Butler native Hildebrand keeping net secure for Michigan State
Michigan State’s Jake Hildebrand has picked up where he left off last season — among college hockey’s best goaltenders.
The junior Butler native posted a 2.40 goals-against average and .917 save percentage through the Spartans’ first 11 games.
“I think this season is going great,” Hildebrand said. “Our penalty kill has been awesome so far. We really stress that a lot. Other than that, we’ve been playing close games with some great teams.”
Michigan State (4-7-0) faced a grueling start to the season.
Five of the team’s first nine nonconference games were against ranked opponents.
After opening the season with a 5-3 win over Massachusetts, the team dropped four consecutive one-goal decisions before rallying for a 4-1 victory over Ferris State and a 4-3 win at New Hampshire.
One of those losses was a 1-0 decision to Boston University.
Two weeks ago, the Spartans were beaten by Boston College, 3-2.
“Especially in college hockey, you don’t play many preseason games. It takes a few games to find that chemistry,” Hildebrand said.
“Lately, we’ve been playing great and playing a lot of great teams. If we keep playing games like that, which are close, we have a good shot.”
It took a couple of games for Hildebrand to get in the groove as well.
He gave up three goals in the season-opening win and four in the team’s 4-3 loss to Massachusetts the next night.
He responded by allowing just five goals in his next four games. It was the second time in his career he posted those kinds of numbers.
“I wasn’t too pleased with my play the first weekend. After that, I fell into my own rhythm,” he said.
“The guys started scoring more goals, and that helps me out.”
Hildebrand stopped 35 of 37 shots in the team’s split against Ferris State.
That earned him the Big Ten’s First Star of the Week for Nov. 4.
“It’s always nice to get those awards like that,” he said. “But it’s a reflection on our team and ability to play defense and our team’s dedication to defense.”
The Spartans went on the road to open Big Ten play against Ohio State and split the two games against their bitter rivals.
“Ohio State knocked us out of the Big Ten tournament last year,” Hildebrand said. “We played them four times and three went into shootouts, so it’s turned into a good rivalry. It’s great.”
The road to the Big Ten Conference championship might not be easy to navigate for any team.
Minnesota was the country’s top-ranked squad for the first two months of the season, and Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin offer formidable challenges for Michigan State.
“I think the conference is pretty wide open. I think the only team that has solidified itself is Minnesota,” Hildebrand said.
“Besides that, I think it’s wide open, and we’re looking to make a big statement.”
Hildebrand, the team’s MVP in the past two seasons, has assumed a leadership role this year.
He’s taken freshman goaltender Ed Minney under his wing.
“It’s definitely a new role for me being a junior and not the new guy,” he said.
“I want to be a mentor for our freshman goalie because someone was there to help me when I first came into the program. I want to make sure I take care of myself and also make sure I am showing him the ropes.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.