Neil's Notebook: Rivalry Gets Emotions Flowing for Players, Coaches
Spartans Excited, Focused for Games vs. Michigan
Dec. 8, 2011
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
Nobody is looking at the records. Nobody is focusing on the polls.
It's Michigan State-Michigan week.
The first nine weeks of college hockey's regular season don't really matter.
It's all about what happens between the two bitter rivals on the ice this weekend - at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and at Munn Arena at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Spartan fans believe it's the best rivalry in college hockey. Wolverine fans agree.
So what if MSU is on an 8-1-1 run, is 10-5-1 overall, 6-4 in the CCHA and ranked No. 14 in nation?
So what if Michigan is struggling of late -- 1-6-1 in its last eight games, 4-6-2-1 in the CCHA, 8-8-2 overall and not ranked in the polls?
"It doesn't matter how much they've won or lost lately. It's a series that it doesn't matter if we or they have lost every game,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "I've been on both sides of it.
"Having a game against your rival is exciting for everybody. We're fired up. It gives you an extra jump in practice.''
For each team, the stakes are high simply because of the tremendous emotion felt before, during, and after the games. And not just by the players and coaches. The fans also feel the great highs of victory and pain of defeat.
For Spartans captain Torey Krug, there's no week like the one leading into a MSU-Michigan series. And there's no greater or worse feeling than after a game in celebrating a victory or dealing with defeat.
"It's really intense. It's something we have to control - we have to control our emotions,'' the junior defenseman said. "It can be definitely be the toughest week to control your emotions.
"It's a game that we have to be ready like the rest of them, but this one means more to our program.''
In two seasons at MSU, Krug is 5-5 against the Wolverines. Last season, in MSU's 4-3 overtime victory at Munn Arena on Jan. 7, Krug scored his team's first three goals.
"When you skate off the ice after you lose to those guys, you're sick to your stomach and you can't wait to get out there and play them again,'' Krug said. "When you skate off after a win, it's a great feeling. And you have the expectation that you want to beat them every time.''
Anastos will be coaching against Michigan for the first time as MSU head coach.
He had great success as a Spartan player against the Wolverines, helping his teams compile a dominant 15-2-1 record from 1981-85. During his two years as an assistant coach from 1990-92, the Spartans went 2-4-2 vs. U-M.
"It's way more fun being a player. You feel you have more impact on the game,'' Anastos said. "As a player, there are ways to manage that emotion more than there is as a coach. I found out when I started coaching that it was real hard to manage that because you get all worked up and you just couldn't go hit someone.
"You don't exert enough energy to use up some of the emotional energy that you have. This will be my first chance as a head coach so we'll see. But these are the games that as a player you remember the most.''
Krug said he doesn't have a particular favorite moment in the 10 games he's played in the rivalry.
The most fun games are "every game we've won,'' Krug said.
"Even the game we lost at Joe Louis Arena (two years ago), as bad as I felt when I looked back at it, it was a great game and a great atmosphere. We lost 5-4 with a minute left and we really felt bad afterward, but it was a fun game to play in.
"Last year at The Joe, we had a 2-1 lead and (goaltender) Will Yanakeff stopped that penalty shot with five minutes left. That was exciting.''
And what about Krug's first career hat trick last year?
"I just like to beat those guys. It doesn't matter what I did,'' he said. "Any time we've won has been memorable.''
Krug said the flavor of the rivalry gets spiced even more because so many of the players on each team know each other from youth hockey in the Detroit area and from junior hockey. Many have played on the same teams and against each other.
"I played with (Michigan's) David Wohlberg, Greg Pateryn and Travis Lynch and grew up in a rivalry with Chris Brown, A.J. Treais and Jon Merrill,'' he said. "These games go back to our roots with Honey Baked, Belle Tire and our Triple AAA days.
"The reason you go to Michigan State is to beat teams like Michigan. It's different because you know them and want to beat them so bad. The games are one step faster. You hit and get hit a little more.''
Michigan started the season 6-1-1 but many of its early victories came against weaker teams from Atlantic Hockey and the ECAC, although the Wolverines did sweep Ferris State at home the last week of October.
But U-M went 1-6-1 in November and are coming off a split at Alaska, losing the series opener, 4-3, and winning 1-0 in overtime last Saturday.
The Wolverines are a young team with only four seniors in the lineup and six freshmen getting regular playing time. Three rookies have combined for 21 goals - Phil DiGiuseppe (8 goals, 6 assists, 14 points), Alex Guptil (8-4-12) and Travis Lynch (5-6-11).
"They're very skilled. Their defensemen are very involved in the offense and have a good goaltender (senior Shawn Hunwick) who plays with a lot of emotion,'' Anastos said. "In my opinion, he's an inspirational and emotional leader and plays with some feistiness . He's very competitive and aggressive.
"They're going through a spell that's been tough. But they're a young team and it takes time.''
ALMOST A WOLVERINE? Anastos said he was recruited by Michigan before he had been contacted by MSU coach Ron Mason during the 1980-81 season.
"I was at a Michigan game at Yost with my dad and sitting in the home end, and Jeff Jackson, who was a (graduate) assistant coach, saw me and came up and asked me to come talk to the coaches after the game,'' Anastos said. "I did and from there they invited me to come on an official visit.''
Soon after, he started to get recruited by MSU.
When he made his visit to Michigan, the staff made up a Michigan jersey with his name on the back and tried to sell him on becoming a Wolverine.
It didn't work.
Why did he pick the Spartans?
"Ron Mason was the most significant, impactful part of my decision,'' Anastos said. "Growing up, I knew more about Michigan than I did Michigan State, being a Detroit (Dearborn) area kid. I did know a lot about Michigan football but not that much about Michigan hockey.
"They had just made a coaching change at Michigan. I just felt what Ron Mason was telling me (about MSU) was going to happen. I could see it in the players coming in. I bought into that and it was a real good decision for me.''
And for the Spartans - then and now.
During his four years as a Spartan right wing, Anastos had 70 goals, 73 assists and 143 points in 151 games. His teams had a record of 128-43-3 and played in four NCAA Tournaments and one Frozen Four.
MORE BOOING? Anastos said he was booed at Michigan as a player, probably as an assistant coach and as CCHA commissioner. Now he's gets to come full circle as the Spartan head coach on Friday at Yost Arena.
"It'll be interesting. I don't think it changes that much,'' he said. "As commissioner, I had good relationships with the folks down there. I have the upmost respect for Red Berenson and (athletic director) David Brandon and what they've accomplished with their program.
"It will be unusual to be part of the game down there and here. Certainly, part of my decision to take this role had to do with competition and being back in that mix. I've gone to the Michigan State-Michigan games the last 10 years hoping that when I left the game there weren't any incidents that I had to deal with the next day.
"Now to be emotionally involved in the game with a team, that's the part I'm looking forward to.''
STELLAR PENALTY KILLING: One of MSU's many goals this season is to lead the nation in penalty-killing efficiency. Thus far, the Spartans are right there with the best, ranking 4th with an 89.2 percent rate of success. MSU has given up seven power-play goals in 65 opponents' opportunities. The best penalty-killing team is Robert Morris (95 percent). Northern Michigan is third (91.1 percent). Surprisingly, Michigan's penalty killing is at 82.1 percent, ranking 31st.
"It's still not where we want it to be,'' Krug said. "At the same time, we have to get our power play going a little more. That's something we have to work on.''
The Spartans are clicking on 15.9 percent of their power play chances - 10-for-63. It ranks 39th, one spot below U-M (16.2). Harvard has the best power play in the nation (14-for-48, 29.2 percent).
FORMER CHAMPS SALUTED: Several members of the Spartans' 1985-86 NCAA championship team and former coach Ron Mason will honored on Saturday in recognition of the 25th anniversary of their title. They'll be introduced on the ice between the first and second periods.
In addition, Anastos said they'll attend the team's pregame meal and get to visit with the current Spartan players and take a tour of the campus. A reception will be held after Saturday's game.
Anastos, who graduated in 1985, was teammates with the seniors, juniors and sophomores on the 1986 team.
"It'll be great to see them. I always joke that we had the team that was called "The Dream Team" in 1985 and once they got rid of the dead wood like Anastos, (Lyle) Phair, (Kelly) Miller and (Dan) McFall, then they actually won something,'' Anastos laughed.
"I was riding on a bus (playing pro hockey in the American League) somewhere in Quebec when I heard that they won it (in Providence). We're excited to have them back and to spend some time with them.''