The MSU hockey team opened up their 2013-2014 season with a 4-1 victory over the Western Ontario Mustangs at Munn Arena Wednesday night. There was plenty to like from the Spartans in this exhibition outing, but there was also definite room for improvement for Tom Anastos and company to focus on before the regular season opening series at U-Mass Amherst next weekend.
The Spartans started off the game with a strong first period. They outshot the undermanned Mustangs 15-6 and got a goal from Swedish freshman forward Villiam Haag at around the 5 minute mark. The goal was set up by a Matt Deblouw shot that missed wide of the net and bounced up the boards to the left point. Defenseman RJ Boyd let loose a one timer that Haag deflected past Mustangs goaltender Josh Unice. The Spartans turned up the pressure in the offensive zone leading to many turnovers and 7 scoring chances in the opening frame.
In the second, Western Ontario found their legs, and if it wasn't for Jake Hildebrand coming up with some clutch saves, the Spartans probably go into the 3rd period trailing the Mustangs. In the defensive zone, the Spartans played sloppy and seemed rushed as they threw the puck around the boards instead of looking for an outlet pass out of the zone. Anastos has talked about needing better puck possession this season to improve on the anemic offense from last year. The play in the second period was very reminiscent of last year's team and if MSU plays like that against teams in conference, they won't be as lucky holding onto leads.
However, the Spartans didn't let the second period spoil their night as they put together a complete period in the third. It started with a great team effort on the 2nd goal of the game less than a minute into the frame when Jake Chelios finished a rush up the ice with a top shelf goal. The Spartans blocked a shot from the point in the defensive zone and Greg Wolfe chipped the puck up to Chelios who streaked down the boards and let loose a shot that deflected off the Mustangs defenseman to beat the goalie glove high. Its plays like that, with a transition from the defensive zone, that were entirely too infrequent last year and that will be instrumental in opening up play this season. The Spartans added a goal from Mike Ferrantino on a penalty shot goal and got a shorthanded goal on a beautiful 2-on-1 rush with Ferrantino passing to Joe Cox for a wide open goal. The Spartans didn't allow a shot on goal for the first 8 minutes of the period and really only had one defensive breakdown. Unfortunately, that breakdown would lead to the only Mustang goal. The five Spartans all were too anxious to leave the zone on an offensive rush and after the Mustangs held the puck in at the blue line the visitors completed a 2-on-none with a goal.
Overall, the Spartans played well but have lots to improve on. Players such as Haag, Ferrantino, Boyd, Hildebrand and Mackenzie MacEachern stood out. Things such as consistency and defensive zone breakouts represent the biggest areas of improvement.