ST. PAUL — Perhaps nobody at Wild Development Camp is more familiar with Sam Anas than new Iowa head coach Derek Lalonde.
Lalonde has never coached Anas; however he has coached against him in the United States Hockey League (USHL) for two years in 2011-12 and 2012-13 when Anas played for the Youngstown Phantoms and Lalonde coached the Green Bay Gamblers.
The Gamblers and Phantoms were matched up in a first-round playoff series during the 2013 postseason. Green Bay won Game 1 and led 1-0 early in Game 2 when Anas made a behind-the-back, no-look pass to teammate Cam Brown for a power-play goal that tied the game with under a minute to play in the first period.
“I swear to God, it changed the complexion of the whole series,” Lalonde said.
Anas scored the final goal in a three-goal third period as Youngstown rallied to win Game 2, and eventually the series, knocking the defending Clark Cup Champions from the playoffs.
“I told him he owed me one,” Lalonde said. “He said he’d give me a couple back.”
Anas has the ability to follow through on his promise. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound forward has been a goal-scoring machine at both the USHL and NCAA levels over the last five years. Anas’ playoff heroics in 2013 came after a 37-goal regular season.
He committed to Quinnipiac University and scored 22 goals as a freshman, 23 as a sophomore and 24 more last season before signing a two-year, two-way contract with the Wild following a trip to the National Championship game in April.
“It just seemed like the perfect fit for me,” Anas said of signing with the Wild. “They seemed to have a good understanding of the type of player I am.”
When the organization hired Lalonde to guide their AHL team, they brought in a coach who believes in the ability of Anas and has seen it first hand on several occasions.
“I plan on giving him every opportunity,” Lalonde said. “I like his skill set; I like his creativity. He’s a guy that can create offense out of any situation.”
Even more than the skill Anas has shown on the ice has been his attitude and his leadership. An alternate captain with the Bobcats last season, Anas likely would have been the team’s captain had he returned to Hamden, Conn. for his senior campaign.
“He’s a guy that has had a chip on his shoulder at every level,” Lalonde said. “He was told he wasn’t going to be able to do it in the USHL and he flourished. He was told he wasn’t going to be able to do it in college and he was an absolute superstar. I’m sure he’s been told again that it’s going to be hard for him at the next level.
“It’s so hard to create offense in today’s game, it takes guys with special IQs and a skill set and he has that. I think he could really complement our top guys. I’m excited about what he can be for us in Iowa.”
A native of Potomac, Md., Anas went undrafted out of high school, mostly because of a lack of size. If Anas were five inches taller, there’s no way the Wild would have had a chance to sign the sniper as an undrafted free agent.
“You watch him play college hockey and he’s a dynamic player,” said Wild Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr. “Even in game-situation drills, he stands out. He’s a highly intelligent player and should compete right away to be a top player for us in Iowa.”
With the recent struggles down in Iowa, Flahr said Anas has a chance to be someone who can turn the AHL club around.
“He’s one of those kids that has the intangibles,” Flahr said. “He’ll get an opportunity to have a big role down there right away.”
If and when Anas suits up for Minnesota, he will also make history: No player who has played for and graduated from a Washington D.C.-area high school has ever reached the National Hockey League.
It’s a goal Anas said he takes pride in.
“Now going home and going back to skates, more kids know about me,” Anas said. “I just try and talk and share my story that you don’t have to leave town to make a junior team. It’s cool for guys to be able to stay home and be with their family and friends.”