The Michigan State Spartans' hockey team will look to rebound from their awful stretch this weekend, when they travel to Ohio to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes for a weekend set. The Spartans, who have won just one game in their last 16, played in an exhibition last weekend against the US Under-18 Team, and will return to conference play seeking their first road victory of the season. The Spartans showed some of their season struggles in the exhibition, once again surrendering a late lead, but were able to respond with an overtime goal to win 3-2.
In Ohio State the Spartans will be playing a team that has found it's stride over the past month, even though the record may not always show it. After starting the season 3-11 going into the holiday break, the Buckeyes have played much better, including winning their Christmas tournament with impressive wins over Boston College, and Cornell. Ohio State then took four of a possible six points from Wisconsin on the road, and played Michigan extremely tough earning two points. Last weekend the Buckeyes traveled to Penn State losing a heartbreaker in overtime Friday night before responding with a solid 5-1 win on Saturday.
Ohio State sits right in the middle of the country in the Pairwise Rankings at 35 (Michigan State is near the very bottom at 55), and they feature the 14th best offense in the country averaging 3.32 goals scored per contest. The junior tandem of Nick Schilkey (Marysville, MI) and David Gust (Orland Park, IL) will be something for the Spartans to key on this weekend. Schilkey has scored double digit goals each of his seasons in Columbus, and is leading the team with 12 goals thus far. Gust has had a breakout season with his increased usage registering 22 points in 22 games, which is more than he totaled in his first 51 career games. Ohio State always features one of the better freshman forwards in the league, Mason Jobst (Speedway, IN) who has 20 points, and senior Anthony Greco (Faribault, MN) is the only other Buckeye with double digit goals as he has 10.
On the backend the Buckeyes have for the second straight season split the net between juniors Christian Frey (Arlington, TX) and Matt Tomkins (2012 7th Rd selection of the Chicago Blackhawks). Frey has regained some of the magic he found his freshman season when he joined the Buckeyes midseason, coming from the USHL, as an emergency goalie when Ohio State was down to using a baseball catcher as their back-up netminder. Frey that season posted a 2.27 goals against average and .929 save percentage, which is identical to his current statistics. Tomkins has had a difficult season this year, with the highest goals against average in his career 3.73 and a .892 save percentage. Frey started both games last weekend at Penn State, and I would expect the same this weekend unless he gets injured or shelled on Friday night.
On defense Josh Healey (Edmonton, AB) and Drew Brevig (Lakeville, MN) stand out as top performers. Healey, while just 6'0" and 196 pounds, has found a way to be a physical force racking up 19 penalties on the season, while also leading Buckeye defenseman with 4 goals. Brevig is a player that I enjoyed watching a ton last season, who provides steady play in his own zone, and is a leader out on the ice.
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3 Keys to Spartans Success
- Old Jake Hildebrand- Hopefully the 2 weeks off, Sophomore Ed Minney started against the US Under 18's, has given Hildebrand some time to breathe, and find his game. The Spartans being at the bottom of the country in team defense has been one of the biggest reasons for the disappointing season thus far. A mild slip was expected after 3 defenseman who were expected to play this season haven't, but Hildebrand has let in far too many soft goals this season. Hildy needs to watch his 5-hole this weekend, fight through traffic, and find some of his old groove to finish his great career strong.
- Return of Mason Appleton- Ohio State has had struggles with keeping the puck out of the net and the return of a healthy Mason Appleton could be huge for the Spartans.
- Penalty Kill- This was once a great part of the team but has struggled in the last few weeks. The penalty kill seemed to find it's stride at Minnesota so hopefully they can continue to regain form in Ohio.
Does Anastos feel he’s on the hot seat?
"I may be, but that’s not for me to determine, so I don’t give that much consideration," he said. "I’m going to go do my job every day. To ask me that question is irrelevant. Maybe I am on the hot seat. But I don’t think about that. I don’t have time to think about that. One hundred percent of my energy goes into our team, preparing our team, looking ahead, working for the program.
- That quote comes from a great and fair article done by George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press.