East Lansing — Jake Hildebrand was named Big Ten player of the year last season, leading Michigan State to 10 victories in its final 15 games.
Now, the Spartans goaltender has a higher goal in mind: Get to the NCAA Tournament.
Along the way, however, he also could wind up with the Hobey Baker Award (MVP).
“I don’t think about (being a Hobey Baker candidate),” said Hildebrand, a first-team All-American last year after going 17-16-2 with a 2.18 goals-against-average and .930 save percentage. “I’m looking for wins. I take the same mindset coming in every season. I want to give my team a chance to win every night.
“The year before I came in here was the last time Michigan State made the NCAA Tournament, so that definitely says a lot that we want to get back there. That’s one of the biggest things we need to do to make sure people know Michigan State hockey is back.”
The Spartans outscored their opponents 29-7 during their 10-5 run last season, with Hildebrand getting five shutouts and allowing one goal in three other games.
“I think it was huge going into the offseason like that,” Hildebrand said. “Every year you want to win your last game, and we weren’t able to do that last season. ... With the little bit of success we did have, it makes guys hungry.”
Said coach Tom Anastos, in his fifth season at Michigan State: “Jake is a leader on our team, and I think guys have great respect for him. His competitive spirit in practice helps push guys and makes guys better. I don’t think Jake has to carry the team. I think that Jake has to be Jake, and he has to do his thing and I think the team will rise around him.”
The Spartans offense will rely on junior Mackenzie MacEachern (26 points, 11 goals), senior Ryan Keller (19 points, 11 goals) and senior Michael Ferrantino (12 goals, 23 points). Anastos also expects junior forwards Villiam Haag and Thomas Ebbing to increase their productivity.
Anastos said the power play improved in the final two-thirds of last season, from scoring on 11 percent of its chances the first 11 games to 24.5 percent the next 12 games and 22 percent in the final 12.
“We were pretty darn good for two-thirds of the year, and if that can get you a goal a game, that could be a difference-maker,” Anastos said. “I think that’s an area from a system and personnel standpoint we have to be better, especially early in the season.
“And, then the other area of our game, I think we have to be better in our neutral zone in terms of transitioning to get on the attack offensively and create more in transition and we have to get our defensemen more active in our overall offensive play in all three zones.”
Anastos said the Spartans have to deal with the loss of freshman defenseman Jerad Rosburg, who had knee surgery Tuesday. But he has some depth with freshman center/winger Mason Appleton, a sixth-round pick of Winnipeg.
“Right now I’m playing him with Mac (MacEachern),” Anastos said of Appleton, who had 40 points in 54 games for Tri-City of the United States Hockey League. “They have a little chemistry going. ... He’s got really mature work habits for a young guy. He has a chance to be a really good college player and beyond.”