MSU hockey seniors reflect on one last game at Munn
With 1:37 left in the first period Saturday night, redshirt senior goaltender Nate Phillips checked into the game for the first time. To Spartan fans unaware of the occasion, seeing Phillips skate to the Spartan goal might have been cause for alarm. Phillips, the third string goaltender for MSU, had never recorded a save or a minute of action in five years on the Spartan bench until he stepped onto the ice on senior night in front of a nearly sold out arena.
Seconds later he dropped to his knees kicked the right leg pad out and turned aside the only shot he'd see all night. It was the only shot he’d face in his career and he stopped it.
“Guys were messing with me before the game going, 'it’s on the line a 100 percent save percentage, it's on line last game,'” Phillips said, laughing. “Alright, let's do it —I'll face it no matter what.
“It’s kind of hard to skate there, your feet aren’t underneath you all the way and trying to get your game back and settle down and get a couple deep breaths,” Phillips said about getting in the game for the first time. “It’s just play hockey at that point.”
The little playful barbs from his teammates speak to the kind of relationship this team and this team’s seniors have built through the years. Though the past four years of Spartan hockey have not lived up to the expectations of the program, each senior knew they were still walking away with something special.
“We all came in together four years ago really not knowing what we were getting into,” senior forward and captain Michael Ferrantino said. “It was a new staff and we knew that there was going to be some change and some turnover and everyone bought into it.
“I think we’re a group, I think we all do things the right way and I couldn't be more proud of these guys either.”
“These guys” include goalies Phillips and Jake Hildebrand, forwards David Bondra, Ferrantino, Ryan Keller and Matt DeBlouw and defensemen Travis Walsh, John Draeger and Justin Hoomaian.
After nearly four years this senior class has tried to make the most out of a rough patch of Spartan hockey, something that wasn’t lost on head coach Tom Anastos.
“These guys have really had to grind through some difficult challenges during the course of their time,” Anastos said. “There’s certainly been some ups and some downs.
“I know this group of seniors had high expectations for the team but yet, what will go completely unnoticed, completely unnoticed, was as challenging as our as season has been, the players, the unity of the players, the push every day, the attitude of the players every day has been incredible even in the face of the most difficult times of the season. ... I give our seniors a lot of credit.”
Each senior left his mark on the program, perhaps led by two guys at the front and center of it all.
Throughout the course of his career star goalie Hildebrand has played in 132 career games, earning at 2.53 goals against average and racking up 3,782 saves. His career goes deeper than the numbers as he’s earned First-Team All-American, Big Ten Player of the Year, Big Ten Goaltender of the Year and Academic All-Big Ten honors.
His teammates love him too, as he’s been voted team MVP three times in his career.
“I've been with Hilds for four years,” Phillips said. “It’s tough not playing but being with a guy like Hilds, he’s just generally great person, a great friend and I’ve supported him from day one. We’ve had a pretty special relationship.”
Ferrantino will walk away from the program belonging to that special group of players who have donned the captain’s C.
“You just start to think about it more today and just how cool it is — it’s a select group of players and it’s kind of like a family of its own,” Ferrantino said.
When it came down to senior night, the players tried to sum up the meaning of one last game at Munn.
“It’s been really tough, you see all the parents crying and you see how special this night is for them and you want to get a win for them as much the guys in this room,” Hildebrand said.
“I think just having the opportunity to come here and play, I would have never dreamt to come here to Michigan State when I was ten years old,” Ferrantino said. “Just to be able to come here and experience everything I've experienced has been unbelievable, not only for me as a hockey player but just as a person and everything. The people I’ve got to meet and the opportunities I’ve had from this university is really, really incredible.”
“It’s been a ride, that’s for sure,” Hoomaian said. “I was a young guy then it was crazy just soaking in everything and now I’m the old guy and it’s kind of weird. I’m not used to it.
“I’ve been through so many things, experienced so many things, it’s been a great ride and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”