It has to be frustrating for Tom Anastos to watch this hockey team sometimes. After looking overwhelmed by the Michigan Tech Huskies on Friday, the Spartans rebounded with a 3-0 win over #3 Michigan Saturday. The Spartans outshot the Wolverines 40-29, controlled play throughout and looked supremely confident in the consolation game of the Great Lakes Invitational. The Spartans are now 1-1-1 against their rivals in outdoor games and more surprisingly are 1-1-1 against teams in the top 5 nationally this season.
The Spartans jumped quickly on the Wolverines, scoring just 1:23 seconds into the contest. Freshman Thomas Ebbing entered the offensive zone and released a wrist shot that deflected off a Wolverine defender past goaltender Steve Racine. The Spartans withstood some pressure from the Wolverines the rest of the period and once again got some great saves from Jake Hildebrand. For only the second time all season, the Wolverines entered the second period trailing.
Unlike Friday's semifinal game, the Spartans best period Saturday was the second period. The Spartans outshot the Wolverines 17-5 in the middle frame and were unlucky not to add to their 1-0 lead. The Spartans earned two power plays in the period and, while not scoring, were very productive on their chances tallying six shots. Racine made some amazing saves for the Wolverines and the Spartans missed some wide open chances to allow the Wolverines to hang around for another period.
Fortunately for the Spartans, they were able to put the Wolverines away in the third period for good. The powerplay broke through for the Spartans at 7:32, when Matt Berry finished off a beautiful cross ice pass from Jake Chelios. Berry's second power play goal of the weekend touched off a "home run" celebration at Comerica Park. I saw somewhere that Berry thought of the celebration as a response to the Wolverines "kicking a field goal" after scoring in the Big Chill game in 2010. This fact should make Berry the favorite Spartan forward for all fans. Brent Darnell scored another deflected goal off a Wolverine defenseman to bring us to the 3-0 final for the Spartans.
The Spartans seem more than capable of getting themselves up for a big game and competing. The key to the conference season for this team will be finding consistency and bringing this type of effort every night. With Jake Hildebrand in net the Spartans will always be in games, it's up to the rest of the team how many opportunities they turn into wins.
Looking Back at my Keys to Success:
- Emotion- The Spartans played with a great energy that was not matched by the Wolverines. The Spartans finished their checks and seemed unfazed about playing in a 3rd place game. The team also played with great discipline, as the Wolverines only got one power play opportunity.
- Shoot early, shoot often- 40 shots on net for the 4th time this season. The other 3 times were all victories (American International and Princeton). The ice ended up being in better condition than predicted, but the Spartans are a better team when they are shooting often and not trying to force difficult plays.
- Activate the defenseman- Best game by the defensemen all season. I noticed Travis Walsh and Jake Chelios in a positive way, more than I have all season. Breakouts were smooth out of the defensive zone and the defenseman helped force odd man rushes by becoming involved in the offense. If steady improvement can be made by the defenseman, combined with the continuing development of the freshman forwards this team has a shot at a top 3 B1G finish.
Around the B1G
Penn State was playing tournament hockey as well, taking part in the Three Rivers Classic at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh. After defeating Robert Morris 3-2 Friday the Nittany Lions were dispatched by Boston College 8-2 Saturday. Michigan lost to the Spartans Saturday and 3-2 (OT) to Western Michigan Friday. Ohio State is hosting Mercyhurst for a Saturday-Sunday series. The Buckeyes won 6-3 Saturday and play the Lakers again. Wisconsin swept Alabama-Huntsville 5-0, 3-2, while Minnesota was idle.
The B1G has representation with the Team USA U20 World Junior Championship team. Wolverine Andrew Copp has 5 assists in 3 games played. Gopher Hudson Fasching has 2 goals and 3 points and fellow Gopher Brady Skjei has 1 assist. Badger Nic Kerdiles has 1 goal and 4 assists. The Americans are 3-0 and next play 11:30 A.M. New Years Eve against Canada.
Next Up: The Spartan hockey team is off next weekend and will return to action January 10-11 on the road against the Ohio State Buckeyes.