Commentary: Summing up an eventful few days in college hockey

Here are some thoughts from last weekend — an appetizer, some soup and then the main course. You bring the beverage; you might need it.

Ryan Guentzel - The University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish practiced on Friday, April 11, 2008 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado to prepare for the 2008 Frozen Four Final on April 12. (Melissa Wade)
Ryan Guentzel will be in the Frozen Four with Notre Dame, but there could have been more of his family present (photo: Melissa Wade).

• A near miss for a Guentzel family reunion in St. Paul. Mike Guentzel is the assistant coach at Nebraska-Omaha. His son Gabe is a defenseman at Colorado College, and his other son Ryan is a senior forward who enjoyed a terrific season at Notre Dame. The Guentzels are a Minnesota family, and Mike was both a player and assistant coach for the Gophers.

Both UNO and CC lost to Michigan in the West Regional final, which did set up a family reunion of the Rust family. Michigan senior Matt Rust will see his brother, freshman forward Bryan of Notre Dame if the two schools get past their national semifinals matchups.

• UNO is on the right track. It was obvious from its compete level on Friday that Dean Blais and his staff are on their way to building a really good program. Mike Hastings and Mike Guentzel, both with head coaching experience and years of player development experience at the USHL and NCAA level, are the perfect complement to Blais. Even equipment manager Mark Payne is top notch.

• That brings up the main course. Plenty of issues have surfaced and there has been plenty of backlash nationally on the heels of the Tom Anastos hiring at Michigan State. A lot of negative reaction has been brought by folks in college hockey. I’ll summarize and paraphrase.

The big comment is Anastos bailed on his league when it needed him most.

The man has a right to do what is best for him and his family, and he probably did.

The CCHA is now on shaky ground thanks to the Big Ten Conference. While this could have been the biggest success story Anastos could have written by saving the little guys from the corporate bully from Chicago, the commish might have looked at the situation, said, “This is not going to be something I can do or want to,” and opted for another challenge on safer grounds. In a way, it is hard to fault him for that. History’s greatest generals knew when to retreat, find better ground and start a new fight.

He probably knew best what the pitfalls were regarding staying on at the CCHA and decided he had done enough and this was someone else’s fight.

His out-of-the-blue resignation, much like the Colts sneaking out of Baltimore in the middle of the night and Pat Riley’s faxed resignation to the Knicks in the mid-1990s is where he will continue to take the hits. He can speak on his own behalf on that one.

The next comment is, “That must have been quite a detailed search for a new coach by MSU.” There is no defense for a history-rich program not being able to attract the cream-of-the-crop candidates unless those candidates looked at the hockey program and felt there wasn’t a strong commitment there by the administration.

Remember, the New York Islanders were once the elite franchise of the NHL. Now they couldn’t attract a Grade A coach if they emptied the vault. You hope that the commitment is there, and that was also a topic of speculation. You would have to think that isn’t an issue.

Who was on that list of coaching candidates is unknown, outside of Kelly Miller and Danton Cole, whose names were bandied about. Not that they would have wanted to leave their current jobs, but Guy Gadowsky of Princeton and Seth Appert of Rensselaer should have gotten a look. Youth is on their side, they have energy, they have had success and they are terrific coaches.

How about either Serratore brother? Talk about energy, charisma, determination and coaches who have pushed their teams past what people expected of them.

Not that they applied or might have been interested but you’re telling me Hastings wouldn’t have been a better hire, with his USHL track record in Omaha? How about Scott Gordon, who has had nothing but success at the AHL level and did a pretty good job on Long Island with an average roster. Gordon has been an assistant with the U.S. Olympic team and will coach the World Championship team for USA Hockey for a second time.

I’d think Cary Eades at North Dakota has put his time in and might have deserved a look. Either longtime assistants at Michigan who know this conference and the new one MSU is about to join in and out would have been interesting choices. It is a tough fit, but Billy Powers and Mel Pearson are head coaches in the waiting somewhere and only one can be the new boss at Michigan when coach Red Berenson retires. How about Ron Rolston at the NTDP? He has developed a ton of players and has had success at the international level and is a Michigan native.

Where is the list of who was interviewed and who was still being considered? That document probably will go the way of Commander Humes’ autopsy notes on the JFK autopsy at Bethesda, the ones that were burned later that night.

My respect for Anastos is well documented. My feeling is that MSU overlooked a ton of really qualified candidates the NCAA level. Not reaching out to very qualified head coaches at lower-profile programs that were ready to make the jump to bigger programs has to be brought up. We’d be burying our heads in the sands if we didn’t.

Then again, we need to allow MSU to make a case that Anastos was the best choice for its program. It isn’t a good perception, but it could have been their thinking. They do have to know that when their choice for a head coach probably wouldn’t make the short list at the other 57 Division I schools (soon to be 58 with Penn State) you are wide open to get blasted. You are also allowed time to make it work.

MSU can hire who it wants. To hire someone like Anastos, who has a high profile in the hockey world, might have been a terrific business decision by athletic director Mark Hollis. Smart, accomplished as a businessman in and outside of hockey and respected, Anastos brings a unique set of qualities to MSU hockey. That being said, there are probably 100 coaches out there right now at the NCAA and/or USHL level that are more qualified for that job.

The other issue here is this: NCAA assistant coaches toil long hours for many years to get a shot at a head coaching position. Some teams try to avoid making an assistant in their program a head coach in their program to succeed a head coach. It is a tough dynamic for the new guy, so Tom Newton and Brian Renfrew were innocent victims in being passed over to succeed Rick Comley.

Take out my relationship with Anastos and the respect I have for him. Treat this for what it is: A respected school with a great hockey tradition hired a head coach with what has been described as a marginal search and came up with an alum who has been a conference commissioner for over a decade and has no distinguishable head coaching experience.

Certainly gets the heat off Tom Izzo for a year, doesn’t it?