Spiros Anastas is the head coach of a Canadian team.
In a pandemic.
And the borders are still closed.
The second-year bench boss for the Brampton Beast is certainly aware of all of this, but with the ECHL’s unique “split-season schedule format” that has his team among those starting later in January, there remains optimism that things will go off without a hitch when the games are set to start being broadcasted on FloHockey.
“It’s a tough scenario, for sure, for everybody involved,” Anastas told FloHockey. “As a Canadian team, we have the additional challenge of the border closures. The decision-making at the government level goes by 30-day increments, so it’s not like we can have a vision in the future and look ahead and say, ‘OK, this is when it’s going to open,’ or looking at when you can set some target dates. Unfortunately for us, there are some deadlines within our league that we have to make decisions by with scheduling and planning. I’m a big proponent of controlling what I can control, but this has been frustrating at times. But in terms of optimism? We’re building a good team, and we’ve been really focused on that.”
That, in a pandemic year or otherwise, has been a challenge for Anastas, who led the Beast to a 34-25-3-0 record last season and was on pace for a postseason berth for the unexpected shutdown in early March.
Anastas will need to fill some huge holes for this upcoming season, however.
Last year’s leading scorer, David Vallorani (31-40—71), announced his retirement this off-season. If that wasn’t a big enough blow, long-time captain and the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, veteran defenseman Jordan Henry is hanging up the skates, as is David Pacan, who was third on the team last season with 54 points.
“We had six guys total retire,” Anastas said. “Within that group of six, there were two for sure that we knew were going to retire, a couple more that we anticipated that retirement was imminent, and then two that were major surprises in Vallorani and Pacan. They weren’t shocking, but in any regular year, they probably would have returned. Henry, that’s different than all of those guys. They’re all great members of our team, our culture and everything that we’re about . . . Jordan was so deeply tied into the fabric of our team the covenant of what we want to be. That’s not a person you can replace, but hopefully is a void you can fill with some other people that bring those qualities as well.”
To be sure, the Beast will look way different in this upcoming 2020-21 season, but they will also have a familiar face from years past making a return. Luke Pither, who spent parts of two years in Brampton before spending the last three seasons putting up big numbers in Europe, has signed on to return.
“It’s nice that he brings some familiarity and knowledge of the expectations of what it means to be a Brampton Beast,” Anastas said.
“I think he’s going to bring a lot of different aspects than maybe he did last time around. He was earlier in his career last time around, and now he brings a veteran presence. He’s a family man now. He’s been around the block, been to Europe and played at some of the highest levels, so he can bring a lot of maturity and leadership to our room.
“But, the really unique thing about a guy like Luke, is he comes in games that count towards veteran status and’s he at 259. So, he’s one short of actually being a veteran on paper (per ECHL roster rules). So, when you can add someone who’s a veteran and can bring that leadership, maturity and experience, but still have a spot open for a guy who’s a veteran on paper on your roster, guys like that are big. I’m really excited to have him. I have some familiarity coaching against him when he was in the American (Hockey) League and I was in Grand Rapids – we faced off against him a few times when he was with Charlotte, so we really think he’s going to bring a dynamic presence and some really good production on the ice.”
Mike Ashmore has 17 years of experience covering professional and college sports. You can follow him on all social media channels at @mashmore98.