Oct. 10, 2013
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING - It may have been just an exhibition hockey game, but it was still an important contest.
For Michigan State's players, coaches and the fans, it was a snapshot of what might be ahead.
And many of those on the ice, behind the bench and in the stands, came away feeling positive about what they saw Wednesday night, as the Spartans competed hard and created good scoring chances in a 4-1 victory over Western Ontario at Munn Arena. Offense is MSU's big question mark this year, but the season debut showed the potential for a big upgrade in the team's skill level, thanks in part to five freshman forwards and an improvement in some returning players.
"It was nice to see the puck go in the net, and in a few different ways - a shorthanded goal, a penalty shot, 5-on-5 and on an odd-man rush,'' Spartan coach Tom Anastos said.
Among MSU's targets for the game were to get at least 35 shots on goal and allow 20 or less. One mission was accomplished, another just felt short. The Spartans fired 47 shots on two Western Ontario goaltenders and allowed 21, as sophomore Jake Hildebrand stopped 20 shots and didn't give up a goal until midway through the third period with his team up 3-0.
"Results matter and we're happy with the result, but we're so focused on the process of being a team and a productive team,'' Anastos said. "I think we showed a better aptitude for creating offense.
"We saw some good instinctive puck movement and decision-making.''
For one night at least, the Spartans' confidence on offense got a good boost. All four of MSU's forward lines created quality scoring chances and succeeded in carrying out the team's "shoot, shoot, shoot" mantra.
Three lines contributed goals as sophomore center Michael Ferrantino scored on a penalty shot early in the third period to give MSU a 3-0 edge and then set up freshman right wing Joe Cox for a shorthanded goal eight minutes later, after the Mustangs had trimmed their deficit to 3-1.
Ferrantino's line, with freshman left wing JT Stenglein and Cox, led MSU with 10 shots on goal. Ferrantino had five shots, Stenglein three and Cox two.
Villiam Haag, a freshman right wing from Sweden, scored the Spartans' first goal, deflecting junior defenseman RJ Boyd's shot from the left point past Western Ontario goalie Josh Unice at 5:04 of the first period. Sophomore center Matt DeBlouw also assisted. The unit of DeBlouw, Haag and sophomore left wing Ryan Keller had nine shots on goal - Haag with a team-high six, Keller with two and DeBlouw one.
Despite outshooting the Mustangs, 29-16 after two periods, MSU entered the final period with only a 1-0 lead.
But senior left wing Dean Chelios capped an odd-man rush, coming down the right wing and firing a wrist shot past goalie Marc Nother 44 seconds into the third period. Linemate and captain Greg Wolfe and Boyd assisted.
The all-senior line of center Lee Reimer (three shots), right wing Wolfe (two) and Chelios (four) accounted for nine shots on goal.
Meanwhile, the line of freshman center Thomas Ebbing, freshman left wing Mackenzie MacEachern and junior right wing Brent Darnell didn't register a point, but still had eight shots on goal. Darnell and Ebbing each had three and MacEachern chipped in two.
For sure, the rookie class of Haag, MacEachern, Ebbing, Cox and Stenglein had a strong debut, even if the win and goals and assists don't count in MSU's records. "They can all play the game and bring different things,'' said Wolfe, beginning his second season as captain. "They bring physicality, good shots, hockey sense, and the good thing is they all work hard and finish their checks. That is the hockey mentality we look for.''
Wolfe cautioned that the victory was just an exhibition game but he said he was encouraged by this team's potential to be more potent offensively. "It's nice to score four goals, they were on some nice plays and we didn't have too many games last year when we hit four,'' he said. "It's nice to know that we should have more goal-scoring this year.''
In his first game appearance as a Spartan, Haag said he was thrilled to feel the puck hit his stick and end up in the net.
"I felt something hit my stick and turned around and saw the puck in the net. It's a great feeling,'' said Haag, who scored 29 goals last season for Vastra Frolunda Hockey Club in a Swedish junior league. "When I arrived here, you dream about scoring in front of the student section and when I saw it go in, I felt so happy. "I came here to be part of this energy and chances like this and with the big crowds. I'm excited for our team.
"There's a long way to go but this is a nice start - winning the game, getting more than 35 shots and scoring some nice goals.''
Ferrantino, the game's No. 1 star, said the last time he scored on a penalty shot was the state tournament in midget hockey in Detroit, when was 15 or 16-years-old. Early in the third period, Stenglein, Ferrantino and Cox sped down the ice on a 3-on-2 with Stenglein carrying the puck into the Mustangs' zone. Stenglein was checked by a Mustang defenseman and both fell to the ice but the Spartan rookie slid the puck to his left to a hard-charging Ferrantino.
As Ferrantino got the puck on his backhand and drove to the net, Mustang defenseman Mark Begert tripped him in the slot, resulting in a penalty shot.
Ferrantino, who had three goals as a freshman last year, skated in close, faked going to his backhand to his left, pulled the puck back to his forehand and slid it between Nother's legs.
Before he took the shot, Ferrantino skated back to his own goal to have a chat with his goaltender, Hildebrand, to plot strategy.
"We spend a lot of time after practice taking penalty shots. So, he knows what I'm good at and what I'm not good at,'' Ferrantino said. "I said `what do you think I should do?'
"We agreed on what to do. I came down the ice, a little to the left, faked going to my backhand for a shot, came back to my forehand and went five-hole. You try to get the goalie to slide across and open up and then slide the puck through.
"I actually scored on Hildy with that move in juniors.''
Ferrantino said playing on a line with Cox was like old times.
"Cox and I played together in midgets. So, we kind of know each other,'' he said. "JT played an awesome game as well and both guys made it easier for me.
"It was fun for (all our guys) to get out there and see different players, a different system and I think we handled it pretty well. The freshmen have done a great job. They were all great players in junior and scored a lot of goals. And with them coming in, we'll have a lot more depth up front as far as scoring goes.''
Western Ontario's only goal was scored by Steve Reese, who took a pass down low and came across the crease to beat Hildebrand at 9:43 of the third period.
Cox and Ferrantino teamed up to score shorthanded with 5:35 left to wrap up the win. Anastos said his plan was to split his goaltenders, but senior Will Yanakeff stubbed his toe Wednesday afternoon, after the morning skate.
"It was really sore. I didn't see a reason to aggravate it,'' Anastos said. Western Ontario, located in London, is now 4-2 overall. The Mustangs lost at Western Michigan, 5-2, last Sunday.
NEXT UP: The Spartans will have a week-and-half to prepare for their regular season opener against Massachusetts, Oct. 18-19 in Amherst, Mass.
The team will take Thursday off and practice Friday and Saturday and take off on Sunday. They'll practice at Munn Monday-Wednesday before flying East next Thursday. This is MSU's latest opening game since 1993-94, when the Spartans' first game was on Oct. 22 at Illinois-Chicago.
SOLID DEBUT: Red-shirt defenseman Rhett Holland hasn't played in a game in almost a year, but he looked solid on Wednesday night. Holland played in three games last year before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury at Lake Superior State in late October.
"It was nice to be back on the ice. I was pretty excited today. I hadn't played in so long so I didn't know what to expect,'' Holland said. "I was a little nervous, a little anxious. But I felt good and thought we did well as a team.''
The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Holland handled the puck well, made good decisions, consistently got the puck through to the net from the points and tried to play physical, which is what he was known for in junior hockey in Alberta.
"I liked that I kept it simple, wasn't too worried with the puck and got my confidence back, coming back from the injury,'' he said. "I thought I was decently physical but I think I can upgrade that a little. I can be more physical. It's just good to get back into it. I've been a robot for so long, just doing drills and drills and drills. Just reading the whole game, it was something I was worried about.''
Coach Tom Anastos was encouraged by what he saw from Holland. "I thought he had a pretty good game. I'm eager to watch it back (on video),'' Anastos said. "He turned the puck over in the Green and White game but I didn't see that at all tonight.
"He was physical at the right times, got pucks through with three shots on goal. For a guy who hasn't played competitively for a year, he had a pretty good night.''
COX SURPRISES: Freshman right Joe Cox spent the summer recovering from knee surgery and only recently started to skate with contact. But he looked just fine on Wednesday, with a productive debut on a line with Ferrantino and Stenglein. "I was amazed at the tempo he was able to play at, considering the amount of training he's missed,'' Anastos said. "I give him tons of credit because he works really hard. You tell him what to do and he does it.''
SPARTAN POTPOURRI: Tanner Sorenson, a junior forward, has been suspended for five games for a violation of team rules, Anastos said Wednesday during his post-game press conference. Sorenson sat out the exhibition game and will miss four regular-season games - two at Massachusetts, Oct. 18-19, and home games against UMass-Lowell and Boston University, Oct. 25-26. . . . MSU played three first-year defensemen on Wednesday. In addition to Holland, red-shirt freshman Brock Krygier and freshman Chris Knudsen were among seven blueliners to see action. Krygier had five shots on goal, tied for second with Ferrantino among his teammates.