Michigan State’s search for a new hockey coach is over two weeks old and already fans are getting anxious as to who will take the reigns of the Spartan program. There have been many rumors floating around, some credible and some not. But the two names everyone seems to be focused on is Danton Cole and George Gwozdecky.
From @GeorgeSipple, frontrunners for vacant MSU hockey job still appear to be George Gwozdecky and Danton Cole. No time frame for decision.
— Chris Solari (@chrissolari) April 3, 2017
But who is the best candidate to turn Spartan hockey around?
This article will not go to in depth about their coaching history. If you are interested, please check out my other article on the top candidates to replace Tom Anastos. Instead, this article will be about what each of these men bring to the table, and more importantly who is most likely to get the job based on what we know so far.
Let’s start off with the candidate everyone knows. Cole played at MSU, won a national championship at MSU and a Stanley Cup with New Jersey. He has had coaching stints in Grand Rapids (AHL), Bowling Green (NCAA), Alabama-Huntsville (NCAA) and currently the US National Team Development Program.
Cole’s biggest attributes as a coaching candidate are his ability to develop talent and his recruiting connections in the state of Michigan. It’s no secret that the USNTDP is a hotbed for college hockey talent, and landing Cole would put MSU on an inside track towards bringing in some of that talent. In addition, Cole would put MSU on an even keel with Michigan in terms of attracting top in-state talent. During the Anastos era, Red Berenson seemingly had the pick of the crop in the Mitten. Now the tides could be shifting with Berenson nearing the end of his career and a new coach on the horizon in East Lansing. Hiring Cole changes that as he is well known and respected in the hockey circles in Michigan and among young hockey players as well.
The second key attribute for Cole is his ability to develop players. That’s the whole purpose of the NTDP and Cole can point to players like Dylan Larkin and Jack Eichel as an example of his success. To give you an idea in Cole’s mindset in developing players, just take a look at this interview Cole did at the beginning of the season.
Cole’s ability to develop is also key for MSU because there is talent on the current roster. Guys like Mason Appleton, Zach Osburn, Taro Hirose, Sam Saliba and Patrick Khodorenko all have potential to be exceptional players at the collegiate level. Several former players I’ve talked to on Michigan State’s roster said that Cole is a very tough but fair coach that pushes you to be your best, kinda like Tom Izzo in a sense. If Cole was hired to be the next coach, he would have an incredible foundation to work with and mold into a solid team.
The real difficulty when selecting Cole is his experience and success as a coach at the collegiate level. He certainly has more experience than Anastos, but his success is largely limited to a single year at Alabama-Huntsville. Now to be fair, coaching at UAH has to be one of the hardest jobs in college hockey, recruiting is hard, the travel is long and at the time there was talk of cutting the program. The fact that Cole led the Chargers to an NCAA tournament bid, and a 2-1 loss to top-seeded Miami-Ohio, is an accomplishment in itself. As to the lack of success with the U-17’s,which Cole coached this year, I simply attribute that to a down year for the USNTDP and an increasingly competitive United States Hockey League. It is also worth noting that the U-17’s are playing against USHL teams with lots of kids well older than them. Even so, Cole’s lack of major success at the collegiate level is probably his biggest weakness.
Now is Cole a serious candidate? Absolutely. Consider the following tweets from George Sipple, sports writer for the Detroit Free Press.
Danton Cole said he loves representing his country as @USAHockeyNTDP U-17s coach. He did say MSU was a "dream job." 2/2
— George Sipple (@GeorgeSipple) March 21, 2017
— George Sipple (@GeorgeSipple) March 21, 2017
Now you could read this a few ways, but there is no denying that Cole wants to help turn around MSU hockey. Calling the position a “dream job” and calling for Spartans to come together? The writing seems to be on the wall that Cole would jump at the possibility to return to East Lansing.
Overall, Cole seems like the best “safe” candidate. He’s the popular pick among the fans, he has good connections within Michigan, he’s a Spartan alum and he still has a fire and love for the school. At 50 years old, there would be little issue with Cole’s age, as you could easily get 15 years out of him or even longer. The only caveat is that it may take a few years for Cole to get MSU in a position of power in the Big Ten. But with his recruiting connections, it wouldn’t be very long and MSU would have a competitive hockey team relatively quickly.
The other name that has been gaining traction as of late is George Gwozdecky. If you would like to know a bit more on his background check out my candidates article here. To abbreviate, Gwozdecky has four NCAA championship rings, one with Wisconsin as a player, one with Michigan State as an assistant coach and two with Denver as coach. Everywhere Gwozdecky has gone he has had success at the D1 level, and there is reason to believe that the current coach of Valor Christian High School could be coming back to East Lansing, based off a recent tweet by Denver Post hockey writer Mike Chambers.
My son plays for George Gwozdecky so I'm not a reporter here, but from folks here at #FrozenFour, Gwoz indeed a finalist at Michigan State
— Mike Chambers (@MikeChambers) April 5, 2017
But what exactly does Gowz bring to the table? For starters, he is a proven winner at the collegiate level. It took only three years for Gwozdecky to bring Miami back to winning hockey, and at Dever he took a weakened Pioneer program and coached them to three straight 20 win seasons with two trips to the NCAA tournament to start off his career there. They key at Denver was that the cupboard was not bare for Gwozdecky when he first came in. A similar situation awaits him at Michigan State. Now 20 wins in a first season may be reaching a bit, but Gwozdecky would get Michigan State playing competitive hockey from day one.
Gwozdecky also has the added bonus of having a direct tie to Ron Mason, who passed away this past summer. Bringing in one of Mason’s best assistants would do wonders for changing the mood around Spartan hockey. The old fans would return, the Spartan community would be interested and he would bring instant credibility to Spartan hockey. That’s not to say that Danton Cole wouldn’t bring that hype but Gwozdecky brings an expectation of winning, something that has been sorely lacking around Munn Arena as of late.
In short, Gwozdecky fills almost every box you could want for a hire. He would be the Jim Harbaugh hire for MSU hockey.
The one glaring weakness for Gwozdecky is his age. He is 63 right now and will turn 64 this summer. The question will have to be asked, how long can he commit to coaching a D1 hockey team? Realistically, I put it between four to seven years. This is based on the fact that Gwozdecky has been described as a “young” 63 and full of energy for a man his age. Four to seven years in my mind would be more then enough time for Gwozdecky to put Michigan State back on the map before handing things off to a designated successor on staff. Gwozdecky’s hockey connections run far wider than Cole’s, and there is no doubt that he could put together an excellent staff with a hand-picked successor waiting in the wings.
Both Cole and Gwozdecky are incredible coaches that would bring intensity, grit and an increased visibility to the hockey program. In my own opinion, I lean a bit more towards Gwozdecky because of his proven track record of winning at the college level. That’s what MSU needs right now, a proven winner. Someone who can come in and from day one inspire confidence in this program. The dream scenario would be Gwozdecky bringing in Danton Cole as his assistant and heir-apparent, how about that for a power-house?
But honestly, Michigan State will be in good hands with either of these gentlemen behind the bench.