University of Lethbridge Pronghorns men’s hockey coach, Spiros Anastas, will enjoy two honeymoons this summer, and if things go as planned, the honeymoon bliss will last far into the future.
Anastas, hired as the program’s ninth head coach, has a lot on his plate throughout the summer months. He’s moving across both a continent and a border, and is assuming two new roles simultaneously, that of husband to Lindsay and head coach of the Horns.
“We’re extremely excited, it’s going to be a busy summer but we’re excited to come back to Canada and the opportunity that we have here in Lethbridge,” says Anastas.
What the rookie coach lacks in experience, he more than makes up in pedigree, having been introduced to the program by mentors and former Pronghorns coaches Mike Babcock and Bill Peters. Babcock is the current head coach of the Detroit Red Wings and Peters one of his assistants. Anastas has been working with the Red Wings’ American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids for the past two seasons.
“Right away they had nothing but good things to say about the U of L and credit this institution with basically jump-starting their careers,” says Anastas. “That’s a testament to the hockey program and the University as a whole, that two guys at that level really believe in this place and think it is somewhere that can have a lot of success.”
Looking back on both the Babcock and Peters eras at the U of L, it would have been hard to project their coaching arcs, given they were both unproven when they came to the University. Anastas is now where they once were, ready for his opportunity to be the lead man of his own program.
“I look forward to the challenge because it’s my chance to do it on my own and really show people what I’ve got,” he says.
Anastas is up front about the task he has inherited. The Horns won just 4 of 28 games last season in Canada West play and have qualified for the playoffs just once in the past five years. Describing himself as detail oriented, Anastas sees a program in need of a culture change.
“I’ve worked for a lot of different types of coaches and I like to think I’m a transformational coach and that’s getting a new belief system in place,” he says. “I believe in the process. I don’t coach to outcome, I coach the process. You can win a 2-1 hockey game and the process be terrible, so over a long period of time that’s going to catch up with you.”
His philosophy on recruiting for the program begins not on the road, but internally.
“The first step in recruiting is identifying what you have right here. The players are your best recruiters and if they are enjoying their experience, more will come,” he says. “My message to the guys who are already here is, remember what got you to the WHL, remember what got you drafted and what gave you success, what got you recruited to come here. They all have the ability. We have some very capable and accomplished players on the roster and this is their chance to hit the reset button.”
Anastas had the opportunity to work with Babcock, Peters and the entire Red Wings’ coaching staff during development camps and prospects tournaments, but says the bulk of his learning came off the ice.
“The best part for me was the after-hours part, when you’re sitting at the restaurant or at the hotel evaluating the day,” he says. “Just to be able to have those hockey conversations with them has been extremely beneficial to me as a young coach. The surprising thing to me is that they are always learning as well.”
Anastas describes conversations where Babcock would elicit his opinion on some of the work they were doing.
“I’m thinking, why is he asking a second year coach for an opinion? He might not even take it but he likes to hear what’s out there, what’s in young minds, what’s the new thing,” says Anastas. “That’s why he has maintained his success because he’s always learning, adapting and changing, and that’s the number one thing I’ve learned from him.”
Will it be enough to garner Anastas long-term success behind the Horns’ bench? Like marriage, only time will tell.