With the Michigan State Football team in full downwards spiral, Spartan fans looking for another sport to cling onto may trend toward basketball, but Spartan Hockey deserves a second look.
Last year the Spartan hockey team finished with just ten wins and looking at the 2-5 record this year, it is easy to write off the team as another poor one, but a further look will reveal this team has some promise.
Head Coach Tom Anastos has been on the hot seat for the last few seasons after continual disappointment and frustration from hockey fans that have seen multiple subpar teams. Anastos answered the call with his latest recruiting class that looks likely to be his best, and that will likely give him another few years to see if they can develop.
The Spartans currently have ten true freshmen on the roster. This includes a defensive corps that generally plays at least three a game, but at times this season has played up to five. That line up inconsistency and lack of experience led to a defensive catastrophe-opening weekend against Lake Superior State, who scored 13 goals in the two games. Since then the team has been more buttoned up defensively, allowing more than two goals just once in their last five games, excluding a Denver empty netter. The defensive improvements are a good sign for the young lineup that will lose just one starter next year in Rhett Holland. Sophomore Zach Osburn has been the bright spot for the Spartans and ranks third on the team in scoring with five points. Red Shirt Freshman Jerad Rosburg looks to be the other defensive scoring threat but has recently been sidelined by an injury.
The offensive side of things has been where the Spartans have really struggled in recent years, but freshmen Taro Hirose, Logan Lambdin, and Patrick Khodorenko have already shown they can flourish for the Spartans. Couple that with sophomores Mason Appleton and Brennan Sanford and they have a formidable young offense that can grow alongside the defense.
Appleton leads the team in scoring this season with eight points in the seven games. Appleton has played on the second line with Hirose, who has six points, and Khodorenko, who has provided three points and has been the top face off guy on the team, centers them. Lambdin has seen action on the top line and has four points on the season creating a multitude of chances with his speed.
Goaltending may be where the Spartans need help the most. Junior Ed Minney and Freshman John Lethemon have split time this season trying to replace Jake Hildebrand. Hildebrand last year became the first four-time team MVP in Spartan history, so the duo has had big skates to fill. Minney seems more likely to secure the starting job and aside from a poor first outing of the season, has been impressive and much more consistent.
While they may not make a drastic improvement record wise this season, for the first time in a long time Spartan Hockey is seemingly looking up. The schedule for the Spartans has been tough early on. Lake Superior State is ranked #20 nationally and Denver is #2. The Spartans fell to Denver 2-1 and 3-1 in East Lansing, but have showed they have the ability to compete with the top teams in the nation. The rest of the season doesn’t get much easier as the Spartans will face ranked teams in North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and a Western Michigan team that is currently receiving the most votes of any non-ranked team. So if fans can look past the record, Michigan State hockey is trending up and is worth a second look from Spartan fans.