Spartans See Silver Linings After OT Loss
by Tony Jovenitti/CHN Reporter
ST. PAUL, Minn. Tom Anastos' third season as Michigan State head coach ended much the way the second season did — a frustrating lack of scoring ability dooming the Spartans.
Michigan State had its chances, and played a fourth straight overtime game against Ohio State. This time, however, the shootout — in which the Spartans excelled this season — wasn't an option, and the Buckeyes managed a 2-1 win.
“Tonight’s game was a reflection of our season,” Anastos said. “We were just struggling to score goals.”
Earlier this week, Anastos pointed out that his team would be desperate coming into the weekend, knowing a loss would end their season. He said his team gave a great effort, but just didn’t get the results.
“I thought we battled hard all night,” Michigan State captain Greg Wolfe said. “We have nothing to hang our heads about.”
On the game-winning goal, several Spartans dove into the crease to try to block the shot. It wound up causing some chaos, which is when Ohio State pounced. Buckeyes freshman Drew Brevig snapped the puck into the net as Michigan State goalie Jake Hildebrand scrambled to get back into the crease.
“We had three guys in the middle trying to block the shot,” Wolfe said. “That kind of speaks to the character of this team and our identity. Guys were sacrificing all night. If nothing else, that’s a great positive for the guys going forward.”
That, of course, is the key. It's certainly reasonable to expect a coach in his third season to still be building his program. Anyone getting restless at this point is being more than a little impatient. If things go well over the next couple of years, no one will remember the previous two. But that is the key — making sure these experiences are a stepping stone.
Anastos agreed that he saw things on Thursday — and throughout the season — that point toward future success for the Spartans.
“While it doesn’t show in our record, I thought our team has made huge progress in one season,” Anastos said. “This year, we kind of limped out of the start. We had a couple of really key injuries, which was hard for our team with not a lot of depth to overcome. It took us a while to get going, more time that I hoped.”
The Spartans finished the Big Ten Conference schedule 5-9-6, but they managed to win four shootouts, including two against top-seeded Minnesota. They also notched some quality wins in the final month of the season against Michigan and Wisconsin.
Anastos hoped that improvement would translate into the postseason.
“More than anything else, I was hoping they could have some season-ending success,” he said.
But Ohio State wanted the same thing. And Anastos sees some parallels between Michigan State and Ohio State.
“I look at a lot of guys who made an impact in Ohio State’s game tonight and their season. And I remember when they were freshmen and sophomores, watching them get better and better,” Anastos said. ”And I see players on our team who are just going to get better as they gain experience.”
Indeed, Ohio State is in its first season with Steve Rohlik, after three under Mark Osiecki. But there was some continuity, since Rohlik was an assistant in that time. This will be its first winning season since 2008-09. It took five years.
The Michigan State roster features eight freshmen and eight sophomores. Anastos pointed out that these Spartans endured some tough losses and ties, like losing a late lead to Ohio State on Jan. 10 and the shootout loss to Western Michigan in the Great Lakes Invitational Championship.
“This has been a very resilient group, these guys came to the rink and played really hard,” he said.
Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik also praised Anastos’ squad, saying they fought for every puck on Thursday.
“That’s a team effort,” Rohlik said. “They’ll do whatever it takes.”
Rohlik’s Buckeyes move on to face Minnesota on Friday night in the semifinals, while the Spartans head back to East Lansing for their offseason.
“This is a miserable feeling to end your season with, but I know that we took a big step in our team getting better,” Anastos said. “A lot of guys gained valuable experience.”