By Stefan Kubus -
EAST LANSING – The Michigan State Spartans, coming off a wild weekend series split with their storied rival from Ann Arbor, are looking to carry the momentum gained on Saturday night into their next series.
Last Friday, the Michigan Wolverines topped the Spartans, 5-1, in what was a close game until the third period rolled around. Saturday night, the Spartans returned the favor to the Wolverines in front of a record-breaking home crowd of 7,225 with a score of 7-2.
Coach Tom Anastos credited the fans for giving his club the seventh-man advantage, so to speak.
“To see that atmosphere, that’s very encouraging,” Anastos said. “I don’t know if people realize it or not, but the audience, fans and students had a huge impact on our team. You could see it as the guys came off the ice from warm-ups. It was settling, and in many ways it was inspiring.”
Freshman netminder Jake Hildebrand steadied the ship Saturday night, making a career-high 40 saves and only allowing two goals.
“There was so much energy inside that rink, it pushed us a lot,” Hildebrand said. “You kind of dream about that stuff as a kid, and then finally being able to play in it… And how we won on Saturday, it was really fulfilling.”
Anastos said he’s been impressed with his young goaltender in the opportunity he has been handed so far.
“Jake has progressed real nicely. Each opportunity he has gotten to play, he has demonstrated a real confidence level. I like how poised he is in the net and he seems to be in very good position. Very rarely do you see him scrambling. He’s been good about practicing real hard and waiting for his opportunity. When he’s gotten opportunity, he’s taken advantage of it.”
This weekend, the Spartans take on a dynamic offensive team in the Miami RedHawks led by two young, talented Michigan natives.
Sophomore forward Austin Czarnik (Washington) and freshman forward Riley Barber (Livonia) are tied for second and third in scoring in the entire nation, respectively.
Czarnik – whose older brother Robbie played for the University of Michigan for a season and a half before moving on to the Plymouth Whalers and the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL – currently has six goals and seven assists for 13 points in ten games.
Meanwhile, Barber – previously with the Dubuque Fighting Saints and U.S. NTDP – has five goals and nine assists for 14 points in 10 games for Miami. As it turns out, Michigan State’s Hildebrand has an unexpected connection to Barber.
“When I was younger, Riley Barber’s dad coached me when I was ten or 11 years old with the Pittsburgh Hornets,” Hildebrand said. “So I know him pretty well.”
The Spartans’ bench boss knows that Miami is a well-coached, offensively-gifted team that will compete with his team for every inch on the ice.
“I think they play hard both ways,” Anastos said. “That’s what I’m impressed with. I think they play real hard offensively… They are very aggressive in their pursuit of the puck and their pursuit to defend all over the ice.
“I saw a clip against Northern Michigan, they had five guys and the goalie in their goal crease. It’s pretty hard to find a way to get a puck past that. They’re willing to sacrifice, to block shots and to do whatever it takes to keep the puck out of the net. They’re a good team, they’re well-coached, very well-organized and they play hard. This will be another really good test for our team.”