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Finding Potential Replacements for Tom Anastos

Tom Anastos has had a bumpy tenure behind the bench for the Spartans. He has simply not accomplished enough to justify keeping his job.

Hello! I am new to The Only Colors as a contributor! I’ve been a reader (mostly lurker) since the loss to Notre Dame that kept us from being participants in the final BCS Title game my freshman year here at Michigan State. My first bit of background is that I am a military kid who has grown up around the United States as well as Okinawa, Japan for three years (other military kids as well as vets stand up with me!) My family is from the heartland (South Lyon, MI) for the most part. I grew up rooting for Ohio State, Miami University and the United States Naval Academy. When it comes to pro sports, we are just as far off. My favorite team to follow is the Baltimore Orioles along with the Carolina panthers, I don’t have a favorite NBA team. However, I am a die-hard Red Wings fan, so we’ll find some common ground there. I will mostly be contributing for hockey but I also hope to stay involved and contribute to college football as well. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @chaddyc11. I look forward to interacting with everyone and immersing myself in what is a great community!

Michigan State hockey has been nothing to be excited about the past two seasons. Head coach Tom Anastos was already on the hot seat going into this season and with a 4-15 record there is no reason to believe that he should be retained. For Michigan State hockey to move forward Tom Anastos has to be fired. His record at MSU is less than exemplary and as the Big Ten grows and national hockey powers such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota recover from bad years, MSU has to move forward to remain relevant in a Big Ten hockey conference that now also features the nation’s top-ranked team in Penn State. In short, Michigan State has to move on from Anastos.

This season in particular has been one to forget. Sophomore forward Mason Appleton has been one of few bright spots for the Spartans this season. And given his talent, it is not unreasonable to assume that he takes the route of Duncan Keith and takes his talent to major junior hockey in the Canadian Hockey League instead of finishing his career at MSU. In short, MSU does not have a ton to work with right now in terms of talent moving forward.

The state of the MSU hockey program is not that of one that can seek to make a big splash in its potential coaching search. Even I cannot begin to imagine who will end up behind the bench next season. I have three candidates who I think could turn the program back into national title form. For MSU to remain relevant in the landscape of the Big Ten moving forward, the right hire needs to be made this off-season. Although it may not be one of these candidates, I believe that given Hollis’s ambitious nature, he could pluck one of these guys and get the ball rolling on MSU becoming a contender in the Big Ten and hopefully nationally.

1. George Gwozdecky

Current Position; Head Coach, Valor Christian High School (Highlands Ranch, CO)

Gwozdecky has an exemplary record as a head coach both at Miami University as well as Denver University. His last position besides high school was as an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He brings tremendous knowledge and passion for the game as well as connections with recruiting bases around the nation. He is the only player in college hockey history to win the NCAA Championship as a player (Wisconsin, 1977) assistant coach (Michigan State, 1986) and head coach (Denver, 2004 and 2005). The pedigree is obviously there as are the connections (both to MSU and in regards to recruiting). The issue with Gwozdecky is that he’s coaching high school hockey as a retirement gig. Not only is that an issue for him, but MSU as well. Would Athletic Director Mark Hollis invest in a coach at his age who has already retired once? Probably not. However, it is worth considering that hiring a coach of Gwozdecky’s caliber could seriously alter the course of this program. Elite players want to play for elite coaches, especially coaches with two national titles to their name. Gwozdecky is a longshot and I am almost positive that he will not be the next head coach for Michigan State. Though, stranger things have happened.

2. Brent Brekke

Current Position; Associate Head Coach, Miami University

Coach Brekke is one of the best all-around people in college hockey. He has also had numerous opportunities to leave Oxford, Ohio and be a head coach elsewhere. One of his best qualities is his loyalty to Miami University where he has been the associate head coach since the 2010-2011 season. Brekke is a proven leader based on his days as a captain at Western Michigan as well as his coaching experience at both Cornell and Miami University. Brent Brekke has been one of the biggest reasons for Miami’s success over the past ten years.

His specialty lies in the defensive zones which has been a point of concern at MSU for quite some time. His bio with Miami University says it all:

Brekke’s impact in Oxford was felt immediately as he helped lead the RedHawks to the school’s first ever appearance in the NCAA Frozen Four and the national championship game in his first season (2008-09), while guiding Miami to a CCHA regular-season title and a second straight Frozen Four berth in his second season (2009-10). The 2009-10 squad was the top defensive unit in the country, allowing a paltry 1.95 goals per game, anchored by CCHA Defensive Defenseman of the Year Wil Weber. In 2010-11, Brekke aided the `Hawks in capturing their first ever Mason Cup for winning the CCHA Tournament with his defensive unit serving as the backbone, allowing just six goals in four tournament games. He again helped Miami capture a CCHA title in 2012-13, as the RedHawks claimed the final CCHA regular-season championship.

The Red and White have remained a strong defensive unit in the years since those consecutive Frozen Four appearances, finishing in the top 10 in scoring defense three more times in the past six seasons. The 2012-13 squad turned an especially impressive performance in 2012-13 despite breaking in three freshmen as regulars on the blue line, finishing second nationally allowing just 1.74 goals per game, the RedHawks’ best defensive performance under Brekke. The penalty kill was strong as well, ranking sixth nationally at 88.6 percent. He’s mentored a trio of all-league defensemen in Chris Wideman (Second-Team All-CCHA in 2010-11), Matthew Caito (All-CCHA Honorable Mention in 2012-13 and All-NCHC Honorable Mention in 2014-15) and Louie Belpedio (NCHC All-Rookie in 2014-15, All-NCHC Honorable Mention in 2015-16).”

The recent body of work is there for Brekke. The big question that remains is whether or not he’ll leave Oxford for a head coaching job. Although he did play at Western, he is not from the mitten (Minot, ND for those wondering) so there is no other connection to the state of Michigan. He has already turned down the head coaching job at Western before so it’s a stretch that he even leaves Miami. However, Hollis is an ambitious athletic director. At only 45 years of age, along with his pedigree and reputation, Brekke has the potential to be a great head coach in East Lansing. The big problem would be getting him to leave Miami. If he were to leave Miami for MSU, I can see this program winning a national title under his watch some day. If I were Mark Hollis, I would be all-in on hiring Brekke and keeping him in East Lansing for a long time.

3. Rod Brind’Amour

Current Position; Assistant and player development, Carolina Hurricanes

If anything, Brind’Amour is one of the greatest faceoff men in the history of the National Hockey League. He did play one season at Michigan State collecting 59 points in 42 games. Additionally, he has over 1,100 points to his NHL career. Brind’Amour is one of the best centermen to ever play in the NHL. He was as prolific in the faceoff dot as much as he was as a leader and scorer. To me, Brind’Amour is one of the most phenomenal players that hockey has ever seen on and off the ice.

While he does not bring the coaching experience of Gwozdecky or Brekke, Brind’Amour is a player deserving of NHL Hall of Fame honors. He was a tireless worker in the gym and on the ice. The attitude that he brought to the rink every day was infectious. He was a leader by example and also knew how to motivate those around him. In 2006, he would captain the Carolina Hurricanes to their first ever Stanley Cup championship.

Although he does not have anywhere near the college pedigree that Gwozdecky or Brekke have, he does know what it takes to be successful at the college and professional level. Additionally, he carries one of the biggest names in NHL history with him on recruiting trips. That is definitely one intangible that MSU needs on the recruiting trail to compete with its fellow Big Ten powers for recruits.

Though his ties to MSU are not overly significant, Brind’Amour is in a position where his interest in coaching is evident. A tenure of any length at MSU could be of strong interest to him, especially if he wants to advance his coaching career into an NHL job. Although I’m not necessarily in favor of a temporary solution, Brind’Amour could raise the profile of the MSU job for a future replacement.

There is a ton of work ahead for whoever replaces Tom Anastos. However, I think that the right hire can bring a national title back to East Lansing once again. This is an exhilarating time to be a Big Ten hockey fan as the conference grows and boasts some national powerhouses. However, it will be a lot more fun for Michigan State fans if we can progress as a program and remain competitive.