Accomplishments aside, MSU hockey's Jake Hildebrand keeps a level head
Not many times is the goalie considered the most recognizable face of a hockey team, but when he is, it’s with great reason.
Standing at six feet tall and weighing 184 pounds, the keeper of MSU’s blue paint Jake Hildebrand is not even the biggest goaltender in the Big Ten, let alone his own team. But he may just be the best in both aspects, and you won’t have to look any further than the trophy case.
The contents of this case are a vast array. Spanning weekly awards, team awards, All-Conference awards, and national awards, the size of the case could fill up an entire section of his future man cave, and its weight and brevity can be seen below.
One CCHA Goaltender of the Week
Eight Big Ten Star of the Week Awards
Three consecutive Team MVP Awards
One All-CCHA Rookie Team member honorable mention
One All-Big Ten honorable mention
One First Team All-Big Ten award
One All-Academic Big Ten
2014-15 Big Ten Player of the Year
2014-15 Big Ten Goaltender of the Year
First Team All-America
Mike Richter Award finalist
But Hildebrand doesn’t let the recognition, or the awards, get to his head. His work ethic, not his ego, has placed him here. He doesn’t linger too long on the highs or the lows — he remains Hildebrand through it all.
“I try not to get too big or too low, I try to stay pretty even keel and just focus on my preparation for games and the upcoming season,” Hildebrand said.
If the awards don’t showcase Hildebrand’s talent, the numbers might. Hildebrand’s six shutouts were good enough for second in the nation. His 2.18 goals against average and .930 save percentage were both tops among Big Ten netminders. Hildebrand is only the second goalie since Eldon VanSpybrook in MSU history to play every minute of every game in a season and is the only MSU goalie since goaltending great Jeff Lerg to start every game.
With all the accolades and numbers, one might think Hildebrand was the starting goaltender for a returning national champion. However the season before Hildebrand arrived was the last time MSU Hockey had the luxury of playing in the NCAA Tournament. But this is something Hildebrand and the rest of the team want to change.
"It’s been one of our goals since we got here,” Hildebrand said. “We haven’t achieved it yet, there’s definitely other things we want to win before the tournament comes but I think that’s definitely a big piece of the puzzle this year.”
Perhaps the only knock against the goaltender is a knock he fully understands. During the past three seasons, a slow and shaky start has hampered not only himself but the rest of the team.
"I’ve been disappointed with my start the past couple years, so I’ve really been focusing on that,” Hildebrand said.
But if Hildebrand's numbers are that good despite his slow start, imagine where his numbers would rank if Hildebrand plays strong from start to finish.
There is no doubt Hildebrand is the "it" factor bolstering MSU Hockey, whether he'll admit it or not. However, he does understand his attitude permeates throughout the whole team. A goalie this good only makes practice harder, something Hildebrand enjoys. He also understands how it will help in the long run.
"I like to have a lot of fun in practice, I think when I’m playing well I’m having fun and vice versa,” Hildebrand said. “I try to create heated battles in practice especially with some of the guys. I think it’s just fun and it makes everyone around me better.”
Hildebrand has been pegged a Hobey Baker award candidate by certain media circles. If he continues to stay Hildebrand, he may just find himself accomplishing more than he ever knew.
The MSU hockey team is off to a 1-0-1 start to the season after splitting a weekend series of games in Maine. They return to action Oct. 16 at Denver.