After a day of practice at Soldier Field in Chicago, the Spartans are ready to take the ice against Michigan in the Hockey City Classic Saturday night. It has been a week of preparation and anxiety for the Spartans, who are 1-1-1 lifetime outdoors against Michigan. It will also be the first time these schools have met in an out-of-state game since 1968.
This game has added significance since it is a very important conference game for both teams. The Spartans come into the game tonight sitting in third place in the Big Ten with 16 points, with Minnesota nipping at their heels trailing by one point. Penn State is three points above Michigan State and Michigan is five points ahead.
“I think it makes it very meaningful,” said head coach Tom Anastos about the impact of the game being a conference game. “Like the NHL’s Winter Classic, those games count. In the NCAA, all our games count. If we can get a win out of this game, it puts us right into the mix. There’s a lot at stake. It’s not just a special event, it’s an important conference game at a special event. It makes it that much more important.”
For most Spartans, playing outdoors last year at Comerica Park in Detroit has given them valuable experience heading into this game.
“I think the biggest focus last year was getting pucks on net because you don’t know what kind of bounces you get,” Jake Hildebrand said. “As a goaltender you have to play things cautiously.”
The condition of the ice at Michigan State’s practice last night was not good to say the least. Potholes in the ice left and right made it very dangerous to the skaters. With today being warmer than yesterday in Chicago, the ice crew should be able to make the ice safer by the time the Spartans take the ice for warmups.
The vibe around the team, though, was one of utmost excitement. Some of the players will be making their outdoor game debut, like Josh Jacobs.
“I have never played in an outdoor game, outdoor setting, besides pond hockey with my friends back at home,” Jacobs said. “It’s going to be a fun experience. I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
Jacobs said the last time he even played pond hockey was around four years ago. Having played in championship games and home games at Munn, he also talked about where this game will rank in his hockey career.
“I think it will be one of the most exciting,” Jacobs said. “We’re playing against Michigan, probably the best college hockey rivalry in the game. After that, it’s going to be a fun experience, great atmosphere and I can’t wait to see what unfolds Saturday.”
He was then quick to reestablish what the team’s motive has been for the past three weeks.
“It’s all going to be a great experience. It’s all business though,” Jacobs said. “We are there to win a game and to enjoy the experience after.”
Anastos feels the team is going to be ready to handle the atmosphere at Soldier Field once puck drops.
“I thought there was a terrific atmosphere at the game (at Joe Louis Arena),” he said. “When you’re on the bench, you have to block that out. When you’re engaged in the game, you don’t really notice that kind of stuff. Once you get to a point where it’s game on, you’re focused on the game. Learning how to manage all of that beforehand is part of the process of growing up to be a competitive athlete.”
Brian Bobal is the co-host of Behind the Mask for Impact Sports
Photo: Brian Bobal/Impact Sports