Win against U-M one bright spot in MSU men's hockey losing season
The 2016-17 season for the MSU hockey team has been anything but consistent.
Currently holding a record of 5-15-2, head coach Tom Anastos and the Spartans are on pace to record their second-straight losing season.
After a win over Ferris State, an upset victory and draw against then-No. 5 North Dakota and an exhibition win over the USA National Team Development Program earlier in the season, the Spartans looked as if they had generated much-needed momentum heading into conference play.
That soon proved to be far from the truth.
Instead of feeding off their slew of wins, MSU found themselves on a nine-game losing skid and unable to find a way to win a conference game as they held a record of 0-6.
“Obviously, nine in a row is tough,” freshman forward Sam Saliba said. “It’s been a long two months not winning. Obviously, no one likes it in there and I think the biggest thing is we’re just sticking together.”
Similar to Saliba, junior goaltender Ed Minney said the losing stretch was tough and frustrating to deal with.
“It’s been really tough,” he said. “It started off when it was a couple games, and it just kind of kept going and going and going and guys were getting really frustrated.”
ISSUES THUS FAR
As the MSU hockey team is close to finishing their second-straight losing season, questions have arose as to what the issue is with this year’s team.
“It’s a rollercoaster,” senior forward Joe Cox said. “I mean, every season is a roller coaster. Maybe we’ve been on a little bit more of a lull this season, but you’re going to see these kinds of things every year. There’s going to be weeks when you’re playing really good, and then the next week you might play really bad. It’s just a rollercoaster every season. We’ve been on a pretty big lull the past couple weekends, but I think we’re starting to pick up our play and I think things will get better.”
Sophomore defenseman Zach Osburn said the issues this season lie in a problem with consistency.
“I would say the issues are just consistency,” Osburn said. “I think the guys have been working hard and everything, but we need to just focus on staying in our structure when things go wrong.”
Minney said he understands that the team experienced a dismal season, but said there’s still time for improvement.
“It’s been a tough year for us,” he said. “We’ve kind of moved on. The past is the past, and I think moving forward, our game’s looking really good. The best time to get hot is the end of the season, so I think that will go well for us, and as long as we keep playing like we are and keep getting better every day I think that will go well.”
Anastos — similar to Osburn — said he believes the issues thus far are rooted in a problem with consistency.
“The most troubling part of this season has been consistency,” Anastos said. “It’s been pockets of time where we weren’t consistent in different areas. We were even inconsistent in our lack of consistency, if that makes any sense.”
BREAKTHROUGH AT YOST
On Jan. 20, the Wolverines hosted the Spartans in their second matchup of the season. The Spartans fell in the opening December contest in overtime, 5-4.
This time, however, MSU managed to outperform the Wolverines on the road in what could be considered their most complete game of the season and shutout their heated rival, 3-0.
“We needed a win,” Anastos said after the game. “I don’t care who it was. We needed a win. We needed a confidence boost.”
Senior forward Chris Knudson, who played in his first game of the season, recorded his first goal in the Spartans’ first conference win of the season.
“It was surreal, especially against Michigan in Yost,” Knudson said. “(It’s) such a fun place to play and such a good place to be. (It’s) just a rivalry and everything, so it really was special to have your first (goal versus U-M), especially being in my senior year.”
Minney, coming off a game in which he logged a career-high 46 saves against Penn State, was a vital piece of the Spartans’ win.
The Wolverines had numerous scoring chances throughout the night, but the 6-foot-5 netminder made crucial saves to prevent U-M from generating momentum, logging 24 saves in the shutout.
“It was pretty exciting, especially in the kind of environment that Yost (Ice Arena) is,” Minney said. “(It’s a) tough place to play, a lot of people yelling at me the whole game, so that’s always interesting, but it was really fun.”
Despite the win on the road, the Spartans couldn’t finish off the weekend sweep as MSU lost in a shootout to the Wolverines the next night. The game was officially marked a draw.
MINNEY STRONG IN NET
Minney spent his first two seasons at MSU on the bench backing up former MSU goaltender Jake Hildebrand, who now plays for the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.
Prior to the beginning of this season, Minney was named the starter in goal, and he hasn’t disappointed.
Minney recorded a career-high 40 saves in MSU’s 4-2 loss to Minnesota on Dec. 9.
That record was soon broken in a weekend sweep by then-No. 4 Penn State last week as Minney recorded 41 saves in the first game of the series.
He then proceeded to accumulate 46 saves in the second game of the sweep.
“I think that I’m kind of starting to settle in there, and it feels really good,” Minney said of his performance as of late. “I’m seeing the puck well and stopping the majority of things that I’m seeing.
“Everyone once in awhile, they get a couple (of their) points that are getting deflected, I’m getting bumped or something in front of the net, and they get fluky goals. But besides that, I feel really good, and all the guys in front of me are doing a great job blocking shots and boxing guys out, so that makes my job pretty easy.”
His strong performance continued when he recorded his first career shutout as a starter in Friday’s 3-0 win over U-M.
Even though the Spartans are more than halfway done with the season, Minney said he still believes he’s learning as the season progresses.
“Being my first season really playing the majority of the minutes, it’s been awhile since I’ve done that,” he said. “At this level, it’s a tough place to learn. You get thrown in the fire, but it’s been good so far.”
Minney said he is still using things this season that he learned from Hildebrand during his time playing as his backup.
“I think more just his demeanor and how he went about every day, and the extra stuff that he did after practice every day and just how he kind of had an upbeat mentality even if we were losing games and everything,” he said. “I think that he kind of passed that on and I took that and tried to use it for myself.”
COX IN HIS SENIOR SEASON
Senior forward Joe Cox is concluding his Spartan career after this season. The 6-foot forward produced his best offensive season last season alongside a career-high with 11 goals.
He finished his junior season with a career-best seven-game point streak.
The senior captain from Chelsea, Mich. had a career-best five multi-point games in his junior season, and registered four goals and six assists so far in his senior campaign.
Despite the losing season and in what considered a down season, Cox said it hasn’t put a dampen on the season for him.
“I don’t think it that way,” Cox said. “I can’t think that way. I’m the captain of this season. I have to keep an upbeat positive attitude. The beauty about the Big Ten is that you win three games and you’re in the tournament, so we’ve got to keep striving to get better, we’ve got to keep playing hard. And I think the guys on this team — we’ve got a good group and are up for it.”
The Spartans have a bye week next weekend, but will now look to win their second and third conference wins of the season when they host the Wisconsin Badgers Feb. 3 and 4.