Nov. 4, 2013
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING - Will Yanakeff's fourth shutout of his college career was definitely not his toughest.
The Michigan State senior goaltender made 28 saves in a 4-0 victory over American International on Sunday at Munn Arena, but he didn't have many difficult shots to handle.
Still, Yanakeff was just happy to be back in the net, satisfied the way he played and savored his role in helping the Spartans win their third straight game and earn their first series sweep in a nearly 21 months.
"They didn't throw many good shots on net so I don't know how much credit I can take,'' said Yanakeff, playing in his second game of the season. "They didn't have many good scoring chances but it's still a confidence boost and helps me out a bit.''
The 6-2, 211-pound Yanakeff made nine saves in the first period, nine in the second and eight in the third. He was sharp during a couple of Yellow Jackets' flurries, making the initial save, controlling rebounds and was consistently in position.
AIC's came close to spoiling his shutout bid in the third period a shot when a shot by forward Jon Puskar from deep in the left circle rattled off the crossbar.
"I thought that went in,'' Yanakeff said. "I got a good bounce.''
After a scoreless first period, MSU built a 2-0 in the second period and stayed in control in the third. The Spartans (3-3) avoided penalties and played well in the defensive zone to prevent the Yellow Jackets from mounting a comeback like the one on Friday in which they rallied from a 5-1 deficit and came up one goal short in MSU's 5-4 victory.
"The feeling I had in the second period, when we were up by two goals, was way different than at the end when we were up by four,'' Yanakeff said. "Our forwards are really flying right now. We're doing the little things right. We're getting pucks to the net and good bounces.''
The Spartans' sweep was their first since Feb. 17-18, 2012, when they won a CCHA series against Alaska. The last time MSU won three games in a row also came during the 2011-12 season - two wins at Ohio State (Feb. 3-4) and one against Michigan (Feb. 10) at Munn Arena.
Yanakeff was happy to make his second start, after playing one game at Massachusetts the first week of the season and sitting out both games last weekend as sophomore Jake Hildebrand played against UMass-Lowell and Boston University and started on Friday against AIC.
"I was hoping to play last weekend but didn't get the opportunity. But this was a good opportunity for me,'' Yanakeff said. "I just went out and played my game.''
Not getting a start on a weekend is difficult, Yanakeff said, but he uses the disappointment to push himself to work hard and play well in practice and put himself in position to start the next week.
"You have to keep a level head and keep working hard but it's definitely motivation to get back in the net,'' he said.
Yanakeff gave up five goals in his first start at Massachusetts in a 5-2 loss in the second game of the season. Although the Minutemen scored on four power-play goals, Yanakeff said he gave up some goals on shots that should not have gone in.
"One thing (goalie coach Mike Gilmore) and I have been working on is for me to stay on top of the crease and be more aggressive instead of sitting back,'' Yanakeff said. "When I was out at UMass, that's what happened. I got burned a couple of times by sitting back. Pucks went by me.
"I have to use my size to my advantage and stay out. I felt a lot more comfortable (today).''
Coach Tom Anastos said Yanakeff has worked hard in practice with his positioning and was "rock solid" on Sunday afternoon.
"He looked confident and was very steady. I think that should be good for his confidence and good for our confidence,'' Anastos said. "Positionally, I thought he was real sound.
"When he's struggling, like many goalies, it's when he's sitting back in the net. When's out, he's a big guy and fills net and the puck is hitting him. That's how the position is played today."
The Spartan coaches have used video of NHL goalies as a teaching tool with Yanakeff.
"I think we used (the Red Wings') Jimmy Howard as an example of getting on the top of the goal crease and even beyond in some cases. Will studied it and worked hard on it in practice.''
Yanakeff's other shutouts have come against Lake Superior State (1-0, 24 saves) and Ohio State (2-0, 32 saves) as a freshman and Alaska (1-0, 37 saves) as a junior.
FRESHMEN EXCEL: Mackenzie MacEachern scored two goals on Sunday and linemate and good friend Thomas Ebbing assisted on both for his first college points to ignite the Spartans' win over American International College. It was another strong game by MSU's freshmen forwards, who continue to make contributions on offense. Freshman Joe Cox scored MSU's last goal of the day for his second of the season. MacEachern, a left wing, has three goals and no assists in six games. Ebbing, a center, has no goals and two assists in six games. The two rookies, both from Troy, have been teammates and linemates in high school at Birmingham Brother Rice and in juniors last year with the Chicago Steel of the U.S. Hockey League.
And they're still linemates at MSU, with junior Brett Darnell on the right wing. Ebbing almost had his first goal on Sunday as he and MacEachern somehow got free for a 2-on-0 rush in the second period. MacEachern drove to the net from the left of center and when he got in tight, he passed off to Ebbing on the right.
Ebbing let go with a quick shot toward the top right corner but AIC goalie Hunter Leisner lunged to his left and appeared to get a piece of the puck. But the puck deflected off the crossbar near the right post and bounced out front, where MacEachern tapped it into the net to give the Spartans a 1-0 lead.
Ebbing assisted on MacEachern's goal in the third period in which Darnell fired the puck toward the edge of the crease from the right corner. MacEachern battled to get to the loose puck at the goalie's feet and finally jammed in his own rebound to boost MSU's edge to 3-0.
"We've stressed that. We have a bunch of big guys so we want to get guys in front of the net and make it tougher for the goalie,'' MacEachern said. "Coach made a great point, that if the goalie can see it, he'll stop nine out of 10 shots, but if he can't, he'll probably stop seven out of 10. So the chances are higher.''
After six games, both MacEachern and Ebbing are getting more comfortable with each weekend.
"I like to use my body and so far I've been able to do that. So far, I'm not doing too bad," MacEachern said. "I was hoping that (Thomas) would get his first goal but we have a lot more games so he'll have that opportunity. We've known each other for a long time and know where each other is on the ice.''
Ebbing said it would have been great to get goal No. 1 on the breakaway but his first two assists were still special.
"It's nice to have them and hopefully I get that first goal pretty soon,'' he said. "But I think I'm contributing in other ways, like blocking shots and doing anything I need to do.''
Coach Tom Anastos said he's impressed by MacEachern's and Ebbing's start to their rookie seasons.
"I liked MacEachern's game today. I thought he played OK on Friday but he played really well today,'' Anastos said. "It was nice to see our net presence. On his second goal, MacEachern drove to the net, stopped and stayed with it.
"We liked his ability to skate, his hockey IQ and his puck skills, whether shooting or passing, are really good. We thought he was the kind of guy who could make players around him much better. So far, he's demonstrated that.
"Ebbing keeps getting better and better. I love his energy and second and third efforts. He's good on faceoffs, responsible defensively and has a lot of offensive skills.''
REIMER DRAWS PRAISE, TOO: Anastos said several players had a very good weekend in the sweep of the Yellow Jackets but none better than senior center Lee Reimer.
"I don't think he's getting enough attention,'' Anastos said. "He had nine shots on goal today, he killed penalties, set up Wolfe for a great goal, he's in front of the net constantly and he's blocking shots.''
Reimer had a goal and an assist and three shots on goal on Friday and one assist, nine shots on goal and won an amazing 18 of 24 faceoffs on Sunday.
"If he plays like that all season, he'll be a really effective player and that's something we need,'' Anastos said. "He was an unsung hero (this weekend). He was phenomenal on faceoffs.''
UP NEXT: The Spartans are on the road next weekend at Michigan Tech for nonconference games on Friday and Saturday. MSU is making its first trip to Houghton since Feb. 11-12, 1984.
The Huskies, coached by former longtime Michigan assistant Mel Pearson, are off to a slow start with a 1-6-1 record, but they've been in almost every game. Tech is coming off two close losses at No. 4 Michigan - 3-2 in overtime on Friday and 2-1 on Saturday.
IN THE BIG TEN: In addition to MSU's and Michigan's sweeps, No. 13 Wisconsin tied and routed Lake Superior State, 3-3 on Friday and 8-1 on Saturday, and Ohio State earned a split with No. 20 Minnesota-Duluth with a 4-2 win on Saturday after losing 3-1 in the series opener on Friday.
Penn State played just one game on the weekend - a 5-4 victory over Robert Morris. Big Ten teams compiled a 7-1-1 record.
Minnesota, ranked No. 1 in the nation, had the weekend off.