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MSU hockey amidst a goalie competition as Big Ten Tournament nears

February 15, 2017
Freshman goaltender John Lethemon (31) catches the puck during the third period of the men?s hockey game against the University of Michigan on Feb. 10, 2017 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The Spartans were defeated by the Wolverines in an overtime shootout, 5-4.
Freshman goaltender John Lethemon (31) catches the puck during the third period of the men?s hockey game against the University of Michigan on Feb. 10, 2017 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The Spartans were defeated by the Wolverines in an overtime shootout, 5-4. —
Photo by Chloe Grigsby | and Chloe Grigsby The State News

As the MSU football team fought through the lulls and struggles of a 3-9 season in 2016, a portion of that season was overshadowed by a quarterback competition.

Now, there appears to be a serious goaltender competition amongst the MSU hockey team.

Currently at 6-17-3  and 2-8-2 in the Big Ten on the season, head coach Tom Anastos and the Spartans are looking for any way possible to turn this season around as the Big Ten Tournament approaches.

Junior goaltender Ed Minney began the 2016 campaign as the starter for the Spartans after spending two years backing up former goaltender Jake Hildebrand. Minney has come away with huge games for MSU, making key saves to allow the Spartans to pull off a victory, but it’s been the opposite as of late.

The junior netminder from Wind Gap, Pa. has been benched after the conclusion of the first period for freshman John Lethemon twice through the last four games.

Lethemon made his first career appearance for MSU in net on Oct. 15, 2016 as the Spartans fell 7-3 to Lake Superior State. 

The 6-foot-2 netminder recorded his first career victory on Feb. 11 when MSU defeated University of Michigan on the road, 4-1, at Yost Ice Arena, a day removed from replacing Minney in net after the first period of a 4-4 tie to the Wolverines at the Joe Louis Arena. Lethemon registered 23 saves in the victory. 

Lethemon has seen action in each of the Spartans’ last four games. His goals against average has dropped to a season-low 3.68 and his save percentage is at .864 through eight games played.

Anastos said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday there’s always been a competition in goal since the beginning of the season.

“I think there’s always been competition,” Anastos said. “I think in Johnny’s case, he’s been trying to elevate his game, adapt his game to this level from his previous level and build some confidence. I think in Ed’s case, he’s trying to elevate his game from being a backup to trying to play on a consistent basis, so to me there’s always been competition from day one.

“And we’re at a point where we need consistency across the board in our game, and certainly in goal. And every night when we put a lineup together, it’s all about who do we think is going to give us the best chance to win that game. So I think that competition will continue through the end of the season.”

Entering this weekend’s two-game home series against No. 14 Ohio State University, Minney has notched a 3.55 goals-against average and a save percentage of .885 in 21 games played.

Although the stats favor Minney, Anastos said he felt as if there needed to be a change after the goals that were being let up in each game Minney was benched.

Anastos added that Minney having to rehab an injury recently could be a reason he is on a downslide as of late.

“He’s battled an injury,” Anastos said. “He should be healthy now. I don’t think that’s an issue, but I think in time leading up to those games (in recent weeks), he didn’t have enough practice time. He didn’t, so really playing him was based on that he was given a clean bill of health. I wouldn’t play him if he wasn’t healthy. (He) didn’t have as much practice and preparation time as I would have liked, and maybe that’s had some impact on performance, but he was healthy to play.”

Anastos said Lethemon has had a recent boost of confidence and the competitiveness between the two is healthy for the team.

“I think Johnny right now has shown an increase in his confidence level, so that’s positive for him,” Anastos said. “I think at the same time, having competition is a healthy thing for both of those guys because they know every day in practice, they've got to push each other to make each other better, and get themselves ready to play consistently when they’re (called) upon to play.”

The Spartans will play Ohio State in a two-game home series beginning Friday at 7:05 p.m. before closing the series on Saturday. Both games can be streamed on BTN Plus. 

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