Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tom Anastos: MSU Hockey Coach

Tom Anastos was announced today as the new head coach of Michigan State's hockey team. When he's asked about it, I'm sure Red Berenson is going to say nice things about Anastos and his run as CCHA commissioner, and everyone else will continue being shocked and confused by the hire.

Up until yesterday morning, it was expected that Danton Cole would be the new MSU coach. It wouldn't have been a thrilling announcement, not even equivalent to the hiring of Brady Hoke, but it would have made a certain amount of sense. Cole is an MSU alum and has been head coach at Alabama-Huntsville for the past two seasons, and to say that the Chargers have struggled would be an understatement. They've gone 11-41-9 in that time period, but they've had the significant recruiting challenge of finding themselves without a conference when the music stopped on College Hockey America. I would have read it as MSU settling for a middling hire and acknowledging that Spartan hockey is small potatoes next to MSU basketball. With the Anastos hire, I don't know if hockey gets any potatoes at all. Or maybe Mark Hollis is just crazy. (<--Always a possibility)

Tom Anastos played hockey at MSU under the legendary Ron Mason from 1981-1985. After a year in the AHL, he switched paths, becoming the head coach of NAIA-affiliated U of M-Dearborn from 1987-1990, when he was re-united with Mason as an assistant coach at MSU form 1990-1992. This would be his most recent professional coaching experience*. 1992. He spent four years as commissioner of the NAHL, which was mostly absorbed by the USHL shortly after his departure, and became commissioner of the CCHA in 1998, taking over from Bill Beagan, whose own 13-year tenure saw the league grow into a national power.

I'm struggling to come up with a good analogy for how crazy this is, and the best I can do is Barry Melrose -- Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Melrose had spent 13 years behind a desk as an ESPN analyst when suddenly Tampa Bay's new owners decided to give Melrose the keys. Those owners? Oren Koules, aka half the producing partnership of the SAW movies, and Len Barrie, a former NHLer and major partner in the Bear Mountain resort, a development as controversial as it is bankrupt, taking with it the investments of 18 very angry hockey players. Reportedly, tensions were so high between Koules and Barrie that Gary Bettman stepped in to broker the sale of Barrie's interest in the team to Jeff Vinik, a minority owner of the Red Sox. This is how crazy you have to be to hire Barry Melrose to be your head coach.

Melrose at least had head coaching experience -- He was coach of the Kings from 1992-1995, and before then had been a moderately successful WHL and AHL head coach. Anastos is a total blank slate. He could be the second coming of Vic Heyliger and Murray Armstrong rolled into one, but it still seems like a terrible process to hire some guy because he's been around the league for 13 years and he happens to be an alum and assistant two decades ago. Mark Hollis claims, "He can attract high-caliber talent and develop those players into those who are attractive to the National Hockey League." HOW CAN YOU KNOW THIS TO BE TRUE? Yes, Brian Smolinski and Rem Murray made the NHL. Fine. I think they probably would have done that with anyone else Ron Mason let near his bench. I'm not saying he can't; I'm just saying this is only half a step beyond picking your kid's midget hockey coach.

Either way, we'll see soon enough if Anastos has what it takes. Rick Comley hasn't exactly left him a lot to work with. If the Spartans finish in the top half of the league next year, it would be a remarkable turnaround. We'll see soon enough.

Ultimately, I hope that this hire comes about because Mark Hollis is insane, not because MSU hockey is being pegged as an also-ran when set alongside basketball. It would be terribly sad if the Spartans took on Anastons because they weren't willing to put a competitive amount of money into the team. The Michigan-MSU hockey rivalry is the most competitive in the state, adn was voted the fiercest rivalry just a few years ago. I'd hate to see MSU become Ohio State.

*Reportedly, he's been coaching his daughters' club teams in the interim, winning a state title this year, so he has been a head hockey coach for a while.

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