Hondo said it best this week, "I wish every member of the Spartan Nation could have sat down this week with Anastos and his staff like I did. There is no doubt this program is headed in the right direction."Â Photo courtesy of MSU SID.

MSU hockey coaches look to take recruiting to another level

When it comes to recruiting in college athletics, most people tend to think about football and basketball in regards to evaluating the talent and skills of certain players and imagining how they would fit into their school’s system.

After all, college football has become notorious for “National Signing Day” while college basketball has reached levels where coaches look intently at high school freshmen and begin to salivate over how these players will develop by the time they enroll into college. But in terms of male athletics, those aren’t the only two sports where recruiting is important; it’s just handled in a different way in hockey.

Many hockey players tend to play out their eligibility at their respective programs. Many teams around the country also sport teams consisting of senior-laden leadership, giving coaches the benefit of trusting many players who will make the team better – especially when the coaching staff sports a new head coach and assistant coach.

At the end of the day, though, it’s all about getting the best players and to keep rebuilding the program to create the next generation of Spartans. For newly hired head coach Tom Anastos, this fall’s and next fall’s seniors will be from the Rick Comley regime, so it will be a different situation in that regard. Anastos said the nucleus of the classes of the next two years are pretty much set.

“We’re committed to those kids and they’re committed to the program and they’re gonna be part of us achieving our goals,” Anastos said.

In terms of the current coaching staff’s recruiting standards, Anastos shined some light on what he anticipates he will implore in the recruiting realm. Suffice to say, he wants players geographically nearby to don the green and white.

“Michigan State has and will continue to recruit nationally, both in the U.S. and Canada,” he said. “But Michigan will be our No. 1 priority. There is no doubt in my mind that there is enough elite hockey players in the state of Michigan, that if you can get the majority of the best ones you can have a nationally prominent program.”

Anastos mentioned speaking to football coach Mark Dantonio, men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo and women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant about recruiting to fit each team’s specific needs, but also fulfilling the expectations of each program’s audience. He also noted the difference between recruiting years ago as opposed to the way things are done in the present time.

“The player pool has changed a lot over the years because years ago a lot of kids came from Canada and the Canadian Major Junior Hockey system has done a better job of keeping kids in the Canadian system,” Anastos said. “So, the U.S. has done a better job of developing players nationally. Fortunately, one of the things which has evolved for me over the past 15-some years is I’ve really built a strong network of people in the amateur hockey ranks, both in non-traditional and traditional markets.”

But whatever way you slice it, recruiting is integral to any college sports program. You can’t win a championship with players who don’t play well together, nor do you win with players who don’t fit a coach’s system. It’s more than  X’s and O’s; it’s about trusting the player slashing in front of the net and knowing that he will be there to help when you’re caught in a jam.

New MSU assistant coach Kelly Miller called recruiting “the whole ballgame” and applauded the efforts of MSU’s longtime assistant coach Tom Newton, who has been with the Spartans for 22 years. Like Newton, Miller and Anastos will strive to find the best players and bring them to Michigan State.

“Tom (Anastos) and I understand how important recruiting is to your success, and how important really getting in and getting the best kids from all over Michigan,” Miller said. “[If we do get those players] we’re really gonna go a long way.”

The trio of Anastos, Miller and Newton is exciting to everybody who follows Michigan State hockey. Possessing a wealth of experience, the three men are ushering in a new era in Spartans history with a chance to take winning to another level and deliver solid hockey year in and year out.

Recruiting is only half the battle, but when you listen to all the coaches speak about their vigor toward finding great players and grooming them to become even better, it is a battle definitely worth fighting for.