Michigan State, Hildebrand Taking Advantage of Shootouts
by Tony Jovenitti/CHN Reporter
During his freshman year, Michigan State goaltender Jake Hildebrand played in two shootouts and lost them both. So when his Spartans forced a shootout against the No. 1 team in the country in the first conference game of the season, the sophomore netminder was a bit nervous.
“Just have fun with it,” Spartans coach Tom Anastos told him while the Zamboni cleared a lane on the ice. “Make it a competition and have fun with it.”
Hildebrand stoned all three Minnesota shooters to give the Spartans the win.
But it was really a tie.
That’s the confusing part about shootouts in college hockey. For the record books and the Pairwise, it goes down as a tie. But in the Big Ten and the NCHC, conference games use a shootout to determine who gets an extra point in the standings. So it may officially be a tie, but don’t tell that to the teams involved.
“When you win a shootout, you feel like you won,” Anastos said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Nobody has enjoyed that feeling more than Michigan State this year. After Hildebrand’s shootout woes last year, the Spartans are now 3-1 in games that extend past overtime, including a perfect 3-0 mark in Big Ten play. This for a team that is otherwise near the bottom of the standings. No other NCAA team has more than one shootout win, and much of the Spartans’ success can be attributed to Hildebrand, who stopped 15 of the 20 attempts he’s faced.
“This year, I tried to take a different approach and just have fun with it,” Hildebrand said. “I try not to be too serious or too tense, because you can’t play like that.”
For comparison’s sake, only one goalie in the NHL has faced as many shootout attempts as Hildebrand and boasts a better save percentage — United States Olympian and Michigan State alum Ryan Miller.
But Hildebrand is quick to deflect credit to the other Spartans who helped clinch those extra points.
“My teammates have been awesome, scoring a lot of goals which takes a lot of pressure off me as well,” he said.
In their four shootouts, six different Spartans scored 7 goals. With that kind of depth, it can be tough to select the first three shooters.
“I just try to get a sense of guys who are confident in doing it, and give them an opportunity,” Anastos said. “Or guys who might be having a good night. And there are other instances where I’ve used guys who didn’t play much and I thought were rested.”
It’s certainly working. Perhaps it’s because Anastos played a significant role in the addition of shootouts to college hockey. As commissioner of the CCHA, he brought the idea to the table in 2008 — just a few years after the NHL implemented it.
“The reason I brought up the discussion was that we spend a lot of time talking about helping players develop to get to the NHL,” he said. “There was also the entertainment value of it. I think that discussion became a much more significant discussion amongst the athletic directors.”
He said the shootout cleared the CCHA athletic directors by a slim majority. But the decision was much easier when the Big Ten conference came along, mostly because they had experience with it, and the players and fans seemed to like it.
Anastos said he certainly understands why people criticize the shootout. But he thinks it’s the best system available.
“You’d love for games to be decided in the normal way that you play,” he said.
And when you play in as many shootouts as the Spartans, you’re bound to see some oddities. Last Friday at Minnesota, Gophers goaltender Adam Wilcox kicked the net off its moorings as Spartans forward Joe Cox appeared to tuck the puck past the goalie’s skate inside the post. A lengthy review determined that the net came off before the puck crossed the line. And since the referee determined that Wilcox kicked the net unintentionally, Cox was not rewarded a reshot.
Anastos said that situation is “an example of something that the rules committee will take a really good look at” in the offseason.
It’s difficult to determine the intent of the goalie, so Anastos thinks a good idea may be to eliminate that subjectivity. He proposed that, “If in fact the net is dislodged — regardless of intent — and a goal is not scored, then a reshot should be issued.”
But the referee’s decision didn’t bother Hildebrand as much as the lengthy delay did.
“A couple of the guys came up and talked to me to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind and going crazy in my crease all by myself,” Hildebrand said.
The Spartans eventually prevailed in six rounds, marking the second time this season that Michigan State knocked off No. 1 Minnesota in a shootout — Minnesota’s only two conference games that didn’t end in a Gophers victory.
So while it may not be perfect, it certainly provides drama and — perhaps more importantly — a decision.
“You only get that five minutes of overtime, and you can’t just end the game in a tie,” Hildebrand said. “I don’t think anyone would really be happy with that. I think it’s the best solution possible.”