EAST LANSING - Michigan State has called a press conference for 3 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena where sources indicate the university will announce the hiring of Danton Cole as the Spartans’ new head hockey coach.
Cole, a Lansing native, played at Michigan State from 1986-89, helping the Spartans win the National Championship in ’86, the National Championship game in ’87 and the Frozen Four in 1989.
Cole will replace Tom Anastos, who stepped down from the head coaching position on March 21 after struggling to a 78-122-24 record in six seasons. Michigan State suffered through a 7-24-4 season this year, prompting the change.
Cole returns to Michigan State after spending eight seasons as head coach for the USA National Team Development Program, where has has coached the top 16- to 18-year-olds in the country.
He played in portions of seven seasons in the NHL with five teams, winning the Stanley Cup in 1995 with the New Jersey Devils. He had a career-high 20 goals with the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 1993-94 season.
He was regarded as a hard-working, two-way forward while at Michigan State and in the NHL.
Cole was a named Academic All-CCHA three times while at Michigan State, where he earned a degree in finance.
He has also been a head coach for Grand Rapids of the AHL, Muskegon of the UHL and the University of Alabama-Huntsville.
In three seasons at Alabama-Huntsville from 2008 to 2010, his team went from 6-21-4 to 5-20-5 to 12-18-3 in 2010. He lifted UAH to its second NCAA Tournament appearance in history in 2010 with a victory in the College Hockey America conference title game.
He returns to a Michigan State hockey program and culture that has been yearning for his hiring for several years. Cole was thought to be the leading candidate to replace the fired Rick Comley in 2011, but MSU athletics director Mark Hollis made the surprising, outside-the-box hiring of Anastos instead.
Now, MSU gets a second crack at a more experienced version of Cole who has told sources that the Spartan head coaching position has been his dream job for years.
In 2013 when he was honored with the Distinguished Spartan Award at the MSU hockey banquet, Cole said: "I grew up a Michigan State guy. My dad went to school here and my mom and sister have degrees from the school. It's been a big part of my life.
"To be involved with the school and to be recognized with so many other great people on the list, I'm proud of it and proud to be part of Michigan State.''
Larkin played for one year at the University of Michigan and Eichel played for one year at Boston University, where he won the Hobey Baker Award as a freshman.
In addition to showing the capacity to communicate with the top players in the country, develop them and win with them, Cole is expected to help resuscitate Michigan State’s recruiting, due in part to his connection with some of the top up-and-coming players in the nation.
Michigan State’s recruiting has suffered in recent years due to lack of program success and questions about the direction of the team. For example, the Spartans have no commitments from the 22 members of the current USA u-18 team while Michigan has five, Boston University has four, Boston College has three and Wisconsin and Minnesota have two each.
Two members of the team are uncommitted: Kailer Yamamoto, a 5-foot-8 forward from Spokane, Wash., and Logan Brown, a 6-foot-6 forward from Raleigh, NC. It’s unclear whether either of those players would begin to consider Michigan State at this point.
The Spartans have only two players whose draft rights are held by NHL teams, whereas Minnesota has 13 at Michigan has eight.
Cole got into coaching almost by accident, when he was asked to stay with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League as an assistant in 1999 after he retired from the team due to injuries.
"I found a passion in coaching, fell in love with it and can't see myself doing anything else,” Cole said in 2013.
The late Ron Mason described Cole in 2013 as “a well-rounded person, a first-class kid," during an interview with MSUSpartans.com in commemoration of Cole's Distinguished Spartan Award.
“He worked hard, had good skills and wanted to improve,” Mason said in 2013. “That's how he made the National Hockey League. He was very intelligent about the game. He went into it the right way. He learned as much as he could everywhere he's coached.”
Cole said he applies Mason’s core principles.
"I always talk about how Coach Mason had us prepared,” Cole said in 2013. “Sure, we were talented, but we were also a kind of a blue collar, hard-working type of team. Everything I do - whether it's in coaching or raising my (three) kids -- it seems like there was core of things I learned during those four years that I still use.”
After two years as an assistant in Grand Rapids, Cole became head coach at Muskegon of the United Hockey League and led the team to the playoff championship.
He then served as head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Detroit Red Wings’ top affiliate, from 2002-2005.
He was the winningest coach in Griffins history with a record of 116-72-3 when he was let go midway through the 2004-05 season.
Cole got his first college coaching job as an assistant at Bowling Green for the 2005-06 season. A year later, he was hired as head coach at Alabama-Huntsville.
He then took the post with USA Hockey after his third season at UAH.
Cole and his wife Debbie, also an MSU graduate, have three daughters - Ashton, Madeleine and Payton.