MSU hockey a few puck bounces from turning the season around
MSU hockey head coach Tom Anastos might just be cut from the same cloth as Tom Izzo when it comes to building a strong program. Anastos took an Izzo staple in playing tough non-conference tournament atmosphere games early in the year and currently sit at 4-7-2.
The results have been disappointing for the coaching staff, but only result-wise.
Anastos was content making the point that it was too early to know if the front-loaded schedule he helped piece together was something he would do again. Losing early undoubtedly can impact the confidence level of the team, something else Anastos pointed to frequently.
“I think, hidden in the ups and downs of our season to date, we’ve gotten better in a lot of different ways,” Anastos said. “I think we’ve hardened in some ways, too, in that we’ve played some really good opponents.”
Tough opponents might be an understatement, as the combined record of the opponents MSU has faced is 52-37-14. Two teams MSU has played, perennial juggernauts Boston College and North Dakota, have already achieved 12 wins. Heading into this weekend, the Spartans will face off in their sixth and seventh consecutive games against ranked competition.
It’s been an impressive non-conference schedule, but at this point it’s hard to glean how it will affect the team. Obviously, losing games is never on any team’s checklist, but learning how to battle through adversity and growing through losses early to teams they hope to compete with may play to the Spartans favor down the road.
“I think when the season’s over and we see the full body of work you kind of sit back and you’ll look back and we’ll assess it,” Anastos said. “I don’t have any regrets for it right now. My only regrets are that we didn’t finish opportunities that we developed for ourselves.”
The collective mind set in the Spartan locker room is expecting to win every game, and they’ve come close in the majority of their losses. The Spartans surrendered two-goal leads in both games against Michigan Tech.
They battled back from a 4-1 deficit at Boston College to tie the game at four, only to give up a goal with less than two minutes remaining. They led in the first game against Denver 2-1 in the third period, and showed flashes of domination over North Dakota until silly, costly mistakes ate the Spartans up.
Anastos believes his Spartans are close to taking the next step after seeing progression with each game. However unhappy he is with the results, he’s been able to keep an optimistic eye, knowing sooner or later the bounces will have to go in his team's favor.
“I do think it’s a small difference, but that could play into confidence,” Anastos said. “I’m more concerned about us building some confidence and some mojo to be able to take that next step.”
With early injuries and positives in a lot of facets of the game, the Spartans are steps from turning their fortunes around. The key to winning might just lie in closing out their opportunities.
“I think part of it is just the mentality, I think like I said after the Michigan Tech series, a lot of it is just staying with what got us to that point in the game,” senior captain Michael Ferrantino said.
What has gotten the Spartans to those points in the game is the offensive production. Scoring at a clip of three goals a game, the Spartans have thrown shot after shot at the net. Six Spartans have already reached double digits in points.
The flip side, however, is haunting the Spartans, as a struggling defense has spurred along a slow start by senior goaltender Jake Hildebrand. MSU’s once staunch defense has relinquished 3.15 goals per game, and Hildebrand's save percentage has dipped dangerously close to the 800s as it sits at .900.
“I think we need to play a team game a whole 60 minutes in all three zones,” junior forward Mackenzie MacEachern said. “It starts in the D zone. Once we correct that we go from there.”