GROWTH IN GAME SHOWS ANAS READY TO EMERGEJan 30, 2017
Tom Witosky Provides Insight Into Sam Anas' Rookie Season
To understand what drives Iowa Wild rookie forward Sam Anas, simply look at his wrist; you’ll find a black band with the white letters “#PPW” printed on one side and “Prove People Wrong” on the other.
For the 5-foot, 8-inch, 155-pound Potomac, MD native, proving people wrong has become an almost daily occurrence since he started playing hockey. How can someone from the Washington, D.C. area and so slight ever expect to play NHL hockey?
“It’s been something I have faced at every level that I have played,” said Anas, who failed to make a local travel team during his freshman year of high school because the coach thought he was too small. “Whether it was a jump from high school to juniors or juniors to college and now from college to pros, there has always been that question.”
But the 23-year-old rookie, despite a rocky start with the Wild this season, has begun to show the skill and resiliency taught to him by his father, Pete, a former college hockey player, and his mother, Demetra, a federal prosecutor and two-time breast cancer survivor.
“I thought for a long time that I got most of it from my Dad, who was small, but played college hockey. He had to battle like that,” Anas said. “But definitely my Mom’s perseverance and how she battled through everything was remarkable. She’s tough and hard to argue with.”
Anas’ climb up the hockey ranks began when he was still in diapers, according to his father. In the family kitchen one night, his dad urged him to hit a ball on the floor with a hockey stick from the left side.
“I’m left-handed so I always hoped I’d be able to buy the same sticks for us,” Pete said.
Sam missed his first attempt and dropped the stick to the floor.
“Then, he picks up the stick right-handed,” Pete said. “He slaps the ball and shot it as straight as an arrow. His Mom and I looked at each other and said immediately, ‘Did you see that?’“
Almost from that moment, Anas has had hockey fans, coaches and scouts saying the same thing as he became a leading scorer for every team he played for including Youngstown in the USHL and Quinnipiac College in the ECAC. In two seasons with Youngstown, Anas accumulated 97 points in 115 games; in three seasons with Quinnipiac, Anas was the Bobcats leading scorer each season totaling 132 points in 121 games, while also helping to lead the team to the NCAA Frozen Four, including an appearance in last year’s championship game.
In his final season, Anas accumulated 50 points (24 goals, 26 assists) in 43 games and had a +16. At the same time, Anas finished his work on obtaining a degree in entrepreneurship in three years.
At each point, Anas said, he’s confronted the challenges that made coaches and scouts skeptical about his ability to succeed – something that he always considers an opportunity, not a challenge.
“For me, as a small guy, I have to use my brain more and anticipate what guys are going to do and what they are going to think,” Anas said. “It’s my job to outsmart my opponents because I understand I probably won’t physically out-will them.”
That kind of creativity is what convinced the Minnesota Wild to take a chance on Anas with a two-year entry-level contract as a free agent this year.
Anas said that when Minnesota offered a contract last April, he didn’t hesitate to sign the two-way contract.
“It was nothing but excitement. It’s pretty much what you have been working for your whole life,” he said. “The Wild is in such a great hockey town and state. It is a great organization for a player like me and I really looked forward to playing for them.”
An added plus for Anas occurred the following month when Minnesota hired Bruce Bourdreau as head coach. Anas had become a huge fan of Boudreau’s when he had been head coach of the Washington Capitals.
“I always was a Caps fan and the guy who turned it around for them was Bruce Boudreau,” Anas said. “I grew up watching him. He had such a positive energy with the team. He seemed like a great guy and now that I have gotten to know him, it’s all true.”
Derek Lalonde, Iowa’s head coach, said that he had been looking forward to Anas playing for him and has been encouraged.
“It’s been exciting to watch him play and develop,” Lalonde said.
Lalonde said that an Anas pass during the Traverse City tournament this summer illustrated to him the rookie’s skill. Standing behind the opponent’s net, Anas knocked a pass off of the opposing goalkeeper’s pads to an open Tyler Graovac, who scored the goal with a tap-in redirection.
“Most players would pound it into the net and that likely wouldn’t have worked. Instead, he did something creative to get a goal,” Lalonde said. “I like that kind of creativity.”
But Anas stumbled out of the gate with Iowa after receiving a concussion during the Traverse City tournament. Up to that point, he had been playing well in the Minnesota development camp, but he missed about a month of practice.
“We had one practice with him and one game in Traverse, then he gets hurt,” Lalonde said.
When he returned, the adjustment to AHL hockey combined with getting back into game shape took a while and was frustrating. In his first 15 games, Anas collected only 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) and accumulated a plus/minus of -11.
“The poor kid had two straight games when he was minus 2 and it was really weighing on him,” Lalonde remember. “He was a -11 in 15 games and feeling that had let his teammates down. “
Lalonde said that his answer to Anas was not to let it bother him. “I told him to reset and forget about it,” he said.
Anas said that his adjustments to the pro game were about learning how to play a different kind of game than he played on his way up the ladder.
“I have bought into the process of developing my game fully not just playing offense,” he said. “You have to make plays and be smart about things. You need to learn when to make plays and not make plays. It really is about simplifying.”
Since then, Anas has established himself as a mid-line forward. In the last 21 games, he has scored four goals and has six assists. More importantly, he is carrying a -1 rating since Dec. 6.
Anas’ goal to get the Wild a tie with Texas on Jan. 20 in the final five seconds left in the game was a special one. His parents were sitting in the stands on their first visit to Iowa.
“Sam has an incredible love for hockey and that’s why he’s gotten this far,” his father said. “He is coming along slower than he likes, but it looks to me that he is on his way.”