Jason’s Journal: Fighting for Each Other

By now, most have heard or seen the selfless heroics of Joe Cox, painfully sacrificing his body to keep Penn State off the board during a critical stretch of the first period of the February 14 matchup. Most people even know the touching story of Mackenzie MacEachern, who scored a hat trick to give the Spartans the series sweep that evening, giving the game puck to Cox without hesitation.

What most people do not know, is how that entire sequence of events, from Cox’s shot blocking to MacEachern’s selfless attitude, is evidence of a changing culture that is just starting to come to the fore.

When head coach Tom Anastos first came to East Lansing back in 2011, his biggest challenge was to change the culture surrounding the MSU hockey program to one where players sacrificed and fought for each other as well as their school. And in Anastos’ own words, its been a long process.

“When you’re trying to create a culture, it takes time, and you can’t fake it. You’re either in or you’re out,” Anastos said at his weekly press conference. “One of the things that was important when I took the job and started the recruitment process, we were trying to identify… really culture changers, guys that would put their teammates first, would do whatever’s asked of them, put themselves on the line from a game perspective and take on whatever role [that] will help contribute to winning.”

Anastos seems to have done exactly that, as Cox is a testament to that recruiting process.

“There is a number of players on our team that are doing exactly that, and he [Cox] leads the way,” Anastos said.

Now, nearly four years into the Anastos era, the culture change around Michigan State hockey is starting to bear fruit.

“What we are starting to really start to see, is an incredible unselfishness amongst our team where guys are starting to really play for each other,” Anastos said.

Having that kind of mentality is such an amazing thing, because it allows almost unheard of feats to be accomplished in the realm of sport.

A perfect example is the MSU’s victory in the Cotton Bowl. Why did the Spartan defense fight so hard, and with such tenacity to get a stop and put the ball right back into the hands of a quarterback that just threw a horrible interception?

It is because of the belief system and the culture that Mark Dantonio has instilled in his program. That entire team believes in each other, trusts each other and fights for each other. So much so that that defense knows that if they get the ball back into Connor Cook’s hands, he will lead them down the field and score a touchdown.

It is that kind of mentality that has allowed Michigan State’s football team to accomplish awe-inspiring feats. Now it seems that the team-first mentality is taking hold in Munn Ice Arena.

But Anastos knows there is still a ways to go before that mentality is fully embedded in his team.

“We’re not there yet, but I think we are really starting to see that [team-first mentality] really kinda take hold, and when we get there that will really help, in my opinion, contribute to winning.”

If that’s not progress, then I don’t know what is.


Jason Ruff is the host of Behind the Mask for Impact Sports

Follow him on Twitter: @Jason_R_Ruff

Photo: Scott Wasserman/Impact Sports