Nov. 24, 2013
By Neil Koepke
MSUSparans.com staff writer
KALAMAZOO - For Tom Anastos and his coaching staff, the hope is that the experience gained and lessons learned from a game a like Saturday's 4-1 loss at Western Michigan will prove beneficial later in the season.
Maybe not next week or the week after, but surely in the second half of the Spartans' 35-game regular season.
In the process of learning and becoming more of a team, scoring goals continues to be difficult, the losses are piling up and players are getting frustrated.
After three straight defeats to start the season, MSU rebounded with three consecutive victories and the players got a boost of confidence. But the streak has gone back the other way with four more losses - two at Michigan Tech and one at home and one on the road against Western Michigan. The Spartans are now 3-7.
Anastos' message to his team is simple: Stay positive, keep working hard in practice, come with energy and push to improve and gain necessary game experience.
Eventually, the Spartans will turn bad puck luck in their favor by playing better, confidence will grow now and positive results should follow.
"Our guys stayed with it tonight,'' said Anastos, whose team fell behind 2-0 in the first period and 4-0 in the second but competed a high level in the third period, despite scoring only one goal.
"It's challenging and frustrating for everybody. The way you deal with it is head on. You come back at it on Monday. We've got to work better to improve our execution.''
The Spartans, who lost the series opener against Western Michigan, 2-0, on Friday at Munn Arena, avoided getting back shut out in back-to-back games when freshman Mackenzie MacEachern tapped in a rebound seven minutes into the third period.
MSU outshot the Broncos (5-5-2 overall, 2-2 NCHC) in the third period 10-4 and 29-26 in the game.
"Before the third period, we said `We're not going to win the game on one play. We have to score the next goal, then get the next one,''' Anastos said. "It's the next shift, the next play.
"We played hard. That was a hard game to play in. It was physical and fast. You didn't see a drop on energy in this whole game. There was a lot of frustration that went on in the course of the game, with penalties, bounces in front of the net, and miscues on our end ended up as goals for Western.''
MSU's penalty killing was a bright spot on Friday but not so much on Saturday. The Broncos scored two power-play goals - one in the first period and one in the second - on six opportunities. The Spartans failed to convert on five power-play chances.
"It's an emotional game. Sometimes guys take penalties so you have to play over them,'' Anastos said. "Our penalty killing wasn't good enough tonight. "You have to get results on special teams. We lost special teams tonight.''
Anastos said the environment at Lawson Arena - with lots of noise, students' cheers and jeers and four, loud goal-celebrations over the first 40 minutes - was more intimidating than MSU's other two road trips - at Massachusetts and Michigan Tech.
"We knew we were coming into an environment that would be very demanding,'' he said. "We wanted to see how we would respond. It was a tough atmosphere, and on the ice, it was very physical - you had to compete for every piece of space.''
Next weekend, MSU plays another non-conference series before starting Big Ten play on Dec. 6-7. The Spartans play Princeton (3-8, 2-6) of the Eastern College Athletic Conference at 7 p.m. on Friday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday. On Dec. 6-7, No. 1 ranked Minnesota visits Munn Arena.
WILL THINGS GET BETTER? Captain Greg Wolfe is confident the Spartans won't let their frustrations change their approach to practice and the goal of trying to get better in many areas.
"We're not going to give up. But we have to keep working on things,'' Wolfe said. "From a player's perspective, I think we saw an improvement in our game from Friday night to this game.
"Our timing was off on Friday but I thought we played a better game tonight. But we got into penalty trouble.''
Wolfe felt his team did a better job of getting the puck to the net and players to the net and created more quality scoring chances than it did in the series opener.
"We actually created some second and third scoring chances. I don't think we had any on Friday,'' he said. "We had a power play in the second period and had three or four good chances in front of the net. (Lee) Reimer, (Matt) Berry and (TJ) Stenglein each had one on the same shift.''
But Wolfe said two key areas MSU has to clean up quickly are penalties and scoring goals.
"We have to stay out of the (penalty) box. I think that's our biggest problem right now,'' he said. "It kills momentum. It gives them momentum, sours our momentum and we have guys sitting on the bench who don't get into the game. We have a rotation of penalty killers that has to keep going out and that wears on guys.
"We definitely were more physical and we're working hard. It's not a lack of effort. We have to find a way to score goals and stay out of the box.''
MACEACHERN CONVERTS: Freshman forward Mackenzie MacEachern scored his fourth goal of the season on Saturday, spoiling the shutout bid by WMU junior goaltender Frank Slubowski. MacEachern got open in front of the net off a faceoff, got a good bounce and converted on a rebound at 7:31 of the third period with each team one-man short.
"Thomas (Ebbing) won a faceoff (in the right circle in the WMU zone), got it back to Brock (Krygier). His shot got blocked and I got a lucky bounce,'' MacEachern said. "The carom came right to me, the goalie was out of position and I just put it behind him.''
MacEachern said the morale of freshmen is still high.
"Everyone is positive. You can't expect to win every game, and you know you're going to have some growing pains,'' he said. "We're a young class and that's what we're going through. We feel that later on in the season, it's going to pay, because we'll be better and have more experience.
"In the locker room, after the second period tonight, I think some people were hangin' their heads a bit, but coach came in and said he set a goal for us to 15 shots. That seemed to get people going, trying hard to get pucks to the net.
"We had the puck in their zone a lot. We have to build off our third period.''
UP NEXT: The Spartans play Princeton at 7 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. on Sunday in their final non-conference "series" of the season. MSU will still have three more non-league games after this weekend - a single game against Ferris State on Dec. 14 at Munn Arena and two games in the Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park, Dec. 27-28, against Michigan Tech in the semifinals and either Michigan or WMU in the championship or third-place game.
Princeton (3-8) has split its last two series and halted a recent six-game losing streak. But the Tigers were the talk of college hockey on Saturday after they shocked No. 4 Quinnipiac, 4-3, handing the Bobcats only their second loss of the season in an ECAC game at Quinnipiac. The Tigers scored three goals in the last 10 minutes of the third period to pull off the upset.
On Friday, Quinnipiac played at Princeton and extended its unbeaten streak to 12 games (11-0-1) with a 3-0 victory. One night later, at home, the streak was halted.