What was it? Was is head coach Tom Anastos’ timeout early in the first period? Was it the sellout crowd at Munn Ice Arena? Or was it the grit and determination of the senior class?
Whatever the reason, one thing is predominantly clear: the Spartans played their best game of the season last Saturday against No. 12 Michigan.
While it was not the first time the Spartans have rallied back to win a close game this season, no game had the stakes as high as this one. With the grim possibility of being swept by their arch-rival in regular season play, the Spartans started to show life led by seniors Greg Wolfe, Lee Rimer and goaltender Will Yanakeff, who replaced sophomore starter Jake Hildebrand after the first period.
Backstopped by Yanakeff, MSU came within one goal going into the third period. It was then that the underclassmen finished off what the seniors had started. Sophomore Mike Ferrantino and freshman Mackenzie MacEachern led the final push to victory with a pair of goals midway through the third.
While statistically this win does not help MSU much, as they are still No. 5 in the Big Ten standings, the importance of this game will not be highlighted enough by those who witnessed it on Saturday.
The Spartans played at a level unseen for most of this season. During long stretches of the game, the Spartans stonewalled Michigan’s break-in and moved the puck up ice with near perfect efficiency in the neutral zone. This led to numerous offensive opportunities and, eventually, goals. This, coupled with Yanakeff’s highlight reel performance, allowed the Spartans to bear down, play physical and achieve possibly the greatest upset of their season.
There are still hard roads ahead for the Spartans. No. 5 Wisconsin comes to East Lansing next weekend, and the Spartans will have to be at the top of their game in order to defeat the Badgers. But this win should serve as proof to the world that this young Spartans team can compete (and win) at high levels of competition. And the best part is, they are only going to get better.
Jason Ruff is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.
Photo: Jonathan Yales/Impact Sports