By Stefan Kubus -
EAST LANSING - Following up the home-opening series that saw the Michigan State Spartans defeat and tie Niagara on Friday and Saturday, respectively, head coach Tom Anastos said he saw progress for his young team.
The Spartans defeated the Atlantic Hockey-based Niagara 3-2 on Friday and then tied the Purple Eagles 3-3 on Saturday, both times coming back from a 2-0 deficit to begin the third period.
“I really liked our resilience and our poise both nights,” Anastos said. “I think it’s a good character trait to show that our team can remain poised and focused on the mission, and that’s what we did.
“I thought our defensive play was better organized, both in the defensive zone, but also in our transition from offense to defense. I thought our defensemen handled the rush in a more comfortable manner than we did the week before.”
Having the ability to rally back and score late is something senior alternate captains Anthony Hayes and Chris Forfar both said can be crucial to success, but also something that should not be relied on.
“It’s a sense of comfort, but definitely don’t want to rely on that sense of comfort too much,” Forfar said. “But it’s nice to know that when the fire is lit, it gets going pretty fast. I wish it would start earlier in the game. A quick start is not going to make anyone on the team unhappy.”
“We dug ourselves into a pretty big hole both nights, and that’s not something we want to make a habit or get used to,” Hayes said. “But regardless, we stuck with the plan… I think it spoke volumes about the way the guys were able to stay composed under pressure and not lose their control.”
Looking ahead to the weekend, the Spartans kick off CCHA play against the Lake Superior State University Lakers, who swept MSU in their CCHA-opening series last season in Sault Ste. Marie.
“They have a team that plays really well, particularly at home,” Anastos said. “They’re very disciplined in how they play. They’re not an easy team to play against. They make it very difficult on you. And that will be a tough place to play.”
And the players acknowledge they have a formidable foe waiting for them this weekend.
“We know that they’re a hard team to play against,” Forfar said. “They play sound defensively, and they have a lot of talent in their forwards. We’re going to go up there, focusing on the first game, doing what we can to compete hard every shift… If we do that, we put ourselves in a great position to win a game or two.”
Hayes said that his team has to ignore the frustration that can come from a team that waits for the action to come to them.
“It’s going to be a hard-fought series,” Hayes said. “They play a patient game, they’re a team that thrives off of your mistakes. It can be frustrating at times to play a team who kind of sits back and doesn’t exactly attack as much as a Minnesota would do. But we’re just going to have to stay poised like we were this weekend and stick with the game plan. We can’t try and force things and rush things to happen.”
The Spartans head coach said that while this series is crucial for his club, it’s also been a historically-important series for the Lakers, too. But it’s also one that Anastos said his club will be ready for.
“As long as I remember, the Michigan State series against Lake Superior is a real important one for Lake Superior. In fact, Frank Anzalone was here scouting for the Calgary Flames Saturday night, and he was talking about just that issue. We know it’s going to be a very difficult challenge for us… We’ve been on the road once, and we expect to get our game in order to compete real hard and give ourselves a chance to win.”