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September 19, 2013

Tom Anastos


THE MODERATOR:  Joining us now is Michigan State head coach Tom Anastos.  He enters his third year with the Spartans.  Previously Anastos served as CCHA Commissioner from 1998 to 2011.  Michigan State returns 18 letter winners from a season ago.
Coach, if you'd like to start with an opening statement, then we'll open the floor for questions.
TOM ANASTOS:  In my opening statement, I guess, is welcome to hockey season.  Nice to see the season is here.  We're really excited about Big Ten hockey.  I know it's been a discussion point for a couple years now and it's finally here, so I think the Big Ten is getting off to a great start and we're excited to be part of it.

Q.  Coach, is this kind of a bittersweet day for you? Obviously, excitement for the Big Ten, but with your CCHA connections, that kind of going by the wayside, how do you feel about that?
TOM ANASTOS:  It's not bittersweet.  I'm over it.  What I'm happy about is the CCHA had a very nice run.  All the programs have found a home, and I think the Big Ten opportunity is very exciting, both for our member schools and I think for college hockey.  So I think there is a lot of good stuff in store.

Q.  Down years for your program are rare.  With that said, what do you take away from last year and do you have to put that behind you or what lessons did you take from the year you guys had last year?
TOM ANASTOS:  I really think we're a program in transition.  I know when I took the role there were areas that we looked to address.  My first year the team was able to go from previously finishing in 10th to earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament, which was great, but at the same time we had a lot of upperclassmen in that lineup.  We lost them to graduation, and then we lost Torey Krug, our best player and the player of the year in our league that year to early departure to the pros.  So we lost ten players that year.
Going into the last season we knew that we had a lot of players that played a lot of minutes to replace.  As you know when the season starts, oftentimes, or at least last season, you don't have a lot of time to prepare for the first game.  This season our schedule works out different.
But we had guys playing with minutes in the first game we played out here last year, first series against Minnesota, very veteran team, that they hardly practiced let alone stepped on the ice with a team that was returning from the Frozen Four.
So lot of youth, lot of inexperience last year and in certain spots.  We lost five defensemen from the previous year, so one of the challenges for me when I came in was to try to restructure our roster.  This isn't like pro hockey where you can make trades.  You have to kind of live through some of those transitions and timing and so on.
So we lost five defensemen from the previous year's team.  Four of which played with great regularity, playing 25 to 30 minutes a night.  We replaced them with new players, and we knew that was going to be a very challenging proposition, which it proved out to be.
The good news was in spite of all of that, our team got better during the course of the season.  We fought through some time periods where confidence was a factor with an inexperienced group.  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.
We're still going to be young.  I think we have 17 freshmen sophomores who, many of which will be playing regularly on our team this year.  But I think we did a lot of growing up last year.  We still have a lot of growing up to do.  We have very strong goaltending coming into the season, which is a good position to be good at.  So I think we have a lot to build on.
And the energy of Michigan State and our community is high on hockey.  People are excited about Big Ten hockey.  They're excited about our program.  Last year despite of our season and our finish, we led the CCHA in attendance, and we were a Top 10 team in attendance.  So people are excited about what's going on, and our team feels that excitement as well.

Q.  I saw your tweet this morning about prepping for a busy day.  How has preparation changed with the new conference and all the hype and interviews?  Is it any different than in previous years?
TOM ANASTOS:  Lots more to do.  One of the things that I was just telling our communications contact, Jeff Barnes, that especially coming from my previous job, it's exciting to see that in the CCHA we used to have our television partners come in, and we'd spend time with our television partners with the coaches.  But beyond the games, we're spending time with Big Ten marketing folks and Big Ten Network marketing people to market the game.  I think that is a real important difference.
So already, you know, watching it on a nationally televised football game that has a huge audience and you see hockey ads, to me, yeah, it's great for Big Ten hockey without a doubt.  But it's great for college hockey to get on that kind of platform which we didn't have access to before.
So, very good turnout here.  Didn't know what to expect, and hopefully the Big Ten folks are very happy with it, and so far everything has moved very positively forward.  I think that oftentimes, you know, we have these live events with games which are focal points, but it's nice to get that ancillary promotion that goes around it because it keeps the game in the news, it keeps the game in the forefront.  I think that will help our sport grow.

Q.  Is there any doubt in your mind that this is going to work, the realignment?
TOM ANASTOS:  No doubt in my mind.

Q.  No doubt?
TOM ANASTOS:  Are you talking about just for college hockey?

Q.  College hockey as a whole body.
TOM ANASTOS:  I have no doubt what we see in the Big Ten will work and grow.  I'm curious to follow the rest of our, particularly our western landscape, but the entire landscape, to see how things settle over the next five years, because I think a lot of the change was in reaction to schools like ours and the other Big Ten schools forming Big Ten hockey.  I'm curious to see over a period of time if things settle if people feel they have the right alignment.
Because our sport is regional, the economics of our sport are typically based on bus rides.  Even for those programs in the Big Ten, it's going to cost us more to play Big Ten hockey than it costs us to play CCHA hockey.  We'll be traveling bigger distances for several of our games, and we'll be taking a different mode of transportation.
For other programs, it's going to happen too.  But their business model and financial model is much different than maybe what the Big Ten schools are.  I hope there is great success.  I think we'll all watch it very carefully to see in five years where we are.

Q.  Given the reach of the Big Ten Network, what could this do for the exposure of not only your program and the Big Ten programs, but for college hockey in general?  The Big Ten Network now goes coast to coast?
TOM ANASTOS:  Well, it takes us from a very regionally based sport, and gives us opportunity at times to be on a national platform we're a microcosm of the NHL when you really think about it.  Fighting for space in a very crowded market, we have a unique product that I think people, especially a certain group of people really enjoy.  And it gives us an opportunity to expose this product to more people who can see the kind of energy that goes in and the uniqueness of buildings.
College hockey is a different product than pro hockey where you have fans, student sections, school colors, you have the passion of alums.  From 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.

Q.  You mentioned that you have plenty of underclassmen.  Who are you looking to step up this season?
TOM ANASTOS:  I'm looking for 27 guys to step up, actually.  One of the thing that's we have to contend with, three of our players, two of which we were really relying on to be important parts, one was John Draeger from this area, played at Shattuck, played a lot of minutes for us as a freshman last year, was a returning defenseman.  He just had surgery on a lower body injury yesterday; he'll be out eight to ten weeks.
We had Matt Berry who was our top returning scorer, also had a lower body injury with surgery yesterday that will put him on the same timeframe.  So those were two guys we were looking to start the season.
It's obviously a disappointment they won't start the season.  They will return healthy.  It provides opportunity, like every team that has injuries, it provides opportunities for others to step up.
So our goaltending will have to be good.  Jake Hildebrand will have to be good.  We think we can play two goaltenders and play them at a high level.
We need to find offense.  We were weak offensively.  Part of that is our skill‑set, and we're recruiting to that.  Yet we think we can get better with those players that we brought in and player that's we have.  We think we can get better offensively and become a better team.

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