Danton is a great Spartan and has made the Spartan Nation proud. Photo courtesy of USA Hockey.

Danton is a great Spartan and has made the Spartan Nation proud. Photo courtesy of USA Hockey.

 

For many of us, after our time at Michigan State, we hope to find a successful job. Once filled with excitement, passion and enthusiasm for what we do. For former Spartan great Danton Cole, he’s managed to turn his time playing hockey at Michigan State into two careers, and his most recent venture may have him giving back to the university that gave him so much.  He recently spent some time with Hondo on Spartan Nation Radio and it was great to catch up to a living Spartan Nation legend.

            When I tell you Cole has taken a job in Ann Arbor, some of you may cringe. But when I tell you Cole, after a very successful NHL career, one in which carved his name on Lord Stanley’s Cup, has found a passion in coaching American’s hockey elites you may want to hear the rest of his inspiring story.

            It began in 1985 when Cole arrived as a freshman in East Lansing. After being drafted by the now defunct Winnipeg Jets, Cole’s expectations of himself and his team were nothing short of legendary. In both his time on the ice and in the classroom, Cole excelled. In only his second year under Coach Ron Mason, Cole and his teammates captured the 1986 National Championship. Recently, Cole draw upon the memories he and his teammates forged; “It was a team in the classic way of how a coach would want to think of his team. Everybody knew what their role was. Everybody did it. Nobody was worried about who was getting action. At the end of the day, what was important was winning and playing for each other.”

As he finished his career in Spartan green, Cole managed to personally collect one of the most prestigious honors given to Big Ten Student Athletes; The Big Ten Medal of Honor, given annually to the top-performing Student-Athlete in respective areas.

From there, Cole hopped around the NHL. From 5 NHL teams over an 11 year career, Cole’s play translated from the college game to the professional one. As a member of the original Tampa Bay Lightning franchise, Cole recorded some of his best professional statistics. Then, mid season in 1994-1995 Cole was traded to the New Jersey Devils where he would win his lifelong dream and lifted the Stanley Cup; “Playing in your driveway or basement, you’ve scored a lot of seventh game Stanley Cup clinching goals. It’s something you dream about all your life.”

For most this is where the story ends, maybe a stint in broadcasting but it’s basically their peak; but not for the driven Cole who still had more to give to the game that gave him so much. Shortly after retirement, this Pontiac, Michigan native took an Assistant Coaching job with the Grand Rapids Griffins. After a brief stint in the UHL he returned to the Griffins as Head Coach. Following his passion for elite level talent at younger levels, Cole returned to college ranks, most notably when he took the Head Coaching job at Alabama-Huntsville in 2007. Like most of us you probably said “Alabama-Huntsville?” but Cole took it as an opportunity for him and his coaching staff to show their talent, “We could offer as much as anywhere in college hockey and kids would come out of there knowing what they are doing on an off the ice.” Much to the surprise of many, Cole managed to take this unrecognized school in many hockey schools to multiple trips to the NCAA National Tournament.

            For Cole it was simple!  He recently told Hondo while he was a guest on Spartan Nation Radio, what every player needs to be successful in this game, “This game has to be played with passion. There’s just no two ways about it. You need to reward guys when they play that way, but it’s also something you have to recruit a bit.”

            It was this mentality that sparked the interest of the USA Hockey Under 18 Development Program. Cole was recently awarded the Head Coach of the U/17 team; a position of the highest trust for developing the very best in America’s young talent. Cole joked about people not necessary understanding what this program is all about “Basically what USA Hockey has done with their program here is trying to get 22 or 23 of the best kinds in certain birth years together. They come to Ann Arbor and they all go to the same school, they come over here and have training, power skating and weight-lifting and obviously on ice and games.”

            To me this speaks of two glaring talents in Cole’s coaching ability that made him the obvious candidate for the position. The first was his ability to understand the game, and portrait it in a way that made it clear to 17-18 year olds as they transition for the next steps in their careers.  The second is to identify and recruit these elite talents.

            But Cole knows this job didn’t develop over night, his experiences and hard work earned him this position and any positions he may take in the future, but Cole laughed when he thought his experience may just mean he’s getting older; “Everyone talks about their parents and there’s that moment when you’re talking to your kids and you’re telling them stuff and you kind of pause and say …. “Geez, I sound like my dad.””.

            But for the parents of the kids he coaches and has coach, knows what Cole is preaching has come one of the greatest, that he learned under Ron Mason. Three key ingredients for success in whichever avenue life takes: preparedness, responsibility, and being motivated to set goals. 

            And it was this foundation that Michigan State that Cole commented, as “I’ll be a Spartan for the rest of my life.

This article is reprinted.  It was first published in the October Spartan Nation Magazine.  Danton Cole is one person being looked at for the now vacant MSU head hockey coach job.