MSU Head Hockey Coach Tom Anastos Talks The Very Important 2013 Recruiting Class, The State of the Program and More!
Q: Your thoughts on the CCHA going away. Having been the Commissioner, that’s gotta be kinda hard watching your baby go away.
A: Yeah, it really is. We obviously knew this was coming but at the time when I went to the last CCHA Awards Show at the Fox Theater, and then I was there for the final game, it hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. And not so much from my perspective, for me I guess, but more for all of the people over the years who have put in so much time and so much commitment to making that league one of the best in the country. So I think of the Ron Mason’s and the Steve Cady’s, I can go down a long list of people who were so instrumental in making that league a success. I was very, very disappointed that it had come to its conclusion.
Q: You’ve been able to get some talent, but you added six newcomers for the upcoming class: Thomas Ebbing, Villiam Haag, Chris Knudson, Joe Cox, Mackenzie MacEachern, JT Stenglein. Break down what this class brings, can you?
A: I can. Like I said before, recruiting hockey as you referenced really gives time to build some traction. Like in the case of Joe Cox…he was a player that had been committed to Michigan State well before my time of even being hired at Michigan State. There are a number of players on our team who fall into that category. Recruiting and your identifying, getting commitments from kids, really happens oftentimes very early. So we’re late to the game in making that transition from when I was hired. And given that, we think we have some very good players amongst this class. You went through all of them and I can mention each one, but… Thomas Ebbing I saw play for a number of years locally here in Detroit and then played at Brother Rice. He’s really kind of blossomed into a real good center iceman. That’s an area that we need help on. Mackenzie MacEachern, who we really had committed last season and went and played junior hockey this year, he too played with Thomas at Brother Rice. He was Mr. Hockey in the state, a real big guy with good hands and good skills that drafted in I think the 3rd round by the St. Louis Blues last year. So if he adapts to college hockey he should be a really good player. You had mentioned JT Stenglein…he’s a player who’s been a proven goal scorer and we need goal scoring. He plays real tough; he can hurt ya when he hits ya. He’s very physical but he can shoot the puck and likes to score goals. That’s a need for us. Villiam Haag is actually pronounced William even though it’s spelled with a “V”. He’s from Sweden. He too is a goal score player who is a real physical specimen and is an outstanding skater. Not an overly physical player, but he adapts from playing European hockey to North American hockey. I think he’s gonna be a very exciting player for fans to watch. Joe Cox was a player I mentioned was committed here and we’re really excited about him. He’s the captain of the Muskegon Lumberjacks. Unfortunately in the last regular season game he took a leg-on-leg, knee-on-knee shot and blew out his knee. He’s had surgery about 2 weeks ago. He’s recovering and hopefully will be back and ready when we start the season. He’s a great leader at 20 goals in that league, which is a real big number. So we’re excited to have him. Then you mentioned Chris Knudson who will fill out our defensive roster. Big strong, good skating, tough moving, defenseman, 6’3”, really solid, well put together, smart player. So we’re anxious to have Chris join us as well. Overall I think it’s a (???) class and again, another step in the right direction to getting back to championship level.
Q: Of this class, Cox is the only one that had committed to your predecessor. Is that correct?
Q: Looking at all these guys, you’ve put a priority on size haven’t you?
A: You know what, Hondo, skill is really important. The ability to play with good hockey intelligence, good puck skills and good skating skills is very important. However having said that, size is a factor in the game and I thought the team I took over was generally pretty small. We needed to add some size to that team to help, especially from a physical standpoint, help maybe create some room for some smaller players. Last year we introduced a guy like Michael Ferrantino to the lineup, and he’s a smaller player. Certainly Torey Krug and Brock Shelgren who he played with, those were smaller guys. I have high regard for their talent and ability level. But we really needed to get bigger and stronger and we needed to skate better. So size has been on our priority list for sure.
Q: Everyone knew that it was gonna take time to rebuild this program and I know how competitive you are. When you saw how attendance increased throughout the year, what did it mean to you that so many people bought in to you?
A: It is very meaningful, because I’d like to think what they’re really buying into for sure is our plan for Spartan hockey and getting it back to the level that we all expect it to be. So without a doubt to see the kind of crowd support, fan support that we received all season long, and particularly the second half of the season…our record was poor, we were struggling to get better and yet we’re filling Munn Arena. So I think people, at least the feedback that we’re getting, the people appreciate the effort we’re putting into this. They see some steps that we’re taking to try to play a certain way and try to play up-tempo and become more physical and try to get on the attack. They know it’s gonna take some time until we can recruit the kind of players that really flourish under that. But they’re very appreciative of the players’ effort that we have here now and how committed they are to getting better and representing their school. So it is meaningful, Hondo. Coming into the job there was an expectation that we were gonna go through some challenges and some tough times. In spite of knowing what we were in store for, it’s still pretty painful to go through the process. Yet when you look at the end of the season and you see that Michigan State hockey was #1 in the NCCHA and #8 in the country, and finish where we did, our prospects certainly noticed. Can you only imagine what it’s gonna be like here when we’re competing for the Big 10 championship? I’m appreciative to the of kind of support that the fans have shown our program and to me personally as well.
Q: Do you think fans resonate with the fact that this is personal for you?
A: You know, I don’t know. It is very personal, my school. I wanna make those alumni and fans proud of program, proud of us. Just like I wanna be a proud alumnus. I find it, not just that it’s just part of the job, but I very much enjoy connecting with the fans. I find that one of the more enjoyable parts of the job and the challenge of rebuilding the program and the fan base. It’s been 2 years, even though there have been challenges and certainly it’s not easy, I knew that when I came to it. And yet the fan part of it and the relationships that myself, our staff and our players, everybody within the program is building with the fan base and the connectivity, has really been a fun part of the job.
Q: In regards to Justin Abdelkader’s hit against the Anaheim Ducks, the “wimpification” of sports is killing me. It’s a joke that he got suspended. Do you agree or disagree with me and your thoughts on where the game is going?
A: Having served in my role as a Commissioner, what I’ll say is this… They may have access to some video that I didn’t see. Having said that and trying to have faith in the system, what I was able to see, I did not see contact to the head. I saw him coast into the player. I’m not exactly certain what the NHL rule is on coming in on a blind side of somebody. He definitely caught the player with his head down, but I didn’t see contact to the head. People talked about him leaving the feet. I just saw his feet come off the ice after contact was made. And the angles that I saw, I did not see any type of secondary contact to the head. Okay? So given what I thought I saw, and I only saw a replay on YouTube, I wasn’t able to see it on television at the time it occurred. But I was surprised at the judgment that they made. But again, they have way more resources than I have available to me.
Q: Folks, that’s exactly why one day he’ll be Governor of Michigan. He’ll never get himself on the bad side of anybody.
A: No, come on Hondo. I’d love to sit down, and I will if you have it cued up, I’d love to sit down and see all the TV angles that they had available to them. I just didn’t have that available to me. I’ve had a couple of media people contact me about it just like you are. I’m not trying to be politically correct. I know it’s a hard job they have. At the same time, based on what I saw, I was surprised that he got suspended. So there you have it.
Q: One of your biggest fans is Justin Abdelkader, saying he loves what you’re doing and he would have loved to play for a guy with your style. In recruiting, when these young stars of the NHL makes those comments, it certainly doesn’t hurt does it?
A: Oh, heck no. Gotta love those kinda comments to get those out to prospects. We want prospects wanting to look to Michigan State that that’s the #1 place they wanna go. So when you have players like you have making a difference in the NHL…here’s a guy who’s done a lot of successful things in his youth career, scored the national championship goal, he’s a proud Spartan and keeps coming back to the program and stays connected, works his way up from the minor leagues in to the NHL, and now playing in the top line of the NHL with two of the world’s best players…that speaks volumes to potential prospects.
Anastos: We have some great people at Michigan State and amongst them is certainly the members of our staff. I’m really proud of them. I think we’re working hard and working well together to try to get to where we wanna be.