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5 names we’d look at in search for new Michigan State Spartans hockey coach

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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.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Report: Danton Cole hired as Michigan State hockey coach

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It took a bit longer than expected, but the Michigan State Spartans have their new men’s hockey head coach. That name should be a familiar one to fans of the program, as former MSU player Danton Cole has been hired. 

The news was broken by SpartanNation.com ($).

Cole comes to the Spartans after heading up the United State National Developmental Team this past season. He is also a former Stanley Cup winner in the NHL, hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup with the New Jersey Red Devils in 1995.

The Detroit Free Press reached out to Cole, but he did not respond to calls or texts regarding the report from Spartan Nation.

Early on in the process of replacing Tom Anastos as the head coach, Cole had emerged as a real possibility. His name was thrown around behind the scenes, but it took until after the just completed Frozen Four in Chicago this weekend to make this hire.

Michigan State has not officially announced the hire, but our sources have also been able to confirm that Cole has long been the front-runner for the job and has accepted an offer.

Not only is Cole a former Michigan State skater, he was part of the 1986 national championship squad and has extensive ties to the junior hockey game. Previous to his stint at the helm of the U.S. NTDP U-18 squad, he was also the coach for Grand Rapids in the IHL and Muskegon in the USHL.

Those ties to the younger side of the game and the professional ranks added in with his ties to the Spartans program made him a prime candidate for this job.

Former MSU assistant and long-time Denver head coach George Gwozdecky had also been considered a front-runner and it may be interesting to see if he will get involved in this staff in some capacity.

Since his ouster at Denver, Gwozdecky has been the coach of a prep team in Colorado. However, will he want to get back in the college game as an assistant at this point in his career?

Look for the Spartans to make the hire of Cole official sooner rather than later.

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MSU Hockey

Michigan State hockey resetting at right time as Tom Anastos steps down

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The Big Ten is about to change its makeup in hockey, adding Notre Dame for next season and changing how it plays out its postseason. Adding a power like the Irish to the conference makes an already difficult league even more so.

It makes a school like Michigan State, which finished dead last in the Big Ten conference, have to re-evaluate itself. Apparently, it also made Tom Anastos, re-evaluate his time in East Lansing.

On Tuesday, the school announced that Anastos has now stepped down from his position.

“When I first became head coach I established my own timeline for the program’s development. After a review of our season, and in spite of the progress we have made in so many areas, we have not met my expectations,” said Anastos.

“As a leader, I believe that you must always make every decision based on what’s in the overall best interests of the program, and never put personal interests first.  After lengthy conversations with Mark Hollis, I am stepping down from my role to help facilitate a change in leadership and direction for Spartan hockey.

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis announced the change at the top of the program.

“I want to thank Tom Anastos for the guidance he’s provided Spartan hockey over the last six seasons,” said Hollis. “He would be the first to admit that he wished there were more on-ice victories, but he built a program that was a great value to our community. His student-athletes were successful in the classroom and were great representatives of the athletic department and the university as a whole with their commitment to community outreach.

“A loyal Spartan for more than three decades, Tom Anastos has given so much to Michigan State. He’s had a positive impact on our entire department, well beyond the ice rink. Tom’s an amazing individual whose passion for Michigan State is unsurpassed. He and his wife Lisa and their five children will continue to be valued members of our Spartan family.”

He was a former player and assistant coach, also serving as a long-time commissioner of the CCHA (1998-2012). That’s when he took over the helm of the Spartans hockey program, leading the transition from the CCHA to the Big Ten conference.

In his time at MSU, he never finished more than three games over .500 on a season and had just two wining seasons in six years at the helm of the program.

This past season Michigan State was just 3-14-3 in Big Ten play and 7-24-4 overall on the season.

With Notre Dame coming on board next season, the Big Ten will have one of the toughest league schedules in the country. Michigan State will have to get this hire correct or it could be left completely in the dust of a league that sees a re-establishing Wisconsin program along with Penn State’s emergence as a power over the last few years.

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MSU Hockey

MSU hockey legend, former AD Ron Mason passes away

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Michigan State hockey is Ron Mason, but on Monday news came in that the legendary former men’s hockey head coach and athletic director passed away at the age of 76.

According to reports, Mason collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack early on Monday morning, leaving the MSU athletic program and hockey team stunned.

“I’m still stunned,” said current MSU hockey coach Tom Anastos, who played for Mason from 1981 to 1985. “Obviously, the loss of coach Mason comes as a huge shock to all of us. You’d always see him bouncing around with energy and with his intensity. To think we’re not going to see that is hard for me to get my arms around.”

While most kids today don’t see Spartans hockey as a threat in the Big Ten, it was once a power of the world of collegiate hockey under Mason’s tutelage. He spent 23 years as the head coach and took the program to one national title (1986) to go along with 17 CCHA regular season and tournament championships.

The Spartans also made 19 NCAA tournament appearances during his time behind the bench.

When he retired back in 2002, Mason did so as the winningest head coach in college hockey. His total of 924 career victories stood tall until Boston College legend Jerry York passed that total by back in 2012.

Mason also coached two Hobey Baker award winners in Kip Miller and Ryan Miller. Kip won it in 1990 and saw his cousin Ryan, a goaltender and not forward like him, win the award in 2001.

A total of 35 all-Americans and 50-plus future NHL players were coached by Mason at Michigan State alone.

Following the 2001-02 season, Mason stepped down as men’s hockey head coach to become the AD for MSU. It was a spot that he held until Dec. 31, 2007. He was heavy in bringing about changes to the athletic facilities and really got things going on renovations on the football facilities specifically.

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