Experienced MSU Hockey team ready for season to begin
MSU Hockey will take to the ice this season with many familiar faces and a cast of newcomers looking to contribute right away.
MSU enters its 75th season in program history and fifth under head coach Tom Anastos. Anastos opened the press conference Wednesday saying he was fired up to get started and had high praise for this year’s team.
“Our offseason was very productive," Anastos said. "We are really really happy with the conditioning level that our guys came back with. I think we kind of put up that challenge of how important the offseason was to make progress.”
Anastos said he was impressed by the commitment level of the team, which was exemplified in the team’s offseason testing scores.
“I think the chemistry on our team is really good," he said. "The leadership is the best since I’ve been here. When I say that, I’m not talking about the captains on the team I’m talking about the team as a whole.”
With all four letter wearers back from the 2014-15 campaign, MSU will have a host of knowledge and experience at the captain positions. But when the whole team is talked about in the same sentence as leadership, it is no small feat. The Spartans will need to lean upon that throughout the season if they are to finish the job and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
20 players return for the Spartans this year while five freshmen and a sophomore join the team. It’s a group chock-full of returning stars and contributors and an opportunity for a rising group of first years to make their impact on the ice.
“As many as guys as we have that have been through the ringer two and three times now, nothing’s really catching us off guard this time around,” senior captain Michael Ferrantino said. “As far as the freshmen go, I think they can learn a lot from that.”
A couple of freshmen, defenseman Zach Osburn and forward Mason Appleton, drew comparison to former Spartan greats for their styles of play and work ethic. Osburn, likened to current Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug by coach Anastos, will bring a presence on defense that is both physical, shifty, and with a flair for the offensive. Appleton has been under the wing of current MSU star Mackenzie MacEachern and was compared to Chicago Blackhawks star Duncan Keith for his work ethic and endurance, will bring skill and vision to the Spartan offense.
While the forwards will have a boost from Appleton, the current group is already a staunch playmaking unit. The offense returns four of its top five point getters and another four of its top five goal scorers. MacEachern, who finished second in points on the team, will anchor the offense while Ferrantino, who tied for the team lead in goals, will look to continue his path and bolster the Spartans. The Spartans return 12 forwards but add two more forwards who will help push the returners and battle for playing time. Timely plays will be needed with a tough schedule and it will come down to minor details.
“Finishing up close, that’s going to be a huge thing,” MacEachern said.
Defensively the Spartans return five players and add three more. However, freshman Jerad Rosburg will be out for the year following season-ending surgery earlier this offseason.
The Spartan defense will be anchored by a pair of seniors Travis Walsh and John Draeger. Walsh, who broke his jaw and missed the final six games last year, is coming off a career high 14 points and Draegar, who stands at six-foot-two and 199 pounds will be a physical force for a defensive group that has been written off and criticized over the past year.
Osburn will look to improve defense alongside newcomer sophomore Joel Arseneault, who was a part of MSU’s Division II Club Hockey team this past season.
In the net will be brickwall and reigning Big Ten Player and Goaltender of the Year, Jake Hildebrand. Hildebrand, a First Team All-America selection, has been harold as the best goaltender in the country by teammates and pegged a Hobey Baker Award candidate. Hildebrand tied for second in the nation in shutouts this past season while posting a .930 save percentage and 2.18 goals against average. However, he doesn’t let the accomplishments get to his head.
“I still take the same mindset going into the game, I want to give my team a chance to win every night,” Hildebrand said. “When the team has success, most of the time that means I’m having success as well. I’m looking for wins.”
Hildebrand will be backed up by redshirt senior Nate Phillips and sophomore Ed Minney.
The MSU Hockey team will begin its season with an exhibition game against Western Ontario at 4:05 p.m. Sunday at Munn Ice Arena. The game is free for all MSU students with valid student ID. The puck drops on the regular season on Oct. 9 as the Spartans take on Maine in Maine at 8:05 p.m.
The Spartans have a tough schedule this season, which was built largely by design to help prepare them for tournament games. The Spartans will play six of the preseason top 15 teams this year with four of those teams visiting Munn Ice Arena.
“Playing against teams you don’t usually get to play against presents a challenge but we’re really excited for it,” Ferrantino said.