Three weeks ago, there was new-found optimism around the Michigan State hockey team. After a weekend where the offensively inept Spartans had scored 12 goals against Princeton, the Spartans played #1 Minnesota tough all weekend, earning a shootout victory in the process. Since then, all momentum has come to a halt and things have gone to new lows.
The offense endured five consecutive scoreless periods and was outshot 65-42 in it's last two contests. The latest loss for the Spartans was a 3-2 shootout loss to the Michigan Tech Huskies Friday in the Great Lakes Invitational semi-finals. The Spartans will play at 3:30 p.m. today against the Michigan Wolverines in the 3rd place game at Comerica Park. Since shootout games are registered as ties nationally, the Spartans will be looking to get their first win since December 1.
The first period had all the makings of an outdoor tournament game. Offensive chances were slim for both teams, as the ice was in poor condition and both teams played conservative. With the sun shining down on the ice at Comerica Park, parts of the playing surface became soft leading to a bouncing puck and tough conditions for players to stick handle. The Spartans were 0 for 1 on the power play in the first and outside of a good 2 on 1 break for the Huskies the period was non eventful.
In the second period, a season long trend continued for the Spartans. The second period has been the worst period for the Spartans all season, being outshot by their opponents by 28 and outscored 15-11. Three consecutive Spartan penalties made it difficult to get out of their defensive zone and gave the Huskies momentum that lasted the entire frame. One Spartan had a good period, as goaltender Jake Hildebrand made 19 saves and surrendered only one goal to keep the Spartans in the game. With 6:50 remaining in the 2nd Jacob Johnstone (Grand Ledge, MI) put home his first goal for the Huskies. Three Spartans chased Blake Hietala to the corner leaving Johnstone open to slap home a perfect pass on an empty net.
The third period began with the Spartans on a power play and Tom Anastos must have had a good speech in the locker room, as the Spartans looked like a different team. Off an offensive zone face-off, the puck was won to Jake Chelios, who let a good wrist shot from the point get on net. Matt Berry, last season's leading scorer, banged home for the rebound for his first goal of the season. The Spartans carried that momentum, as less than three minutes later Ryan Keller tipped a John Draeger point shot past the Tech goaltender. The Spartans held the lead until a defensive lapse once again allowed the Huskies to tie the game. Tech forward Mike Neville dodged a Spartan defender below the goal line and fed a centering pass to Alex Petan who was able to sneak a shot through the pads of Hildebrand.
The Huskies carried play the rest of the frame and overtime, getting multiple odd man rushes and breakaways but not finishing chances. The game would go to a shootout with the Spartans scoring once and the Huskies twice in 5 rounds. The only Spartan to score was freshman Villiam Haag and Berry and Brent Darnell rang shots off the post.
Looking back at the keys to success:
- Power Play- Scored one goal on the power play and finished 1 for 3. Looked good at times but also gave up far too many shorthanded chances to the Huskies.
- Quick Start- Both teams started slow getting used to the playing surface and feeling each other out. The Spartans awful second period forced them to play from behind in the 3rd.
- Jake Hildebrand- Best Spartan on the ice once again and outside of Petan for the Huskies was the best player period. Hildebrand deserves more help from his teammates and more wins than he is getting right now.
- Emotion- The last two contests the Spartans have looked extremely flat compared to the series against Minnesota. Playing your arch rival and 3rd ranked team in the country should bring out the intensity in the green and white.
- Shoot early, shoot often- Ice conditions will most likely be mediocre at best as the Spartans will play in the afternoon of a day expected to be sunny and 40 degrees. With poor ice conditions, stick-handling and passing will be difficult. For that reason once you gain the blue line shots should be put on net and rebounds chased.
- Activate the Defenseman- It was mentioned during the telecast yesterday that Anastos wants his defenseman to become more involved in the offensive rush. With the offense struggling, the defenseman need to push the play more and try and create odd man rushes. Not to mention, with the way Jake Hildebrand is playing, taking some risks offensively is worth it as you have confidence in Hildebrand making the stops on any mistakes.