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September 24, 2014

Tom Anastos


TOM ANASTOS:  We're excited about the group that we have returning this year.  For the first time probably since I've been there, with the exception of the first team that had a lot of upperclassmen in it, we actually don't have a large freshman class, so the good news is we have a little bit of experience coming back.  Really our sophomore and junior group were forced to play a lot the past two seasons, and this year we can introduce a smaller group, which I think will be of benefit both to them and to our team.  We felt it was important coming off last season to have a very productive off‑season, and based on what we've seen in the little bit of time that we've had so far with our team, it has been.
Guys came back in excellent shape, morale is very high.  I like how the chemistry of our team is coming together, and again, while I think we're still a little bit on the young side, we do have some experience which I think is a good thing to build off of.
We're very anxious to get going, and we think that we can kind of see the corner, and now it's a challenge for us to try to turn it.

Q.  Tom, what was the biggest benefit of being in the Big Ten in its first season a year ago?
TOM ANASTOS:  The biggest benefit?  Well, I don't want to speak on behalf of the players, but the players in particular, and that's why we do this, they really enjoyed the competition, the venues, the way we travel, certainly the visibility of the conference.  I think all of those things were real benefits both to the members as well as to the sport.
I would say the biggest benefit was the competition.  It's fun to‑‑ while challenging, it's fun to go to the buildings that we go to.  It's a fun environment.  While it's tough, it's a fun environment to be in, both home and away.  In the end I think the players enjoy that and really embraced it.  That's why we're doing this, and it was enjoyable to see that part of it, as tough as it is.

Q.  Tom, can you talk about the expectations you have for this year's junior class?
TOM ANASTOS:  Well, they have some experience.  When they came in a couple years ago, they were forced to play and play a lot, play in a lot of difficult situations.  Even last year people emerged.  But I think what we see now are some players emerging with a level of confidence.  We have Michael Ferrantino here and we have Jake Hildebrand here.  Both of those players will play leadership roles on our team and be key players for us, and I think their game continues to get better.  I think there's a variety of our players that will have an opportunity to play and make an impact.  We're going to take a wait‑and‑see attitude to see how they emerge.
One player in particular in that class who really struggled last year coming off surgery is a guy named John Draeger, who we had pretty high expectations for when he came to school.  He had a good freshman year, played a lot of minutes, and last year had a sports hernia, had a surgery early in the season, really never played probably better than 70 percent when he finally did get back in mid‑year.  We were hoping for a very productive off‑season for him, and we found out he had a hip issue that had to be surgically repaired, so he's kind of back to where he was, and we'll see how he evolves over the next month or so to see if he can create the form that we expected so he can make a contribution.
We're going to be relying on that group for leadership.  We need them to‑‑ some of those guys in particular to really emerge as go‑to players on our team, so we have high expectations of that junior group.

Q.  Who are some of the players that you're counting on to step up offensively this year?
TOM ANASTOS:  Well, that's going to be a real question mark for us.  We have not been able to score much the last couple years, and really since Torey Krug left after my first year, he was really the catalyst to our offense, so we need guys to emerge, and I think we have some guys, if Matt Berry can get healthy, he's certainly very capable of scoring, and he was a top scorer for our team his freshman year, and he too had to fight through that sports‑hernia type injury last year and really never hit his stride, but he's very capable.
I also think that our guys who came through our freshman class into our sophomore class have the potential to provide some offense to us, Mackenzie MacEachern, Joe Cox, Villiam Haag, those three guys in particular I think have the potential to really help us offensively improve.
I also think a freshman who's looked real good so far in the little bit that we've seen, Josh Jacobs, can help stimulate some offense from our blue line, which is much needed.

Q.  Now that you've experienced it for a season and looking ahead to this season, what do you see as the benefits of having a bigger non‑conference schedule?
TOM ANASTOS:  Well, it gives us an opportunity to have more exposure to other programs throughout the country and represent the Big Ten.  Another part of it is it's not another weekend that we're banging heads in the Big Ten.  But at the same time I think it's been a nice dynamic, having been in the CCHA for so many years, we had very little non‑conference play ‑‑ I don't know, before, six games depending on your schedule, and I liked it.  We actually didn't know what it would be like when it started, but to be able to really put a national flavor as far as the college hockey footprint is concerned, we're going east a lot this year, but in the upcoming seasons, we'll be both east and west, and so again, I think it's a neat part of the experience for the players.  We can find a balance and play some traditional opponents that we had in the CCHA for years, and yet at the same time play schools like BU, BC, we're at UNH this year, guys get to go on campus at an Ivy school and play Princeton.  We're going into markets where we have alums, which is a nice way to be able to connect with our Michigan State alums across the country, but also give our guys good exposure to other parts of the country as well as the good competition that exists in other leagues.

Q.  Knowing how strong Minnesota looks on paper, has the top of this league and the bottom of this league closed the gap from a year ago, or is it still the same way?
TOM ANASTOS:  Well, we're all looking at paper today.  When we drop the puck, we'll find out.  A lot of talent in the league.  Certainly Minnesota's team is very good.  All of our teams have different dynamics, but I think even last year you look at the competition, on every given night it was very difficult to win games, whether you're at the top of the standings or the bottom of the standings.  I don't expect that to change.

Q.  You're also chair of the rules committee, ice hockey rules committee.  The mindset in the room, was it trying to become more offensive permissive?  Were there rules designed to keep opening up the game?  How would you characterize the rules discussions over the summer?
TOM ANASTOS:  Well, I think the committee generally has the approach to try to encourage and protect the skill of the game.  We want to protect the speed of the game.  You know, we do want to pay attention to make sure that the offensive parts aren't illegally taken away.
While you look at video review, and our video‑review policy is different than the NHL's, which might cause us to reduce goals as opposed to give up goals like the NHL's might be, but little subtle things that we did I thought were positive in terms of being offensive permissive.
When you look at offensive‑zone play, and after a scoring opportunity or a shot, and if the puck deflects out, we used to bring the puck outside unless it was deflected out by a defensive player.  Now all those face‑offs will start in the offensive zone.  Very subtle thing, but it's still an offensive advantage.
I like that mindset.  Another example is on a high stick or a hand pass, rather than bring the puck all the way back in the defensive zone, we're coming back just one zone.  Maybe the most subtle but might have the most impact is traditionally the rules allowed in a defensive‑zone face‑off for the offensive center to have to put his stick down first and then the defensive team or the defensive player could adjust to that.  Now we flip‑flopped that, and I think while that's a subtle thing, it could be a little bigger than that.  Now the defensive player has to put their stick down and the offensive player can be second.
I do think that that's our mindset a little bit.  We want to encourage‑‑ I don't want to say necessarily goal scoring, even though that should be the result, but certainly we don't want illegal tactics to take away scoring opportunities, and we want to encourage offense.

Q.  With all the changes going on in the NCAA, the advent of the so‑called Power Five conferences, have you given thought to the impact that that's going to have on college hockey, the ability to offer scholarships that might be of greater value than a North Dakota or Michigan Tech or schools like that?  Do you think this gives the Big Ten a bigger profile with regards to recruiting and being able to grow this sport from this league?
TOM ANASTOS:  It's too early to say really.  I'm not sure how it will all play out.  I think if my numbers are correct, I think we have eight schools that play Division I hockey that fit within that five‑conference format.  So I'm not really sure.  I think it's kind of too early.  There's lots of speculation going on.  We're just kind of following it and tracking it to see how it's going to play out.  We think ourselves and all the Big Ten members have tons and tons to offer to prospects, great environment to play, great institutions to attend.  So if it enhances that opportunity, that's terrific, but I guess we'll have to wait and see how it impacts the other schools, as well.

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