Michigan State hockey has a chance to hit the reset button. As a new ear is about to start in the Big Ten, the Spartans see off Tom Anastos after six seasons at the helm of the program.
The question is, just how serious will Mark Hollis and his athletic department take hockey going forward? If it does take things seriously, a national search will take place
MSU is a program that has seen names like Justin Abdelkader, Duncan Keith and Ryan Miller off to the NHL. It is no doubt an attractive job given the Big Ten conference affiliation, but can only be a real attractive one if the department pays it some attention.
We’re going to assume that happens, and as such here are five names to we’d be looking at if we were Mark Hollis.
Mel Pearson, Head Coach Michigan Tech
Michigan Tech is in the NCAA tournament, that is all you need to know. What was once a proud program saw a complete turnaround with the hire of Pearson back in 2011. It took him a few seasons, but a streak of missed NCAA tournaments that stretched back some 34 years was snapped in 2015.
Two years later and the Huskies are back in the tournament. His teams play an attractive style of hockey — focusing on speed, puck control and skill. It’s a style that would fit in well against the likes of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Penn State that like to play fast-paced hockey.
If that style can work at Michigan Tech, it can work at Michigan State.
Maybe the biggest hurdle to overcome is Pearson’s long-standing relationship to the University of Michigan. He was an assistant coach there from 1988 to 2011. Is the former Tech hockey star and long-time Maize ‘n Blue assistant really going to be comfortable in East Lansing?
Personally, I believe reaching out to Pearson has to be priority No. 1 in terms of figuring out just where this search is going to go. Michigan coaching affiliation aside, Pearson is a quality head coach that has made Michigan-freaking-Tech back in to a hockey power.
However, there’s also the timetable for this hire to consider. Tech is in the NCAA tournament and that may throw a small wrench in the plan. It may be a minor thing if Pearson really has an interest, but Hollis likely can’t wait forever to get this hire made given some of the other jobs opening up in college hockey.
John Wroblewski, U.S. NTDP U-18 Head Coach
Michigan State hockey is far from cool and many would say it is in danger of becoming not only an afterthought within the athletics program, but also in the world of hockey. One man could be the jolt of energy needed to make the program come back to life.
We give you John Wroblewski of the United States National Development program and formerly of the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL. Wroblewski took over his current position after Don Granato left to join his brother’s staff at Wisconsin this past season.
He is a great mix of youth (just 35 years old), energy and most importantly, winning hockey. That’s what playing for the NTDP and four years at Notre Dame does for you.
Wroblewski has coached in the two biggest tiers of minor-league hockey (ECHL and AHL) before also taking on roles in junior hockey as well. That kind of understanding of both aspects of the game could make him attractive to jumping in to the college ranks.
If I’m Hollis and Co. this is an easy call to make and one of the names in my short list if you will.
Jason Lammers, Dubuque Fighting Saints Head Coach
If you’re looking to jump-start a college hockey program, looking to someone with experience in doing that would be a good start. Lammers brings that to the table, as he was an assistant coach at UMass Lowell from 2011 to 2015 and also had stints at Colorado College and Ohio State as an assistant coach.
His time at UMass Lowell gave him the opportunity to take over one of the most consistent winners in junior hockey. Lammers was named the head coach of the Dubuque Fighting Saints for the 2015-16 season and in his two years there the team won a conference title 2015-16).
What makes him qualified after just two years at the helm of a junior hockey program? It is the fact that he helped lead the Buckeyes to the NCAA tournament in 2009 and part of the staff that won back-to-back Hockey East tournament titles in 2013 and 2014.
The RiverHawks also were part of the 2011 NCAA tournament, making it to the Frozen Four that year.
He’s been around winning coaches his entire career, including a stint on the staff of current Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky while he was at the helm of the Alaska-Fairbanks program.
Pedigree, recruiting ties and knowledge of the college hockey game from the West Coast to the East Coast could be a perfect fit for this type of job.
Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina Hurricanes Assistant
One sure-fire way to get the Michigan State hockey program back on track would be attracting one of its best alumni to the head coaching position. Brind’Amour certainly fills that void, but this one could be a bit of a stretch.
Some would point to the immediate success the Wisconsin Badgers had with Tony Granato taking over his alma mater. However, the two situations are a bit different, as Brind’Amour has been an assistant coach with the Carolina Hurricanes since 2011 and Granato had previous head coaching experience with the Colorado Avalanche.
If Brind’Amour were to pick up the phone for Hollis, he better be coming to him with a clear plan in place to make this thing work. Think bringing in the likes of Mark Osieki and Don Granato for Tony as Wisconsin.
Brind’Amour doesn’t have a ton of work on the youth level and that could scare off Hollis and Co. However, this may be a good place to look in this search.
Brent Brekke, Associate Coach Miami (OH)
If there is a leader in the clubhouse early on, I’m picking Brekke for this gig. All one should need to know is that he already turned down taking over at Western Michigan before the Broncos went on to hire Andy Murray (no, not the tennis player). Clearly that hire worked for the Broncos, but Brekke has also continued to build one of the best reputations in college hockey.
He’s spent the past decade or so in charge of the Redhawks defense, and the program has gained a reputation as one of the toughest defenses in the country. Michigan State was 57th in the country out of 60 teams in scoring defense this season, so clearly something needs to change there.
In rebuilding a program full of young players, getting them to play from the back first would be a wise move.
The question is, will the long-time assistant be ready to leave Oxford, Ohio after turning down other opportunities in the past? Perhaps the lure of the Big Ten and running his own program finally could be enough to get the job done.
Well that and Hollis showing he’s taking the hockey program seriously at MSU would be a huge help. Either way, he would be in the first two calls I make in regards to this job.