Opinion: Cole the right fit for MSU

Jason Ruff

Make no mistake about it, Danton Cole is the right man for Michigan State.

You could tell when he entered the locker room and held back the urge to sing the fight song.

You could tell when he talked about the current landscape of college hockey and his plan for bringing MSU back to the forefront of the game.  

You could tell as soon as he uttered the words “let’s get to work.”

That’s the type of coach MSU is getting: a hard-working grinder, a hockey guy, a Spartan.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]You could tell as soon as he uttered the words “let’s get to work.”[/su_pullquote]

Cole was introduced at a press conference at Munn Ice Arena on Tuesday around 3:00 p.m.. Surrounded by Spartan celebrities like Mark Dantonio, Tom Izzo and others, Cole shined in the spotlight, stoic yet determined.

He laid out his plan for rebuilding Spartan hockey. No timelines, no grandiose promises, just what he wants to see happen.

“What needs to be done is going to take a little bit of time,” Cole said. “Might not be the least painful thing, but nothing worth achieving ever is.”

Enhancing the program’s prestige, fostering a culture of excellence, identifying elite talent, engaging the community and making Munn the “snake pit” that it once was. These are the goals of Cole’s program, and they are exactly what MSU hockey needs.  

Identifying talent may be the biggest challenge for Cole. But it is also the one he is most qualified to tackle. As a former coach at the US National Team Development Program, he has seen and identified top talent, and he is familiar with the hockey hotbeds in Michigan.

Cole also understands that nothing is above scrutiny, even the current recruiting classes.

“I think we have to evaluate everything as we’re moving forward here,” Cole said. “Hopefully it’s a great situation for the player and the school. If it’s not a great situation for the student athlete then we’ve gotta figure that out as well.”

At the same time, Cole also has a pulse on who is still available to recruit for the next two seasons. There are skilled players in the USHL who remain uncommitted. Cole will be able to identify and pursue those players to come to Michigan State as 20-year-old freshmen.

Cole also indicated that he wants to expand MSU’s recruiting footprint into Ontario and British Columbia, longtime sources of hockey talent. But he still emphasized that recruiting in the Great Lakes region will be paramount.

“We’ve got to be good here,” Cole said. “If there’s five good players coming out of the state of Michigan, [Ron Mason] used to want to get two of ‘em.”

Of course, bringing in a good staff is paramount to recruiting well. Cole has said that he will take his time in finding assistants, but he wants to have things in place before the school year ends. But the roles of the staff will be different, according to Cole.

[su_pullquote]Cole’s planned style of play mimics his own personality: aggressive and ornery.[/su_pullquote]

“We’re gonna have a guy that’s going to be an on-ice guy that… that is 90 percent that. And then we’ll have a guy that’s on the recruiting side that’ll be 90 percent there that’ll run it,” Cole said. “It’s kinda trending towards how football is, where you have a recruiting coordinator and you just need that.”

Style of play can sometimes be hyped up more than it needs to be. But it can also establish an identity for a team and a program. Cole’s planned style of play mimics his own personality: aggressive and ornery. In some ways, his style mimics that of Tom Izzo.

“You have to have that attitude, that you’re not giving up an inch out there and you never lose. You either win or you learn a lesson and then you move on,” Cole said.

But most important of all for Cole is that he wants his team to play the game the right way. Aggressive on defense and offense, the game can be exciting when it’s played that way, and that’s how Cole wants to play it.

In terms of making Munn a top-notch facility and the “snake pit” of old, Cole only mentioned that the planned renovations would be key. He also didn’t have much to say about the impending student section name change, wanting to leave that to “smarter people.” He did have one request though, saying “keep my name out of it.”

Cole has no established time frame to be held to, though he hopes to be competing for Big Ten championships by Year 3. For Cole, the system he establishes will be paramount to enable winning and enable players to excel.

“I’m not big on saying ‘hey this year this, this year that, this year that.’ I’m more impressed and influenced with systems,” Cole said. “Let’s put a system in place here of excellence.”  

Spartan hockey fans have been waiting a long time to have hope in this program again. I dare say they’ve got plenty of it.