MSU hockey looks to improve on power play troubles against Denver
When the puck dropped between MSU and Lake Superior State University, it signified the start of a new season, as the team kicked off its 76th campaign as a program. While the results weren’t pretty — they lost both games, 6-1, 7-3 — head coach Tom Anastos said he wanted to use the games as building blocks.
To start off the campaign, the name of the game was simple —special teams and a lot of it. Combined, the Lakers and Spartans tallied 31 total penalties with 23 power play chances between the two.
While there were so many infractions going on, Anastos stressed the game itself wasn’t choppy. Instead, he said it was because of the rule changes the NCAA started to enforce this year.
“I think all of us, the two teams, the four officials, we’re all trying to adapt to the standard of enforcement directive that is out there nationally,” Anastos said. “It was a little bit of a trying evening in that regard for both teams.”
Game one was decided between who could execute on the power play better. The Lakers made the best of their opportunities, converting on 4-for-12 of their one-man advantage. On the other side of the rink, it was the complete opposite story. MSU capitalized just once, going 1-for-11.
“We really thought going into the weekend special teams would be a real factor early in the season,” Anastos said. “We just didn’t perform on those on either side.”
A huge chunk of even-strength play was taken up by special teams, leading to a different vibe to the game. Freshman Logan Lambdin — who competed in his first collegiate game — said he felt the contrast between a normal match.
“(The game) just didn’t feel like hockey,” Lambdin said. “It was a really slow-paced game, constant whistle after whistle. There was no flow to the game.”
During the Spartans’ to begin the year, the team faced similar struggles. While they scored twice, both were on even strength as they faltered on all of their power plays. In that game, they were 0-for-6 on the man-advantage.
At that point in the school year, the Spartans hadn’t even practiced their special teams. As a result, Anastos and his players said they weren’t concerned about the issue after the game.
However, during the regular season, the stakes change as the games start to count, and the special team woes arguably followed. Even in the second match of the season, the Spartans couldn’t generate anything on the power play, finishing 0-for-7.
While the season has just begun, the struggles on the penalty-kill are a sharp contrast to last season, where the Spartans excelled. They were first in the Big Ten and seventh nationally with a .864 penalty-kill percentage.
Additionally, MSU had its fair share of defensive lapses to start the season, allowing 13 goals between the two games. While concerning, Anastos said it was partly because of the team’s inexperience and hesitancy on the ice.
“I think we played afraid to make mistakes, and that’s not a way that you can play,” Anastos said. “We’re trying to take that pressure off guys. It’s easier said than done, but I think that’s an important part of trying to get comfortable. Just go play hard.”
The second match of the series proved to be even more challenging. Redshirt-senior Rhett Holland wasn’t in the lineup because of disqualification and junior Carson Gatt was out nursing an injury.
With the duo out, the was on full display as the Spartans featured five freshman defensemen in their lineup. All five were getting their first looks on the ice during their collegiate careers.
Starting on the ice with the first line at left defense, redshirt-freshman Jerad Rosburg said he understood the defensive struggles tied in with the team’s youth. To counter it, he said that the unit needed to look at its mistakes and go from there.
“(We have to) watch the film, see where it broke down, where it went wrong and just continue to get better each day,” Rosburg said. “We have a lot of young guys back there on the penalty kill with Gatt and Rhett being out. I think just every day that we’re at the rink working on it, we’ll get a little more comfortable with it.”
The start of the season was rough, with only their first game close going into the third period. Because of that, senior Joe Cox said he wants to keep his team’s morale high and to encourage them going into the rest of the season.
“I would just say (after a tough weekend), just stick with it,” Cox said. “Stay with coach, work hard in practice because it’s going to take time to get adjusted. There’s highs and lows in the season. Right now, we’re riding a little bit of a low but I think if we can come and have a good week of practice that we can turn it all around.”
Looking forward, the Spartans will welcome No. 6 University of Denver for a two-game series. Last year, MSU dropped both of their matches to Denver at Magness Arena early in the season.
“(Denver) has a lot of skilled players, great puck movement,” Cox said. “So having good sticks and getting on people fast is going to be a huge key going into this weekend.”
The home opener and game one of the series against Denver is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. on Oct. 21. and students have free admission to the game. The second match will be at 5:05 p.m. on Oct. 22. Both games will be hosted at Munn Ice Arena.