Hockey season is upon us, and coach Tom Anastos and his crew have some work to do prior to their first regular season game against Massachusetts on Oct. 17. In his press conference at media day last Wednesday, Anastos talked about several areas in which his team needs to improve.
The most glaring issue facing the Spartans is finding a way to put the puck in the net.
“It’s been a question mark for two years,” Anastos said. “We’ve got to improve our goal scoring. We think that as our team is evolving that is going to take place. There are going to be players who will emerge to do that.”
As a team last season, the Spartans scored a total of 79 goals, which was last in the Big Ten. Take away a combined 26 goals between the departed Greg Wolfe, Lee Reimer, Jake Chelios and Dean Chelios, and the current roster of Spartans only tallied 56 goals last season.
One person who the Spartans will count heavily on is senior Matt Berry. The Canton, Michigan native suffered an injury that caused him to miss 13 games last season. Still, Berry managed to put up 10 goals and led the Spartans with six power play goals.
“Hopefully we can get him healthy. He’s a natural goal scorer, he’s good around the net,” Anastos said. “He still has a nagging injury, if he can get over that I think he has the ability to step up.”
Other players that are going to have to contribute are captain Michael Ferrantino, Matt DeBlouw, Tanner Sorenson and Brent Darnell.
“Mike Ferrantino, he became a player last year and probably took his game to a higher level than we maybe forecasted. I think he’ll continue to elevate,” Anastos said. “From two years ago, we had Brent Darnell, Matt DeBlouw, Tanner Sorenson. None of those guys had the kind of years that we or they would’ve hoped for last year, and two years ago they scored 33 of our 87 goals. Depending on what step they take, there’s potential there to really contribute offensively.”
Last season, the trio of DeBlouw, Sorenson and Darnell combined for four goals. Anastos has confidence in his goaltending with Jake Hildebrand, Nate Phillips and freshman Ed Minney. The Spartans also led the nation in blocked shots per game last season at 17.67.
Since the Spartans do a very good job in limiting the opportunities in the defensive end, the amount of success they will have is dependent on how much they can fill the net. That will also help in close games, another area that plagued Michigan State last season.
“We have to improve our ability to win close games,” Anastos said. “We played in a lot of one-goal games last year. We’ve got to take another step and move those games into the win column.”
The Spartans went 5-6 in one-goal games last season. Their play on the road cost them a lot as well.
“We have to be way better on the road,” Anastos said. “I thought we competed hard but we want to get results.”
Despite going 9-6-3 at Munn, Michigan State was an atrocious 1-10-3 on the road, which cost them a spot in the top three of the Big Ten.
One final area that Anastos specifically mentioned needs to get better is playing up-tempo hockey.
“Our ability to execute at a higher tempo has to get better,” Anastos said. “We want to play fast, we want to play with possession and we want to play on the attack. But it’s passing and receiving, making plays in tight spaces, those are the kinds of things we have to do a better job at a high tempo so we can play the way we want to play.”
One more week of practice should give Anastos plenty of time to work out the kinks and prepare his troops for battle. The Spartans do not necessarily ease their way into their schedule either as they play Massachusetts in the opening series on October 17 before heading to New England to face Boston University and UMass-Lowell.
Brian Bobal is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.
Photo: Jonathan Yales/Impact Sports