By Stefan Kubus -
EAST LANSING – When the Michigan State Spartans’ senior leadership core called a team meeting Monday afternoon following a sweep at the hands of rival Michigan, the message was an unorthodox mix of frustration and optimism.
Freshman forward Mike Ferrantino (Plymouth) said that, while the Spartans are currently sitting in the CCHA’s last place, he felt the meeting allowed the team to remove some stress that was weighing the squad down.
“I felt a lot better,” Ferrantino said. “I think after this weekend, everyone was frustrated. Guys were starting to think a lot and things like that. After the meeting, I think guys finally took a deep breath, relaxed a little bit and are trying to go back to having fun and play hockey.”
With this weekend’s home-and-home series against Bowling Green, a team that finished last in the CCHA last season yet made an inspired run to the CCHA Championship game, Ferrantino added that the meeting served as a reminder of the opportunities waiting to be seized.
“It was a lot of us just reassuring ourselves that we’re a good hockey team and we can still do something special here,” Ferrantino said. “The great thing about college hockey is that you’re not out of it until your last game. It was to get our spirits back a little bit and maybe a little more positive attitude.”
Freshman defenseman John Draeger – a 2012 Minnesota Wild third-round pick currently averaging about 25 minutes of ice time per game – said that Bowling Green’s run last year can serve as some inspiration for the Spartans as there’s still plenty of hockey to be played.
“They did great last year and I think that gives us a little inspiration,” Draeger said. “I know Coach Anastos talked about that a little bit in our players’ meeting earlier this week, so yeah, you can get hot at any moment. We’re frustrated, but at the same time, it’s hockey. There’s lots of season to be played and at playoff time anybody can get hot.”
The Spartans own a dominating 72-31-8 all-time record against the Falcons, including a 40-10-3 record at home. Back in early November this season, the two schools split, with MSU losing 1-0 the first game and then bouncing back with a 6-1 thumping the next night.
With eight regular season games remaining, head coach Tom Anastos said that, fortunate for his team, the most important hockey is still ahead.
“We have spoken about trying to play your best hockey at the most important time of the year and that’s still up ahead of us,” Anastos said. “So, we still have time to get things figured out and in order to be trying to do that.”
The Spartans’ bench boss said he received a text message this past weekend that applies beautifully to his team.
“Over the weekend, somebody had sent me a text talking about difficult times and something to the effect that ‘Difficult times don’t define one’s character, they reveal it’ and we’re talking about going through difficult times, so how we manage that to get ourselves to where we want to be is really how we’re going to measure ourselves,” Anastos said. “We have to stay positive, we have to keep working hard, we have to keep experimenting until we find the right formula that works. Most of all, we have to stay together as a group.”
Draeger – leading the team with 63 blocked shots, good for fourth of all NCAA D-1 players – said the team remains together through these hard times, possibly the greatest intangible weapon the Spartans control moving toward the home stretch.
“We’re all in the same boat, we’re all in this together,” Draeger said. “There’s no need to be pointing fingers, naming guys or anything like that. We’re all in the same situation. We’re all frustrated, we’re all there. It definitely can get a little testy, but I think guys understand that we’re all in this together.”