This past Sunday morning, October 6th, at Canlan Arena, Etobicoke, the 2001 Toronto Marlboros were gifted the opportunity of a lifetime! Right up until the final moments before the grand reveal, it was all very "hush-hush!" Coach Gialedakis had another wonderful experience up his sleeve for his team, but he wasn't talking… until just moments before the practice began. Nobody knew what the Coach had planned but the anticipation was palpable! You could see the look in his eye that today was a special day, and as a Coach, he truly lived for moments like this!
That morning, there were a couple of "strangers" amongst the team: Jim Anastasiadis and his son, Spiros Anastas. Both men seemed highly regarded by the Marlboros great Coaching Staff, and especially, Head Coach, Gialedakis, but not too many people recognized them… unless they attended the AHL Marlies versus the Grand Rapids Griffins the day before. It was on the bench, if you were able to take your eyes off the on-ice activities, that you would have seen a relatively young man behind the bench, in the role as Assistant Coach (Coach, from this point forward)! That's right: at 29 years of age, Spiros Anastas was the youngest Coach in AHL history, he was also the youngest Coach to ever win the NCAA Championship, and he was also an extremely well-educated academic, sporting two undergraduate degrees and a Masters Degree in Sports Management!
The 2012-2013 AHL Season saw the Grand Rapids Griffins take it all! They won the Calder Cup Trophy and they did this with Coach Spiros Anastas navigating the most-impossible waters a professional Coach could ever encounter! Why and how? Imagine being in his position, just for a moment: The Griffins, being the AHL affiliate for the Detroit Red Wings, would experience line up changes every single week! Coach Anastas would have his lines set, from game to game, he would come to practices with a well-structured agenda, and almost without fail, sometimes hours before a practice or game, and sometimes during a practice and often, right after a game, he would "get the call!" What is the "call" you ask? The "call" is the the "demand" from the big club, the Red Wings, to send a player up, or to receive a player who was being sent down. Lines had to be juggled, line-up stability, equilibrium, and any form of predictability were never, ever possible, and everything, on a daily basis had to be done "on the fly!" Egos had to be managed and massaged! Taking instructions from the big club to help the player being sent down, and moving players from line to line, not only became course du rigour, it became a working condition that would surely bring about the demise of anyone but the best equipped/educated/prepared Pro-Coach! The only way to Coach under such turbulent working conditions was to accept the fact that one must embrace massive and continual change, and from that point of acceptance, learn to revel, flourish, and thrive, as a result… every single day!
Few Coaches are ever cut from this cloth. They say "the cream rises to the top!" It has also been said that only the "best of the best" can cut it at this level. Coach Spiros Anastas, is the living embodiment of all of these success-oriented metaphors, and more! It is also said that "Like attracts Like," and based on this age-old axiom, one can begin to understand the longterm, deep bonds of friendship that have existed between Gialedakis and Anastas, for over 20 years! Some would say that Coach Gialedakis "mentored" Coach Anastas, and some would also lend significant credit to the fact that Gialedakis was instrumental in helping his good friend to "come back to hockey," when he had left for a period of time. Gialedakis will have none of that, instead, just being happy to say "I have been close with Spiros and his father for over 20 years. We have very similar backgrounds, and our families have tremendous love and respect for each other." More profound humility is difficult to find, but one just needs to spend a few minutes with both legendary Coaches to know that there is a special bond, a kinship of two "Coaching Generals," that have weathered the storms and battles of many a Championship game.
To understand both men, one has to have a meaningful understanding of words like: "commitment, honour, integrity, tenacity, preparedness, excellence, and more!" They are humble, but through that shared humility, they wear the shackles of these terms as internal GPS systems, guiding their every hockey decision, and also guiding every player that comes within their sphere of influence. Just listen to them speak for a few minutes on any aspect of hockey. They will capture your attention, hold you spell bound, and leave you wishing to hear more! The one colossal quality each man shares is a big heart! Coach Anastas had to wait until everyone had their one-day turn with the Calder Cup and being the last one to receive it, he finally had his day to celebrate and parade the cup around. He chose to share this special day with Coach Gialedakis and the Toronto Marlboros! Even though he did play AAA hockey, ironically, as he was developing as a player in the GTHL, Coach Anastas never had the opportunity to become a Marlie. This past Sunday morning, in a very nice way, through his sharing of this very special experience, Coach Anastas not only became a Toronto Marlboro for life, he also reached into the hearts of every person on the team and touched their hockey soul, by holding out the unspoken hope, and unwritten promise, that winning the Calder Cup could become more than just a distinct possibility.
For some background on the significance of the Calder Cup, this writer once heard someone describe the trophy as the "mini-Stanley Cup." Another person referenced the Calder Cup as the "second greatest trophy in all of hockey, next to the Stanley Cup," and yet another person spoke of the Calder Cup as being the "single most difficult trophy to win in all of hockey!" Wherever the truth lies, in relation to how one should or should not view the cup, one thing is for certain: Coach Spiros Anastas and his team won it, he was the last person on his team to share the cup for one day, and he chose to include in that experience, Coach Louie Gialedakis and the 2001 Toronto Marlboros." The entire team experienced photos with the Calder Cup and Coach Anastas, and not only were the boys allowed to touch the cup, they were allowed to "get up close and personal with the Calder Cup," with complete and unfettered access! Coach Anastas generosity knew no boundaries, and in the most positive and respectful manner, each player took full advantage of the cup to look, touch, and dream! As a great extension of his generosity, Coach Anastas also conducted a very high-spirited practice. Although the practice was led at a pace that was completely on par with any pro practice, both in terms of intellectual engagement and shear physical output, each Marlie masterfully rose to the challenge and met the expectations of both Coaches! This was hockey at its finest and the "icing" on the cake was the Calder Cup!
To understand the significance of this experience, one only needs to reference Wiki-Pedia for some background on this iconic sports chalice.
Source: Wiki-Pedia, October 8th, 2013, The Calder Cup:
The Calder Cup is the trophy awarded annually to the champions of the American Hockey League. It is the second oldest actively awarded professional ice hockey playoff trophy after the NHL's Stanley Cup.[N 1] The Calder Cup was first presented in 1937 to the Syracuse Stars.[N 2]
The trophy is named after Frank Calder, who was the first president of the National Hockey League. The Calder Memorial Trophy, which is awarded annually to the Rookie of the Year in the National Hockey League, was also named after Calder.
The cup is made of sterling silver mounted on a a base of Brazilian mahogany. In its current shape, the trophy has a two-tiered square base with commemorative plaques for each of the AHL's 20 most recent champions - 12 on the bottom tier and 8 on the top tier. Each time a new championship plaque is added, the oldest plaque is retired and joins a display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
The Hershey Bears have won the Cup more times than any other team, with eleven victories in franchise history. The Cleveland Barons come in second with nine; the Springfield Indians/Kings are third with seven. Eight teams have won back-to-back championships; the Springfield Indians of 1960-62 is the only team to have won three straight Calder Cup championships.
On three occasions an AHL club has won the Calder Cup coincidentally with its NHL affiliate winning the Stanley Cup: in 1976 and 1977 when the Montreal Canadiens and their AHL affiliate, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs both won, and in 1995, when the New Jersey Devils and Albany River Rats both won. END.
The morning also carried with it the emotional element of learning about one father and son's journey to the Calder Cup. Coach Anastas was kind enough to bring along his father, and together, they had a truly joyous time sharing the Calder Cup! Mr. Jim Anastas was indeed, the "ultimate hockey dad!" Not only did he drive his son Spiros to all the games, but when Coach Anastas broke into the ranks of being part of an NCAA Coaching staff, Jim would often drive 8 hours or more to watch his son Coach, and he never missed a game, no matter the distance, the weather, or the immense sacrifice that needed to be met, to be there for his son! Coach Anastas related a story about his mom, who would often say: "please tell your father that you are not playing tonight. The whether is too bad for him to drive in, and I don't want him driving in these conditions!" Coach Anastas said: "it didn't matter if I was playing or not, my father thought that he should always be there for me and he was!" If there were such a thing as "being born to only do one thing," although they are both multi-dimensional successful people inside and outside of hockey, after hearing the story of this phenomenal father-son team, one could easily surmise that both men were put on this earth to do exactly what it is they were doing, in the exact way that they do it, with an unparalleled passion for hockey and a deep love for one another. Without sounding too mushy, this was not a "father-son hockey story," this was truly a heartwarming story of love, commitment, and an unconditional tenacity towards doing whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, in anyway necessary, for bringing about ultimate success!
To cap off the morning, Coach Anastas gave a very informative and inspirational talk to all of the players and parents. He held everyone spell bound as he recalled his ascent to victory and through the sharing of his personal story, he provided a number of very key messages. Two messages come to mind as absolutely "right on the money!" The first message was: "Be an everyday, do everything player." In other words: "everyday do all the little things you need to do as a player to get to where it is you are ultimately striving!" Underling this message of having an unwavering commitment to success, were several anecdotes of "Be an everyday, do everything player," were wonderful anecdotes that Coach Anastas shared, but none were as inspirational as the Detroit Red Wings player that would beg his teammates after practice to shoot 500 pucks at the net that he would attempt to deflect. Now, that player is retiring after 17 successful seasons in the NHL, and Coach Anastas said to every player in the room: "The guy made the NHL and he can't even skate! You all skate much better than he ever could, but he never stopped doing all the little things, everyday, in every way, that he needed to do to be the best at his chosen skill set. Every single day after practice, he used to beg Chelios to 'shoot 500 pucks for me to tip them in!' Most times Chelios would do it and I even remember him 'negotiating' with Chelios because Chris said: 'I can only shoot 300 today, because I have to pick up my kids'. He never stopped, he did everything he could to succeed, everyday!" Like this Red Wing player, the message was clear: "You just need to get out there and do everything you can to succeed, every day!"
Another outstanding message was delivered, not to players, but to parents, and it came directly from Coach Anastas! Surprisingly this message was very well received! He said: "Parents, please know your place, where it is that you fit in, and also know your Coach and your players "place!" "Parents, please know that 'Coaches Coach;' Players Play;' and you… Parents, you are "spectators!" With the nodding in the room, this one point actually resonated with parents and players alike, in a very insightful manner.
Coach Gialedakis delivered another outstanding event to his team! Each player left the arena that day, as better hockey players, having just experienced what it is like to participate in a practice run by an AHL Assistant Coach, and each player left the arena, forever changed, for having pushed themselves to new levels of excellence, knowing that the Calder Cup was right there on the bench as a constant reminder of what is possible.