This is a story of a young man who dreamed of playing in the NHL for as long as he could remember. Sam’s story will resonate with many of you for a couple of reasons. Most of us have dreams that we’re hoping come true in our lifetime, most all of us have experienced a significant loss and most of you reading this story are hockey fans. This is a beautiful story of wishes, hard work, disappointments, dedication, a loving family and dreams that do come true. Get ready to meet 23-year-old, Potomac, Maryland native, Sam Anas.
Since the days of Jeff Halpern, who began his NHL career with the Washington Capitals in 1999 – seventeen years ago, we haven’t had a DMV native sign an NHL contract until now. In addition, Sam will be the first player to graduate from a DMV high school, The Landon School, to make it into the NHL.
Let me share with you how I became aware of the Anas family. I work for a small consulting company who leases office space in Rockville, Maryland. The primary tenant in the building is Anas Marketing whose President is Peter Anas. Upon entering the office for the first time about two years ago, it didn’t take me more than a few steps through the front door to notice that Peter was a Capitals fan, and a hockey fan. And most importantly, a very proud Hockey Dad.
When I originally met Peter, his son, Sam was playing for Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. Peter had a nice array of memorabilia from Sam’s hockey career hanging on the walls in and outside of his office. At the time, I didn’t realize just how talented his son was nor did I give a lot of thought that Sam’s career may someday include his name on a roster with one of the NHL teams.
To get an idea of Sam’s tremendous skill, watch the second goal in this YouTube clip:
Hockey is in Sam’s and his sister Georgia’s DNA. Peter was born in London, Ontario, Canada. He was a netminder for the University of Western Ontario, and after he hung his collegiate skates, he laced them back up again as the Assistant Coach at his alma mater. In 1987 Peter moved to Montgomery County, Maryland and continued playing hockey with the North American Men’s League and the Washington Senators. That team went to a National Championship in the early 1990s.
Before meeting with Sam, I wanted to ask Peter a few questions about his son and his lifelong dream of playing in the NHL. I wanted to get his perspective on a few things. So, I asked him the following questions:
To date, what has been your proudest moment in Sam’s career?
“There definitely have been several. In general, it’s great to see your child excel at a sport that you played and enjoy. But specifically, I would say that watching the continual improvement and growth in his hockey career, starting with him leading the Landon School to its first Maryland state championship as an undefeated team, followed by the NCAA Rookie of the Year Award, followed by being named First Team All American at the Frozen Four Championship game, all culminating in the signing of an NHL contract.”
What do you think has been or will be Sam’s greatest challenge in his hockey career?
“I’ve read about a hundred times or so from writers about his lack of size. I don’t get it. Who would you rather have, a 6’2” player who can’t score or Sam, who scored 69 goals in 3 years in college? So his challenge is not playing the game, it’s been convincing those coaches and scouts over the years who said he was too small. So he has had to prove people wrong for many years. Now he has to prove to the Wild organization that they were right.”
Why do you think Sam has been so successful?
“Sam has a great combination of successful traits – he has a very good knowledge of what goalies do in many situations; he has good vision to either set up a play, or be in the right position to be open for a pass or shot, he does not have an ego, he loves to score and he hates to lose.”
What advice would you give to parents who have a child who is striving to make it to the NHL?
“Don’t aim for the NHL. There are way too many steps and stages before then. Work hard to be the best you can be – this year. Don’t worry about next year, until you’re there.”
I very recently had the opportunity to meet with Sam. Earlier this week, Sam practiced along side of a few of the Capitals: Backstrom, Alzner and Galiev at Kettler. It was Sam’s friend and former USHL opponent when Sam played for the Youngstown Phantoms, Jay Williams, who reached out to Sam to ask him if he’d like to join in on some early morning sessions as Jay, who is a goaltender, attended Caps’ Development Camp and was scheduled to practice with the guys, too. Sam didn’t hesitate to participate!
I was able to watch Sam on the ice prior to sitting down with him afterwards. And I just couldn’t wait, I had to initially ask him about how it felt to have his lifelong dream come true. And here’s what he told me.
On Saturday, April 9th of this past year, Sam’s team, Quinnipiac was playing for the NCAA Title in the Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida. They would face off against North Dakota for the National Title. Sam and his best friends who were his teammates were riding high on their successful season of play with a season record of only 3 losses in 42 games, leading into the championship game, only to be devastated by a 5-1 loss. To say they were extremely disappointed would be an understatement. They left the ice, packed up, and then traveled back to Connecticut without a National Title. The team stayed close together all throughout the weekend, all of them in somber moods, they consoled one another.
And then on Sunday evening – not even 24 hours past what would most likely be the most significant loss of Sam’s career to date, Sam was checking his email messages. In his in-box there was one email message that would dramatically change Sam’s future and would also bring to fruition his lifelong dream.
Sam received an email message from the Minnesota Wild. The message stated that they would like to offer Sam a two-way entry level contract.
While letting this news sort of sink in, as well as managing his wide array of emotions – just moments prior to receiving the email, Sam was feeling extremely low given the recent loss – he was feeling the disappointment individually, but also as a member of a close knit team. And now, he was experiencing tremendous joy – and very soon he had to make a decision, one that would impact his best friends – his teammates. Sam had just finished his third year at Quinnipiac – and although he did receive his Bachelor’s degree in Business, he was still eligible to play for a fourth season, when he was also planning to get his Masters in Business Administration. Sam discussed the pros and the cons with his family, his teammates and the Quinnipiac coaching staff. And, in a few day’s time, he decided to accept the Wild’s offer! Sam was heading into the NHL and westward to Minnesota!
Sam told me that he has more motivation now than he has ever had in his lifetime. He said that while one of his dreams has come true, there is now another – and that one is to play in an NHL game! He was told by the Wild that the roster spot is his to get – he now has to prove himself to them and that may happen on the ice with the Iowa Wild, Minnesota’s AHL team, initially.
When I asked Sam when his love and passion for hockey began, he told me it was when he was about two years old. He said that it started in the kitchen, he always had a stick in his hand. From the kitchen, it moved to the the basement and then onto the driveway and finally on top of the ice! He said this has been a great journey and he has loved every minute of it.
We talked about those practice sessions with his Dad in the basement of his house. Given his Dad’s goalie experience, Peter always positioned himself in the goal and Sam took the shots. Well, that never changed and all of that shooting practice, it’s paid off! In each of his three seasons at Quinnipiac, Sam never scored less than 22 goals. And last season, he scored 24 goals and 26 assists. It was those stats that earned him All-American honors as he led Quinnipiac onto the NCAA Championship game earlier this year.
Sam credits his Dad with giving and teaching him the ability to read netminders well. To add to this, Sam regularly volunteers to attend goalie practices so that he can get more practice shots in. During the practices, he doesn’t just shoot – he listens to what’s being discussed and how the goalies are being trained. This gives him an advantage as a forward. Sam doesn’t miss opportunities to practice, he looks for each and every opportunity to get onto the ice. Sam told me that he’s a pretty focused “kid”!
While doing research for this article, I was quick to feel and see the love and support that Sam’s family has for him and vice versa. When I asked Sam why he felt that he’s done so well in his hockey career, he told me this. “My close knit family has really helped me succeed.” In the celebration picture above, you’ll see Sam’s parents with their hands up to the glass. Sam went further to say, “Coming home to a loving and happy family provides me comfort and gives me the ability to focus on the sport that I love. My Mom, Deme, My Dad, Peter and my sister, Georgia and I are extremely close.”
He went further to tell me about his Mom, Deme, a Washington, DC native who is an alumni of Holton Arms in Bethesda, MD, where Sam’s sister also attended. Sam attended The Landon School. Deme is an “acquired through marriage” hockey/Capitals fan. She is also a passionate Redskins fan. Sam told me that his Mom has always been there for him. And right now, she’s been instrumental with his diet and meal planning and preparation. Sam told me that Deme is an exceptional cook and Sam takes his nutrition very seriously, he eats a very healthy diet and he believes that doing so is a critical component to his overall success.
In wrapping up our conversation, I asked Sam what he thought his greatest challenges were going to be. And he told me that it would be a combination of size and speed. He said at every juncture of his career he’s faced these two challenges. From HS to Juniors to College and now onto the Pros. His size is what it is – and contrary to some people’s beliefs, there are some advantages to being a smaller professional athlete. All you have to do is watch Sam to figure that one out. And, speed – well, he’s continuously working to get faster. This summer is no exception. He’s using his “off-season” extremely efficiently in terms of training and conditioning.
In closing, I asked Sam if there was anything else that he’d like to share with me. And without hesitation, he spoke about Youth Hockey in the DMV. He said that he was so proud of how it’s expanded since he was a child. He had heard of the “Learn to Play” initiative and the Capitals support of the program and thought it was terrific! While he’s proud to be among the two DMV natives, along with Jeff Halpern to have made it to the NHL, he believes that there should be so many more!
Please join me in wishing Sam the best of luck in his NHL career! The Minnesota Wild will be coming to the Verizon Center next year on Tuesday, March 14th – wouldn’t it be great to see Sam playing on his hometown ice?! Let’s Go Sam – here’s to hoping that all of your dreams continue to come true.
By Beckie Reilly