It has been a rocky road for Michigan State men’s ice hockey since making an appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2012. Two subpar seasons have put Michigan State in a re-tooling phase, but coming into this season, coach Tom Anastos was feeling very optimistic about the capabilities of his team when he spoke at Media Day last Wednesday.
“I thought it was our best offseason,” Anastos said. “We challenged the guys when our season was over to go home. We didn’t have guys come back early given the renovations at Munn. We also wanted to get a nice fresh mindset before the season started. Based on our physical testing, it’s been the best in three years.”
“We like our physical strength and conditioning to start the season, and I think more importantly it was a sign of the commitment that was made by the guys in the offseason,” he added.
“We have some emerging leadership on our team,” Anastos said. “When you have a younger group like we did the last two years, it’s not always comfortable for freshmen and sophomores to emerge in those roles and that was where the bulk of our numbers were. It’s nice to see those guys start to emerge.”
One consistency about this team over the past few seasons has been defense and goaltending. The Spartans were fifth in the nation in total blocked shots last year with 636. The 93 goals against were good enough for third in the Big Ten, thanks in part to goaltender Jake Hildebrand.
“Our goaltending is proven and experienced in Jake’s case,” Anastos said. “We expect Jake to play lots and perform very well. We demonstrated last year that we have the ability to defend.”
It is all good to know the team is capable of playing defense, but it is on offense this team has had trouble in recent years.
“We obviously need to improve our ability to create offense and ultimately score. You look at so many games last year that were close games, if we can turn the tide and get them over the top, if you add five, six, seven wins to things, the whole dynamic changes,” Anastos said.
“So we have to be able to take that step. Part of that is our special teams have to be better. I think we have more experience to work with in that regard so I expect that to improve and ultimately make a positive impact on both our offensive and defensive productivity.”
The special teams were in no way an asset to this team last season. The Spartans’ power-play was last in the Big Ten at 15.9 percent and their penalty kill was not much better at 79.7 percent, which was second-to-last in the conference.
Despite the troubling last few seasons, Anastos does feel that better days are coming for this team and the program. All the team has to do is stick with the process.
“Our goal is to retool our program to have a championship culture and that starts with your mentality and your expectations. That means you are committed all the time, not some of the time. I pointed out to our guys, just following a guy like Derek Jeter and look at how he’s approached his career and the success he’s had. It’s not a coincidence. We are seeing that mentality that we are looking for,” Anastos said.
“We are going through a process. We have to stay true to the process and see it through. It is working. It may not move as fast as any of us want to but I really believe in what we’re doing and I believe our team does and I know our staff does,” Anastos said. “As we go through that process, as I look today, we can see the corner. The question is, can we turn the corner?”
Brian Bobal is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.
Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports