By Stefan Kubus -
Heading into last weekend’s series against Alaska in Fairbanks, Michigan State head coach Tom Anastos said the initial plan between the pipes was to play junior Will Yanakeff Friday night and freshman Jake Hildebrand Saturday night due to the demanding venture to Fairbanks.
This past weekend, the Spartans split with Alaska in Fairbanks, but it was Yanakeff (Jerome, Mich.) who stole the show, turning away 76 of 79 shots he saw in the weekend. That effort – including a 1-0 shutout on Friday – earned him CCHA Goaltender of the Week honors.
“It’s kind of been a time for me to learn and try new things as far as preparation and that kind of stuff goes,” Yanakeff said of his season. “I’ve been just trying to tell myself to relax before games and try not to put all that unneeded pressure on myself before games. I have nothing to lose going out there. I just need to go out and compete. That’s what I told myself before both games this weekend and I played well.”
His head coach said that he was happy to see his junior goalie have a bounce-back weekend after a difficult season.
“I think it’s important anytime you have a chance to help somebody build their confidence – because you can’t give it to anybody and they have to build it – I think the opportunity presented itself there,” Anastos said. “And knowing the struggles he’s dealt with all season and how he’s successfully managed some things mentally in dealing with the season, I thought he deserved the opportunity to play and he played real well again. I think that was a good thing. I think it got his game back on track and creates, what I think, is a healthy situation in goal.”
Yanakeff admitted that it’s been tough not playing much this season, but said he’s received great support from his teammates and coaching.
“It’s been a grind, I’m not going to lie,” Yanakeff said. “It’s been hard at times to stay in it, but with the help of (goaltending coach) Mike Gilmore, the coaches and even the guys on the team, I’ve been given a good perspective on things. It’s allowed me to stay dialed in, keep working hard, keep competing every day and I think that’s helped a lot.”
Yanakeff said Friday night’s shutout win was one of those games that he felt “relaxed and just happy.” In fact, he said he may have even had a little too much fun in net, if that’s possible.
“It’s funny, I actually remember myself singing along with the music and almost bobbing my head with the music during the game,” Yanakeff said with a laugh. “That’s how relaxed I was and it was a really good feeling. I knew right from the beginning of the first period that it was going to be a good weekend.”
Anastos said he thought his team started with tremendous energy in Friday night’s 1-0 win, but dramatically slowed down halfway through the period. He credited the penalty kill and Yanakeff’s performance for the win.
“It was the first game all season we won that we probably didn’t deserve to win,” Anastos said. “There were maybe a couple others where maybe we thought we deserved a better result and lost, but this was one of those in the opposite direction.”
On the contrary, in Saturday night’s 4-2 loss, Anastos said the penalty kill essentially did a 180-degree turn.
“We just didn’t have enough guys going,” Anastos said. “And Will played another terrific game. Our penalty kill was poor, our power play was poor and that was the difference in the game. i think we were able to generate one shot on goal in seven power plays and we gave up three power play goals to them. That’s just not good enough. Will played outstanding and gave us a chance.”
Looking ahead to WMU…
For the Spartans, there really couldn’t be a better time for a Yanakeff resurgence. Last season, the Spartans swept No. 5/6 Western Michigan in November with a then career-best 38 saves from Yanakeff in a 3-2 win one night. The very next night, he made 28 saves in a 4-2 win for the Spartans’ first CCHA sweep of that 2011-12 season.
Anastos gave no tip of the hat as to who was going to play in goal on this coming weekend against the Broncos, but did say he wanted to get Hildebrand back in the net while also acknowledging that Yanakeff’s game appears to be in a good place right now.
Either way, the Spartans’ bench boss said he’s looking for an especially strong effort with both games being in East Lansing.
“We need everybody ready to go, playing and laying it all on the line every shift that they play, especially at home this weekend,” Anastos said. “Most likely, it’s going to be our last home series of the year. The fans have been incredible in supporting us and we have to make sure we go out and show appreciation by giving the best effort we’re capable of giving.”