Munn Ice Arena
East Lansing, MI
Coming in to this CCHA contest the over achieving Spartans, under the leadership of Coach Tom Anastos had a #18 national ranking and a record of 11-9-2.Â They went into Christmas on fire, but since returning have gone a disappointing 1-3.Â Disappointing ONLY because of how this team has over achieved.
Anastos style of hockey is attack, attack and attack some more.Â For those of you not well versed in hockey, you could equate his style of play to a Pat Narduzzi defense.Â With a roster of great kids, but players recruited for a different style it shows at times.
While playing an attack style, always pushing the puck and floor checking you canâ€™t forget about defense or miss one assignment.Â Those lapses are not because the Spartans are taking plays off; in fact it is the opposite.Â This team plays so hard for their coach that it is more mental lapses than anything associated with effort.
Last night was a great example.Â NMU jumped up 2-0, but the Spartans came back and scored the next four goals.Â They ended up tied at regulation and the Spartans won the shootout.
MSU hockey is a rebuilding project. Because this team has so overachieved you have to keep that in mind.Â When the score was 0-2 early you could the see the Spartan bench and know this was far from over.
On that bench was Tom Anastos.Â He wasnâ€™t down.Â He wasnâ€™t sulking he was cheerleading.Â The biggest fan in the building was the head coach and that style is contagious.Â After the game I asked Mike Merrifield about the composure of his coach.Â This was Merrifieldâ€™s return game after fighting through an injury and he ended up the star of the game.
Merrifield said of his coachâ€™s composure on the bench down 2-0 early, â€œPositive, positive, positive!Â He always gives you such a burst of confidence.â€
Freshman sensation right-winger Matt Berry, who has become Mr. Reliable in the shootout added to Merrifieldâ€™s comments by saying, â€œHis enthusiasm on the bench is completely contagious.â€
Anastos isnâ€™t one to make excuses.Â He is direct, honest and refreshingly realistic.Â He said of the game, â€œI have mixed feelings on the game.Â I didnâ€™t think our energy level was where we wanted it to start the game.â€
He went on to add, â€œGood teams find ways to win games they donâ€™t deserve.â€Â If I would have said to you when Anastos was announced as coach that the Spartans record would be where it is ANYONE who knows Spartan hockey would have been ecstatic, but Anastos wants more.Â He isnâ€™t content.Â Back to coaching the Spartans headman is as hungry as any freshman.Â He has brought energy, fire and grit back to the Spartan bench.
I asked about his demeanor down 2-0 and he said, â€œI was just staying positive and looking for the next goalâ€¦It does feel better to be on the right side of a shootout.â€
For Spartan hockey it isnâ€™t easy.Â That is why they call it a rebuilding project.Â What is exciting is that it is happening.Â They are not the best shooters, the fastest skaters or the biggest hockey players in the country.Â What the Spartans are is a team that plays with all heart.
They are winning games they have no business winning, with an unconventional coach, and a group of players recruited to play another style and all heart.Â These kids have bought in 100% to Anastos.Â They would run through a wall for him, and the funny thing is that their coach would do the same for them.
Â The Spartans next game comes tonight, right back here at Munn at 7:05 PM against NMU.Â There are tickets available and after the game is open skate so bring the family and afterwards rent some skates and enjoy some ice time.