Anastas thrives as both scout, coach

by Anthony Fusco | AHL On The Beat

In order to thrive in the business of hockey, one must build relationships and be willing to step outside their comfort zone on a daily basis.

Spiros Anastas knows this better than most while pulling double duty as a professional scout for the Manitoba Moose and coaching national teams across the globe.

Scouting professionally wasn’t an opportunity Anastas thought he would have. He was the head coach of the ECHL’s Brampton Beast during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons; no one could have predicted the global pandemic that eventually forced the club to cease operations. The franchise’s end left Anastas seeking his next opportunity.

Hockey is a small world, and a previous relationship opened a potential door.

The Moose signed multiple Beast players to tryouts during Anastas’ time with Brampton. One of those players was Nathan Todd, now of the San Jose Barracuda, who joined the Moose in 2019-20 and led the team in scoring during the 2020-21 season. Through these roster moves, Anastas developed a rapport with Moose general manager Craig Heisinger.

“We always had good conversations, and he was always very supportive of my guys going up,” said Anastas. “I think Zinger really trusted my ability as a coach to advance players and my willingness as a person to move them on. We stopped a bus once to get Nathan Todd to Toronto Pearson Airport so the Moose could call him up.”

In the summer of 2021, Heisinger reached out to Anastas to gauge his interest in scouting. Through their conversations, Anastas ended up taking on the role as a scout for Manitoba. Anastas was familiar with scouting players from the coaching side, but prior to joining Manitoba, had never formally scouted for any organization.

“In terms of an actual scouting role, this is the first one I’ve ever been in,” noted Anastas. “I’m lucky. I’ve had great support from some people within the Winnipeg Jets organization, specifically Ryan Caldwell, who was in my particular position prior to me taking it over. I had met him when I was the coach of Brampton. He has really helped to transition me into this role.”

When scouting on behalf of the Moose, Anastas has a mandate to not only find players who can help in a pinch, but who could also become a member of the active roster in the future.

“As a scout, you look for the trajectory of a player. What they can be in a year from now or two years from now and how they can fit into the trajectory of your roster. The Moose roster probably looks a lot different from 2021-22 to 2023-24, so you have to take that into account. That’s where I’m learning to view games and players as a scout to see potential down the road.”

Heisinger knows if you want to succeed in hockey, you must have a staff with a diverse skill set willing to take chances to achieve the best product. That’s why the previous coaching experience of Anastas makes him a unique asset in his current scouting role for the team.

“Sometimes it’s not always a positive; coaches always want to coach. So there is always that risk of leaving for a coaching opportunity,” Heisinger explained. “The other side of that is nobody understands the players better than the coaches, so in that regard, he is a valuable asset.”

Anastas started out coaching at his alma mater, Lebanon Valley (Pa.) College, and spent a season at Western Michigan University before moving on to the AHL, where he won a Calder Cup as an assistant with the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2013. From there, Anastas pursued head coaching jobs and worked in Canadian USports at the University of Lethbridge.

“It was really important for me to learn about myself and go through those challenges and make the hard decisions,” Anastas remarked. “When the buck stops with you, you have to really make sure you’re diving deep and exploring the value of different ideas and final decisions.”

With that in mind, Anastas certainly hasn’t left coaching behind. While working as a scout for Manitoba, he continues to stay active behind the bench. That motivation takes Anastas across the globe for the game he loves. Heisinger values the energy and drive, along with the ability to connect personally that Anastas brings to the table.

“First off, his willingness to go (around the world) and his family’s support of that,” Heisinger laid out. “Maybe most important are his people skills, experience at a variety of different levels and willingness to put in a tireless work ethic.”

Anastas’ experience has allowed him to coach four different countries outside of North America. He was head coach for South Korea’s U-18 and men’s national teams. The next opportunity came with Estonia and their U-18 and U-20 teams at the IIHF World Championship level. Serbia followed, with Anastas having the chance to coach the U-20 and senior squads at world championship tournaments. The latest challenge sees Anastas join the Chinese men’s national team where he’ll be behind the bench for their World Championship and Olympic qualifiers.

“I’m really excited, we’ve built a really good staff,” stated Anastas. “There is a little bit of a change happening in the Chinese Ice Hockey Association. They’ve bolstered their lineup with some heritage players for the Olympics. Now there’s a transition back to domestic players. They are really committed to developing the game in China on both the men’s and women’s side. It will be a unique and exciting challenge. I’m glad to be on the ground level starting that with them and trying to get that kick started for the future.”

Anastas knows in order to get the best out of this team, he will need a strong and experienced staff around him. That’s why bringing in a veteran coach like Tim Army, who will serve as associate coach with China, is so important.

“With our coaching staff, I feel like we’re going to get the best out of these players,” noted Anastas. “When you’re talking about developing the game in these countries, that’s really the ultimate goal. You want to win or get the best result possible, but you want these players to have a great hockey experience. With a coach like Tim Army joining me and with my experience as well, we think we will provide that for them and get them better, so that when they return to a similar situation, they can take the next step forward.”

Anastas is well aware of how lucky he is to be able to act on these coaching opportunities.

“I’ve been really fortunate that Craig Heisinger has been so tremendous to work for. The Jets and Moose organization has a real family feel and cares about their people,” said Anastas. “Zinger knows that I have coaching in my blood. The opportunities with Serbia the last couple of years and China this year has allowed me to keep that taste in my mouth and keep the competitive juices flowing.”

The 38-year-old Toronto native also believes the coaching opportunities positively affect his scouting with Manitoba.

“Honestly, I think it brings me back to when I’m scouting and doing my live viewings on the road. It re-energizes me. I think Zinger sees the value in that too and really believes in the growth of his people and his hockey staff. He’s been fully supportive, which I’m incredibly appreciative of.”

In turn, Heisinger also sees the value in allowing Anastas to continue to grow and pursue these opportunities.

“Staying engaged in the coaching side keeps Spiros’ connections and contacts alive and well. We are always looking to gather more information on players.”

The only constant in hockey is change, and the game can present you with opportunities you never dreamed of having. That’s why being flexible and willing to step outside your comfort zone is so important to personal self-growth.

“I love the game and love exploring the world,” said Anastas. “Anytime you can combine the two while teaching and learning, it creates an incredible life experience.”