Neil's Notebook: Spartans Renew Series with Huskies
Neil Koepke looks at the Spartans' first trip to Houghton since 1984.
Nov. 7, 2013
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
HOUGHTON - The last time Michigan State played at Michigan Tech, Tom Anastos was a 20-year-old Spartan junior forward who had lots of hair and weighed 180 pounds.
A lot has changed since February, 1984, when MSU made its last trip to Houghton to play a longtime rival, one of the most storied programs in college hockey.
Anastos is now the Spartans coach, he has a lot less hair, weights a bit more than 180 and just turned 50 in July. Things have changed a lot in the last three decades.
And finally, after 29 years, Michigan Tech fans will get a chance to see the Huskies play the Spartans at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena this weekend.
MSU (3-3) and Michigan Tech (1-6-1) meet in a nonconference series at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The last time the teams met in Houghton was on Feb. 3-4, 1984, in a Central Collegiate Hockey Association series. The Huskies swept the Spartans, 6-4, 3-1. A year later, Michigan Tech moved back to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, ending a three-year CCHA stay, and the schools never played again in Houghton. On Nov. 26, 1986, Tech made its last appearance in Munn Arena, losing 6-0 in a single nonleague game. Next season, the Huskies will end 28-year drought in East Lansing with a two-game series at Munn Arena.
"My memories of playing Michigan Tech are good ones. It's a fun hockey culture to be part of,'' Anastos said. "When I came (to MSU), Michigan Tech was a national power. They were one of the schools I was recruited to and I took a visit there. I remember they were always a difficult team to play against.
"I used to watch them in the Great Lakes Invitational and for a period of years, they used to own that tournament.''
Spartan assistant coach Kelly Miller also played in MSU's last two games at Michigan Tech.
Anastos and Miller, Spartans from 1981-85, played in Houghton four times. As sophomores, the Spartans lost to the Huskies 6-3 and won 5-4 in overtime.
"I remember winning in overtime,'' Anastos laughed. "It was a tough place to place, with a terrific hockey environment. It's a fun place to go.''
Michigan Tech won NCAA titles in 1962, 1965 and 1975 and played in the Final Four in 1956, 1960, 1969, 1970, 1974, 1976 and 1981. The Huskies won WCHA titles 1963, 1965, 1969, 1971, 1974 and 1976.
Although Anastos and his teammates didn't have much success in Houghton, they had great success against the Huskies overall. In his four seasons, Anastos' teams compiled a 13-5 record, including 8-1 at Munn Arena, 3-1 in the GLI at Joe Louis Arena and 1-0 in the CCHA Finals, also at Joe Louis Arena. From 1950-1984, MSU and Michigan Tech played at least two times each season, and mostly four times.
However, since 1983-84, the teams have only met 24 times, 23 coming in the GLI. MSU is 21-3 against the Huskies during the 28-year stretch. In the overall series, which started with one game in 1928 - won by Huskies, 5-0 - Tech holds a 78-73-2 edge.
"I've never been up there but from what I've heard, it's a pretty hostile environment, and we're expecting to play a good team in front of a rowdy group of fans,'' MSU senior captain and right wing Greg Wolfe said. "It's going to be a good weekend.''
Anastos said the renewal of an old rivalry got started with Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson called him more than a year ago about scheduling series in Houghton and East Lansing. Since MSU was joining the Big Ten and facing a 20-game schedule, it needed to schedule 12 nonconference games, in addition to the usual two games in the GLI. After going back and forth, the coaches decided on setup in which Tech will play four games at MSU in return for two home games with the Spartans.
Ironically, Pearson, a 1980 Michigan Tech graduate and longtime assistant at Michigan before landing in Houghton in 2011-12, was an assistant coach for the Huskies when MSU last played at Tech.
As it turns out, Anastos likes the idea of playing Tech this season because it presents a good challenge for his evolving team.
"I thought this would be a difficult environment for our team to go into and try to grow as a program,'' Anastos said. "That what we expect and it's one of the reasons we scheduled them.
"And with the same concept (athletic director) Mark Hollis has tried with Michigan State sports on scheduling teams in the state, we thought it was a good opportunity to reach out to Michigan-based schools.''
SCOUTING THE HUSKIES: Michigan Tech's 1-6-1 record is likely a little deceiving because the Huskies have played seven games on the road and against three ranked teams.
Tech lost 2-1 and tied 1-1 at Minnesota-Duluth, got swept at Notre Dame, 3-2, 7-3, and Michigan, 3-2 in overtime and 2-1, and split a home-and-home series with top rival Northern Michigan, losing 2-0 on the road and winning 4-1 at home.
"I have lots of respect for their team. They're a good team, they work hard and their record is really misleading because they've played some very good teams'' Anastos said. "They've only played one home game so I'm sure they're eager to play a home series. They'll be tough to play against.''
The Huskies return four forwards who scored 10 goals or more last season, a year in which Tech won the GLI for the first time since 1980.
Sophomore forward Alex Petan was Tech's top scorer in 2012-13 with 15 goals and 34 points. Junior forward David Johnstone, who's from Grand Ledge, had 10 goals and 29 points. Junior forward Blake Pietila scored 14 goals and had 24 points, while junior forward had 11 goals and 24 points.
In seven games this season, junior Blake Hietala leads the Huskies in scoring with two goals and three assists for five points. Petan (2 goals, 1 assist) and Johnstone (1-2) have three points apiece.
Johnstone's older brother, Jacob, is a senior forward with the Huskies. He's pointless in six games.
Thus far this season, Michigan Tech has played five seniors, five juniors, seven sophomores and seven freshmen.
Tech has two talented sophomore goalies in Pheonix Copley and Jamie Phillips. Copley was the GLI most valuable player last year as Tech shutout Michigan, 4-0, and Western Michigan, 4-0.
Copley, who's from North Pole, Alaska, has played in six games and has a 2.17 goals-against average, a .937 saves percentage and a 1-5-0 record. Phillips, a Winnipeg Jets draft pick, has a 3.84 average, an .885 saves percentage and a 0-1-1 record. Copley played both games last weekend at Michigan.
SPARTAN IN HUSKIE CLOTHES: The Michigan Tech coaching staff has a distinct Big Ten flavor. Former MSU forward Damon Whitten is in his fourth season as a Huskie assistant coach and Billy Mucklat, a former high-scoring forward at Michigan, is in his third season.
Coach Mel Pearson spent 23 seasons at Michigan as an assistant to Red Berenson before taking over at MTU in 2011. Pearson coached Muckalt as a player. Whitten, 36, played for coach Ron Mason at MSU from 1997-2001. After serving as an assistant coach at Wayne State (2004-06) and Alaska-Anchorage (2006-08), Whitten joined the MSU staff as director of operations and worked for two seasons for coach Rick Comley. He left in 2010 to join the Tech staff as an assistant to then-coach Jamie Russell.
FAST START FOR WOLFE: Senior right wing and captain Greg Wolfe has had a major impact just six games into the season. He's been productive offensively with a team-leading five goals and a team high six points, he's killed penalties and been a strong leader on a team with eight freshmen and nine sophomores.
He's scored one goal in five of the Spartans' six games. The only game he didn't get a goal or assist was in the 4-1 loss against UMass-Lowell on Oct. 25. Last season, in his first as captain, Wolfe struggled in the first half of the season. He didn't score his fifth goal until Feb. 8 at Bowling Green.
"He's playing the way we thought he was capable of playing. I think last year in the captain's role, he put a little more pressure on himself and struggled a little find his way,'' Coach Tom Anastos said. "Half-way through, he got comfortable with it and started playing the way he played a fair portion of the time in my first season.''
Wolfe has clicked with fellow senior and longtime linemate Lee Reimer. Reimer's level of play may be the highest during his career as a Spartan. He has a goal and three assists for four points.
"They have good chemistry. They've done a good job killing penalties so their confidence has grown,'' Anastos said. "I'm not so focused on point production as much as I am on the quality of minutes in which they play and the energy they bring, because it lends a lot to our team. If they continue to do that, they'll get their share of points.''
For the last three games - all victories -- Wolfe and Reimer have been teamed with sophomore left wing Ryan Keller. So far, it's been a very good fit. Reimer had nine shots on goal last Sunday against American International.
"Reimer and I didn't have the offensive production we wanted last year so we talked about it and talked with the coaches,'' he said. "We needed to get the puck to the net, work harder and keep it simple.
"We're communicating a lot better on the ice. Keller works hard, he's fast and that brings another element to our line. It's working pretty well.''
JAKE CHELIOS THRIVES: Senior defenseman Jake Chelios has a team-leading five assists in six games and ranks second in scoring with five points. His five assists are as many as he had all last season in 42 games.
Chelios' five points have come in the last three games. He went pointless in the first three games, but responded with three assists in MSU's 3-2 win over Boston University on Oct. 26, and had an assist in each game of last weekend's 5-4 and 4-0 sweep of American International.
Last season, Chelios had five goals and five assists for 10 points. He's just two assists from his career season high of seven in 2011-12.
SPARTAN POTPOURRI: MSU ranks second in the nation in faceoff win percentage at .569, having won more draws than its opponents in five of six games. The Spartans are 210-159. Sophomore center Mike Ferrantino is MSU's best faceoff man with a winning percentage of .600 (39-26). . . MSU is averaging 35 shots a game, up 9.4 shots per game from last season. The Spartans have outshot opponents, 210-176, including an 82-56 edge in the first period. . . The freshman class combined for eight points in the sweep of American International. Mackenzie MacEachern had two goals, linemate Thomas Ebbing had two assists, Villiam Haag had a goal and an assist while Joe Cox and JT Stenglein each scored one goal. . . . Next weekend, the Spartans are off. They'll return with a nonconference series against Western Michigan - at MSU on Nov. 22 and at WMU on Nov. 23.