By Stefan Kubus -
EAST LANSING – As senior forward and alternate captain Chris Forfar bluntly said Tuesday at Munn, one of the best things about being a hockey player is that you have a terrible memory.
Although last weekend’s series against Minnesota – 5-1 and 7-1 shellackings on Friday and Saturday, respectively – didn’t bring the Michigan State Spartans the result they wished for, coach Tom Anastos expressed nothing but optimism going forward at his weekly press conference.
“One of the nuggets I think that’s a takeaway, is it shows how far and where we have to go to be a nationally-competitive team to compete for a championship, and that’s where we want to be,” Anastos said.
“In my year and a weekend, they’re the best team we’ve probably played at that point. I thought Minnesota’s team, at that point, was probably better than anybody we saw. They played with speed, skill, strength, depth. They’re a really good team.”
In particular, there were several bright spots the second-year bench boss could look to for the rest of the season.
“Our penalty kill, overall, was pretty good on the weekend, too,” Anastos said. “We literally had no time to work on it, so we’ve hardly worked on it, yet it was OK against a real good team.”
Against the top-ranked school in the country, the Spartans held the high-powered Golden Gophers to just two power-play goals on 10 opportunities in the weekend series. And although Minnesota found the back of the net 12 times in two nights, Anastos was pleased with the play of netminders Will Yanakeff and freshman Jake Hildebrand.
“While we gave up a lot of goals, I thought our goaltending overall was pretty solid,” Anastos said. “You hate to say that when you gave up 12 goals, but I thought it was.”
Anastos added that ‘the compete’ level was simply not where it needed to be against such an elite group as Minnesota, something that Forfar echoed.
“You think you’re working hard, you have this picture that you’re working hard in your head, but when you watch the video back, you can see there’s always a little more you can do, a little more you can give,” Forfar said. “I think on Friday night, we gave up something like 11 three-on-two’s, and that can’t happen.”
Freshman John Draeger – opening the season in his native state – earned his coach’s praise for stepping right in and logging big minutes on the back end.
“He played a lot of minutes for an 18-year-old freshman,” Anastos said. “It tells you how much we think of his ability and his future… That’s a lot to ask of a newcomer coming in. He’s playing in his home state, so I’m sure he put a lot of pressure on himself to perform well. We were very happy with the way he competed.”
Anastos was also pleased with a pair of freshmen Michigan natives up front in Matt DeBlouw (Chesterfield) and Mike Ferrantino (Plymouth).
“I thought Matt played pretty darned well. He showed a real competitive spirit. He’s kind of a quiet kid, and we’re still getting to know all of our players, and yet you could see the fire in his belly on the bench and his competitive spirit on the ice. You could see he wanted as much as we were willing to give him. I even challenged him with some opportunity, and I thought he stepped up pretty good.”
Even though he only played around nine minutes per game, Ferrantino earned the respect of not only his coach, but his teammates, too. So much so, in fact, that he was awarded the season’s first Spartan Shield award, given to the player who best exemplifies the team’s core values for the entire week and through the weekend games. The award isn’t taken lightly; if nobody meets the criteria, it is not given out.
“Ferrantino showed very well,” Anastos said. “He’s a smart player; he competes like a bulldog. He only got eight or nine minutes of ice time per game, but I thought he showed real well. He was the first recipient of [the Spartan Shield], and that came from his teammates, so I think that spoke a lot of how people viewed his approach to the series.”
As Forfar put it, though, the Spartans have learned their lessons from the Minnesota games and are prepared to carry on with business.
“We’ve kind of already put Minnesota in the back of our head, took the lessons out of it, and we’re just looking forward to our next opponent,” Forfar said.
Overall, the Spartans’ head coach firmly believes the team is really going to take its game to a completely higher echelon as the season progresses.
“I think we’re really going to see our team raise its level over a period of time,” Anastos said. “I’m curious to see how we respond over the next week.”
The Spartans take on the Niagara Purple Eagles – coming off of a 2-1 win over fellow Atlantic Hockey Association club Mercyhurst – in a two-game series to open the season at home Friday and Saturday.