Hockey hoping this year can kickstart a program resurgence
After starting the Big Ten season, the hockey team continues to keep pace with an even record of 5-5 overall and 1-3 in the Big Ten.
After finishing last season with a record of 7-24-4, the team looks to rebuild and strengthen their core for their current season. Senior defenseman Carson Gatt hopes this can create a new beginning for the Spartans.
“Hopefully, the fans are wanting to come to more games and see us play,” Gatt said. “I think we’re working really hard this year, and it’s a little sense of resurgence here at MSU hockey which is a good thing.”
Junior forward Brennan Sanford said overall the team has made a big improvement within the ten games they have played so far.
Leadership is one aspect the team focuses on no matter each players year. They all are on the same page of reaching their goal of the Big Ten Championship and competing in the NCAA Tournament.
“I would just say in all areas we’ve improved,” Sanford said. “Leadership is probably biggest, doesn’t matter if they’re a freshman, or if they're a senior, sophomore, or junior, all guys are on the same page.”
Sophomore forward Sam Saliba said the team stepped up in their style of playing coming into the new season to help create a better record for the team.
Currently, the team is 23.4 percent on the power play and 76.9 percent on the penalty kill. The team also averages 2.70 goals per game according to USCHO.com.
“I think we’re playing more as a team,” Saliba said. “We’re generating more offense. We’re defending well. Our powerplay's been better. So overall a big improvement.”
Along with the programs fresh, new start comes freshman defenseman Tommy Miller. Miller looked past the previous season the Spartans struggled with and saw it as a positive opportunity to use his skills to help create a better season for the team.
“I tried not to look at it, but I knew I wanted to come in and make a change and contribute my skills and attributes to the team,” Miller said. “It’s going pretty well so far.”
The team is currently tied No. 6 in the Big Ten with Ohio State. Freshman forward Mitchell Lewandowski has tallied six goals and seven assists so far this season, where he is tied for first among freshman players in points with Northeastern’s freshman forward Zach Solow.
The team took their first home loss of the season against Wisconsin losing 6-3 on Nov. 10. As the team moves forward in the season, they now stand at a 5-1 home record.
“We played really well at home,” Saliba said. “Overall, I think we’ve had three out of four really solid weekends.”
First year head coach Danton Cole said the focus remains on the current standings and improving each game. According to Gatt, Cole tells the team to focus on their positions in order to do well later in the season.
“The challenge for us or at least for the guys was let’s make the next two months, let’s make as much progress as we did in the initial two months and stay on that,” Cole said. “In the Big Ten season, let’s try and get points out of every weekend as we can.”
After facing two of the top teams within the Big Ten, the Spartans came out with their first victory in the conference with a 2-0 win against Wisconsin on Nov. 11. The team began the Big Ten season on Nov. 4 against Minnesota with a sweep by the Gophers.
After beating Wisconsin, the team stands with a .500 percent win average in their overall record. Sanford believes with the team's confidence they can move up in the standings.
“We wanted to go into the Big Ten season with good confidence, feeling good with a decent record, so I think we’ve done that so far,” Sanford said.
With four more months until March and the beginning of the NCAA Tournament, the team focuses on the wins it can achieve leading up to that moment of making the tournament.
Saliba admits that making the NCAA Tournament is their goal every season. To him, improving early on in the season can help make a change for the team this year.
“That’s our goal coming into every season with that hope and desire to make the tournament,” Saliba said. “That’s what you strive for every game. I think for now this early on you’re just trying to get better every game and produce wins.”
Gatt and Sanford also believe with the confidence they have built coming into this season, the team can achieve that goal. As they begin to produce more wins, the possibility of making the tournament becomes more of a reality later on in the season.
As for Miller, he admits it will be a challenge for the team, but with a team effort it's not impossible. As for the future, he can see the Spartans reaching that goal.
“I feel like we could make a push,” Miller said. “It would be difficult. Again, we would have to get everybody going, but in the future years I think we can have a chance.”