By Nick Barnowski -
Despite being CCHA commissioner from 1998-2011, Michigan State head coach Tom Anastos does not feel resentment towards the fall of the league and the rise of the Big Ten hockey conference.
“It’s not bittersweet,” Anastos said. “What I’m happy about is the CCHA had a very nice run, and I think the Big Ten opportunity is very exciting, both for our member schools and I think for college hockey.”
Anastos talked about the Big Ten’s inaugural hockey season and the outlook for his Spartans in 2013-14 at the Big Ten media day today, held in Minnesota.
The Dearborn native is more than excited about what the Big Ten can do for the sport of college hockey.
“It takes us from a very regionally-based sport, and give us opportunity at times to be on a national platform,” the Michigan State coach said. “For the Big Ten conference, from what I’ve learned, our alums span from coast to coast, and this is a great opportunity to reconnect in a different way in a different sport to many of those alums in different markets.”
Drawing upon his experiences as CCHA commissioner, he noted an important difference in that coaches weren’t just meeting with television partners, they were “spending time with Big Ten marketing folks and Big Ten Network marketing people to market the game.”
“It’s great for college hockey to get on that kind of platform which we didn’t have access to before,” he said.
The third-year coach is hoping his team can impress with the rest of the Big Ten.
Saying Michigan State was a “program in transition,” Anastos made note of the youth movement that’s being injected into the team this season.
“Going into last season we knew that we had a lot of players that played a lot of minutes to replace,” he said. “So a lot of youth, a lot of inexperience last year and in certain spots.”
The Spartans finished last in the CCHA in 2012-13 with a 9-18-1 conference record after losing 10 players from the year before, including CCHA Player of the Year Torey Krug. The season was tough for MSU but the younger players gained vital experience throughout the year.
“The good news was that in spite of all of that, our team got better during the course of the season,” Anastos said. “We thought we were playing our best hockey coming together at the end of the season and when the season did end, no one wanted it to end.
“I think we’ve had a good, productive off-season.”
Anastos and the Spartans couldn’t fight the injury bug though, as after getting Dean Chelios and Rhett Holland back from shoulder injuries, he announced sophomore defenseman John Draeger and junior forward Matt Berry both had lower-body surgeries yesterday and will each miss 8-10 weeks.
Draeger appeared in all 42 games for the Spartans last season, and Berry led the team in scoring with 15 goals and 16 assists.
“It’s obviously a disappointment they won’t start the season,” he said. “They will return healthy. It provides opportunity, like every team that has injuries, it provides opportunities for others to step up.”
Opportunities will be there for the 18 freshmen and sophomores on the roster this season. Anastos is looking for his goaltending, led by Jake Hildebrand, to build upon a strong freshman year last season, and his offense to step up. Last year’s team ranked last in scoring in the CCHA.
“We need to find offense,” he said. “We were weak offensively. [We] think we can get better with those players that we brought in and players that we have.”
With this being the first year of playing in a new conference, opportunity is also there to continue to excite a fan base.
“The energy of Michigan State and our community is high on hockey,” Anastos said. “People are excited about Big Ten hockey. They’re excited about our program.”