
Senior forward and captain Greg Wolfe pointed out that while he wants the forwards to provide more goal support, the team is aware that just one goal a night could be enough with him in net.
“He’s a great goaltender obviously, he did great things last year and we knew that we had to pick up the offense just to help him out,” Wolfe said. “He’s not going to let many goals in, but that’s on the forwards, that’s on our players to give him the backing he needs, give him the goals he needs to win.”
After battling an injury during the first part of the season, Berry getting closer to full recovery
It wasn’t until the 16th game — nearly half of the season — that junior forward Matt Berry finally lit the lamp, a positive sign of the team’s 2012-13 leading scorer inching back to full strength.
Berry found the net in both Great Lakes Invitational games against Michigan Tech (7-11-6, 5-5-4 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) and then-No. 3 Michigan (10-4-2, 2-0-0 Big Ten), finally getting the monkey off his back and showing he is close to a complete recovery from his offseason surgery.
Berry was Mr. Reliable for MSU (6-9-2, 0-1-1-1 Big Ten) last season, leading the team in both goals (15) and assists (16) but after offseason surgery to deal with a lower body injury, Berry has found himself fighting to get back to full ability.
“The Great Lakes (Invitational) was definitely a big boost — getting a couple goals really helps my confidence,” said Berry, who scored both goals on the power play. “I just feel better to have a couple of points already and not have to worry about getting my first goal or anything like that anymore, so … that really helped me too.
“You have to work a lot harder than I expected. I kind of expected to hop back in and be back to myself and that wasn’t the case,” said Berry, who has only played in five games after missing the first eight.
“I had to put in a lot more work than I thought I was going to have to (to) get back to where I was last year,” he said. “I still don’t feel like I’m 100 percent back to that level yet, but I’m getting there and hopefully … this week of practice will really help too.”
Berry also said it was frustrating at first getting back into the swing of things, and not being used to playing on a different line than the top of the roster.
Anastos had noticed Berry struggling at first with the injury, the first of his career, but said he believes the junior forward is turning the corner, something MSU will benefit from in all aspects of the game.
“It helps our team if he can contribute in the right way and that’s not just in scoring,” Anastos said. “Scoring certainly is needed on our team, but I think there’s lots of ways to contribute. Attitude is one, work habits is another one.
“He has some experience now and certainly on the offensive side that’s another way, but he’s a player where when he plays at the highest part of his game, highest level of his game, he can contribute both offensively and defensively.”