After four years in Springfield, serving as coach and general manager of a longstanding Springfield tradition, the Springfield Jr. Blues’ Tony Zasowski has only just begun to truly experience his new hometown.
“I do so much with our team,” he said. “I have a six or seven-day week. I’m ready to get more involved and experience Springfield.”
When one considers hockey or any other sport, it’s easy to think of it only in terms of the season. But wearing both the head coach and general manager hats, Tony’s job is year-round. Players report at the end of August, the season lasts into April, then there are tryouts. All the while he’s working to sell group tickets, sponsorships and help promote the team.
“It consumes a lot,” he said in the understatement of the year.
Working what are essentially two distinct full-time jobs, Tony gets to experience a range of work most in his position don’t.
“As a coach it’s fun, I get to work with the players. And I got so much from my coaches over the years, I wanted to give that back to these kids,” he said. But he also has a business management degree from Notre Dame and an interest in corporate strategy and management.
It would be easy to focus more on the fun side, but Tony sees the value in both in tandem.
“If we don’t sell tickets and gain fans, I won’t have a team to coach,” he said. “So that’s where they connect.”
Tony’s hockey journey started at just three years old. With a goal of playing college hockey, he moved to Canada in high school to play junior hockey there. He then moved to Green Bay and Omaha before being awarded a hockey scholarship to Notre Dame. Somewhere on that path, he knew he wanted to be a hockey coach. But with his business degree, he took a safer road—at first.
Out of college, Tony took a job in the tech field. But his passion was always hockey. He started as a volunteer coach at Brother Rice High School in Chicago and worked his way up until he was in his previous role—director of amateur hockey with the San Jose Jr. Sharks. It was that job that introduced him to Dan Ferguson, the now-owner of the Springfield Jr. Blues.
“I could never find something in the business world that matches me like this,” Tony said.
In taking over the team, he had work to do. Not just in terms of sport, but in shaping the players. Tony tells a story of his former coach at the Sharks, who asked his coaches “what does winning mean?” Many answers were in the area of goals and scoring. But of course his coach didn’t mean just on the ice—there are more important things than just winning games.
That has informed Tony coaching style to this day, saying he won’t tolerate bad behavior—no small feat when dealing with players ranging from 16 to 20 years old. His focus is on good players who are good humans, with an emphasis on doing the right thing all the time.
“If you haven’t done the right things Monday through Thursday, Friday and Saturday’s not just magically going to happen for you,” he said. “We practice and do our training, but it’s also important that we’re upstanding members of the community.”
“We’ve built our program on the character of the kids. And that’s more important than anything on a scoreboard. We haven’t put winning at all costs.”
Being the coach in Springfield has given Tony great opportunities. He’s traveled to Russia and Sweden to recruit players, and he credits coaching with making him a better dad to his two-year-old daughter Esmee.
“You’re told early on to treat everyone the same, but you can’t treat everyone the same,” he said. “Everyone has different buttons to push. Treat everyone fairly, but you can’t treat them the same. You have to adapt. And that’s really helped me with my daughter.
On or off the ice, this dad has solid goals. And he aims to score.