Cole takes ‘dream job,’ hired as new head coach at Michigan State

The visiting US National Team Development Program's Under-18 team tied the Boston University Terriers 3-3 on Sunday, January 8, 2012, at Agganis Arena in Boston, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)
Danton Cole spent the past seven years with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor and Plymouth, Mich. (photo: Melissa Wade)

Danton Cole, an 18-year coaching veteran with international, professional and collegiate experience, has been appointed head coach at Michigan State.

Cole, who was a key member of some of the most successful Spartan hockey teams in program history, comes to Michigan State from USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program where he has mentored some of the nation’s top young players on the Under-17 and Under-18 teams for the past seven seasons.

“We’re looking forward to having Danton Cole back with us at Michigan State,” MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon said in a statement. “He brings a championship pedigree and a heart for working with student athletes. He’s going to develop well-rounded young men who will achieve greatness both on and off the ice — people who will be terrific representatives of Spartan hockey and Michigan State University.”

“Danton Cole has a wealth of experience throughout the game as both a player and a coach, and an understanding of what it takes to win championships at every level,” added MSU athletic director Mark Hollis. “He’s raised the Stanley Cup as a player, understands the obligations of running a Division I hockey program, and he’s plugged into the country’s best young talent from his time with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. He has demonstrated the ability to develop young talent into great players. Most importantly, his comprehensive approach to developing men of character goes beyond on-ice instruction and into the classroom with a commitment to education, as evidenced both by his work with the NTDP and his time as a student-athlete during which he captured the Big Ten Medal of Honor.

“Danton once told me that being the head coach at Michigan State was his dream job. But what really impressed me was when he volunteered to assist me in doing whatever it took to help Spartan hockey be successful – even if it meant finding someone else to coach. I was struck by his willingness to put the program above himself. That selfless nature and devotion to Spartan hockey will serve Danton well as he guides the Spartans for years to come.

“Hockey has taken Danton Cole so many different places, but it’s with great pride and excitement that I welcome him back home to Michigan State.”

Cole is the seventh head coach in program history and replaces Tom Anastos, who stepped down last month.

“I’m really honored to have the opportunity to represent Michigan State University and Spartan hockey,” said Cole. “This is a position to which I’ve always aspired. I wasn’t sure the timing would ever work out, but I’m very fortunate. My mom and dad both went to Michigan State – I didn’t grow up around MSU, I grew up at MSU. It has been an enormous part of my life. Once I got into coaching, it didn’t take long for me to realize I wanted to get back on campus and try to accomplish what we did when I was playing for the legendary Ron Mason.

“I want to thank Coach Anastos and the previous staff for all of their efforts as we continue to move the program forward and build upon the great tradition of Spartan hockey. As a program, we want to compete for Big Ten championships and be a part of the NCAA Tournament, because as I experienced as a player, once you get in the tournament, you’re on the doorstep of a national title. We’re going to identify and recruit young men that want to be Spartans and share our vision of excellence on and off the ice. Another priority will be to continue working toward a renovation of Munn Ice Arena, providing our student-athletes and fans a world-class facility and tremendous home-ice advantage.”

Cole has guided Team USA to two gold medals (2012, 2014) and one bronze medal (2016) at the IIHF Under-18 World Championship and three top-three finishes at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge (2011, 2013, 2014), the top events in each age group.

His teams have also enjoyed success in numerous international tournaments, having captured U17 titles at the Four Nations (2010, 2012) and Vlad Dzurilla (2011) tournaments. While leading the U18s, the U.S. has placed first on three occasions in major competitions: twice at the Four Nations (2011, 2015) and once at Five Nations (2014) tournaments.

Cole’s first taste of international coaching came with the U.S. Under-18 Select Team at the 2009 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, where he served as assistant coach. He assumed that same role in 2013 for the bronze-medal winning U.S. Men’s National Team at the IIHF Men’s World Championship.

Cole’s coaching career started immediately following his playing days. After retiring from the Grand Rapids Griffins in 1999-2000, he remained with the team for the season as an assistant before spending 2001-02 with Muskegon in the United Hockey League, guiding the team to the playoff championship.

He followed that with a nearly three-year stint as head coach of the Griffins which included two Calder Cup Playoff appearances in 2003 and 2004. After coaching the UHL’s Motor City Mechanics through 2006, he amassed a five-year pro coaching record of 222-126-17 (.632).

In 2006-07, Cole landed his first college job as an assistant at Bowling Green. After one year at BGSU, he was hired as head coach at Alabama Huntsville, where he went 23-59-12 in three seasons. He led UAH to the CHA tournament title in his third season with the school in 2009-10, earning the program’s second-ever berth in the NCAA tournament, before moving on to USA Hockey in 2010.

Cole’s playing career at MSU began in 1985-86 as he helped further the Spartans’ trek to sustained national prominence. In his four years at Michigan State, the Spartans went 131-44-8 (.738), winning a NCAA national championship (1986), making three NCAA Frozen Four appearances (1986, 1987, 1989), capturing two CCHA regular-season titles (1986, 1989) and two CCHA tournament championships (1987, 1989).

As a junior at MSU, Cole was second in team scoring with 20 goals and 56 points, and then was the third-highest scorer as a senior with 29 goals and 62 points.

Cole, who was the recipient of the Distinguished Spartan Award in 2013, ended his Michigan State career with 69 goals and 94 assists for 163 points. He shares the MSU career games played record of 180 with former teammate Don McSween. He graduated with a degree in finance and excelled in the classroom at MSU as he was a three-time CCHA All-Academic Team honoree. He is one of nine Spartan hockey players to have received the Big Ten Medal of Honor, garnering the accolade as a senior.

Drafted in the sixth round (123rd overall) by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1985 NHL Draft, Cole made his pro debut with the AHL’s Moncton Hawks in 1989-90 and saw his first action in the NHL that season as well, recording two points in two games for the Jets.

Cole went on to play 11 seasons professionally. He played 318 NHL games over six seasons with Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, New Jersey, the New York Islanders and Chicago. He is one of 11 Spartans to have hoisted the Stanley Cup as he helped the New Jersey Devils to the 1995 Cup.

Cole played four more seasons in the IHL for the Griffins before retiring with the team in 1999-2000.

He represented the USA as a member of the Men’s National Team on three occasions (1990, 1991, 1994) and earned outstanding player of the 1991 IIHF Men’s World Championship.

A native Michigander, Cole was born in Pontiac and raised in Lansing. He played youth hockey around the state and then in the Ontario Junior Hockey League in 1984-85, recording 95 points in 41 games.

He graduated from Waverly High School, where he was a two-time all-league baseball selection.

Cole, 50, and his wife Debbie, have three daughters – Ashton, Madeleine and Payton.


    • Cole should have good recruiting connections…but I don’t think he is a name that moves the needle for State immediately. He wasn’t successful at Alabama Huntsville. In other words, don’t expect a Wisconsin type move from MSU because of this. The Spartans’ rebuilding process is 4-5 years in length still.

      • As an interested third party, there is very little talent at MSU. This is a complete gut job that will need time. That said, Alabama-Huntsville is probably the hardest job there is coaching wise and recruiting. I wouldn’t hold that against him.

        • Agree somewhat. There is talent on MSUs roster. Anastos never utilized it properly. Haeg is a good example.
          Agree with huntsville as one of the toughest schools to recruit.

          • I don’t think there is a lot of talent on that roster to be honest. I have watched that team play the last few years. Haag and Cox were good role players to me. I would gladly take Appleton and maybe Hirose. The rest … eh? I liked MacKensize McEachern, but he bolted early.

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        • I am well aware of how difficult UAH job is (WCHA fan here). Just saying that he didn’t light the world on fire there. Coming into a bad situation at MSU, he may prove the right guy but he isn’t a name to turn it around immediately.

          By hiring Cole, the Spartans are admitting that they have to take time to fix things.

          • Who lights the world on fire at UA-H? Be honest. It’s not a hockey hotbed. Huntsville isn’t a great place to recruit to. It’s not ASU. He has tied to the school which could be a positive or a negative. However, his ties to the USDTP will help. MSU has a ways to go. No matter who they hired, its not going to be a quick fix. However, which place is a better gig … MSU or UA-H? Which is easier to recruit and get talent? That isn’t up for debate. I personally don’t care for MSU at all, but call a spade a spade.

          • I think we are in less disagreement than you may think but to use a football reference Urban won at Bowling Green and he rolled in a BCS game at Utah which was supposedly impossible at the time.

            Really good coaches can do it quickly even in less than ideal environments. I think State could get back faster with a different candidate (Gwoz for example). That said, in the long run Cole may be the right guy but he won’t do it in a year or two.

          • I think most people would agree, we won’t know about Danton Cole and MSU for two or three years. He has a ways to go because the roster isn’t good. I’m a Denver grad and think the world of Gwoz, but he is 63 years old. Maybe they wanted younger. The only other name that possibly could have made sense at MSU to me was RBA. MSU is clearly the worst program in the BIG. The BIG is getting stronger with the addition of N. Dame. Minnesota, PSU, a better Wisky and OSU along with ND make it a tough climb for MSU.


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