When talking about the top men’s ice hockey goalies in the Big Ten this season, that conversation should start and end with Michigan State sophomore Jake Hildebrand. BTN.com caught up with Hildebrand before the Spartans much-anticipated matchup against Ohio State tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET on BTN/BTN2Go as part of our first Frozen Friday doubleheader of Big Ten Conference men’s hockey.
A 5-foot-11, 185 pound goaltender from Butler, PA., Hildebrand currently ranks second in the Big Ten with 395 saves. His .925 save percentage ranks third in the conference and he is tied for the most shutouts by any Big Ten goalie.
As for our Frozen Fridays, get ready at 6 p.m. with “Frozen Friday Face Off” with Rick Pizzo and Paul Caponigri, then catch our “Frozen Friday Final Rush” at 11:30 p.m. with complete highlights. Tonight’s second game pits Michigan against Wisconsin at 9 p.m..
BTN.com: What excites you about playing in the newly-formed Big Ten hockey conference this season?
Hildebrand: Playing in the CCHA was nice, but there are just a lot of great players in the Big Ten. We get to play against some great teams like Wisconsin and Minnesota on a regular basis, which you just can’t beat. I think that everybody is excited to get things going and get into this Big Ten season.
BTN.com: Can you talk about the team this year and what makes this team different from past teams?
Hildebrand: This is a great group of guys, but we are just a really young team. We have a lot of sophomores and freshmen playing, and you can see it in our games. We started off on a tough note, losing three of our first four games, but we have gotten a lot better since then, which you can see in our play. We’ve played a lot of great teams lately, but I think that’s made us a better team.
BTN.com: Where did your love from hockey come from? Do your parents or siblings have a hockey backgrond?
Hildebrand: Both of my parents are/were athletes, but not hockey. My dad played Division 1 lacrosse in college at Roanoke College and my mom is a marathon runner. She’s run over 40 marathons, including some of the biggest ones. My sister is also getting into running. So a lot of athletes, but I’m the only hockey player in the family.
BTN.com: What is your most memorable moment at Michigan State thus far?
Hildebrand: That’s a tough one. Two things really stand out to me. First, last year, when we beat Michigan 7-2. That was unbelievable. Then, the last game we played in when we beat Michigan 3-0 in the GLI (Great Lake Invitational). That was also unbelievable. We got there early and got to take a tour around Comerica Park. Coming out of the runway and getting to play in a game outside — I had never done that before and it was something that I always wanted to do. And to do it in front of all those people… I’ll never forget that.
BTN.com: It sounds like that was a memorable moment from your college playing career. What’s your most memorable moment you’ve had with your teammates outside of playing in a game?
Hildebrand: Well, just this past week we went to the Winter Classic as of team. That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced. Seeing the game played outside at the Big House and the snow fall, it was great. It was actually one of my teammates birthday, so we all got together as a team and took a bus down to Ann Arbor.
BTN.com: Who do you root for in the NHL?
Hildebrand: The Pittsburgh Penguins. I’m a huge Penguins fan. It makes for an intense rivalry here with my Michigan State friends when the Penguins play the Red Wings.
BTN.com: Have you ever met any players on the Penguins?
Hildebrand: I have. Actually, when I was younger, I got to meet Mario Lemieux. It was a funny story because my dad used to sell fitness equipment to the team, and I went with him one day and got to meet Lemieux. I was pretty young at the time, but I do remember he rubbed my head, which was kind of neat.
BTN.com: Last question for you Jake. What are the expectations for this team this season, as well as some individual expectations you have for yourself this year?
Hildebrand: We have high expectations here. I think that we have proved to ourselves that we can play with every team in this league. As far as team expectations, our goal has always been to win the Big Ten Tournament and to make the NCAA Tournament. That’s our top goal, and really, anything can happen. As far as individual expectations, that’s something I don’t really focus on. I want the team’s success to be the biggest thing we focus on.