Jan. 11, 2010
East Lansing, Mich. - Amo Bessone, who spent 28 years as the head coach of the Michigan State hockey and guided the Spartans to the 1966 NCAA title, has passed away in New Mexico. Bessone was 93.
"I'm saddened by Amo's passing for sure, but I was thrilled to know him as a young coach and continue that relationship as I joined the Michigan State program," noted Michigan State head coach Rick Comley. "Amo is part of that group of coaches who made NCAA hockey what it is today ... he, Murray Armstrong, John MacInnes, John Mariucci. He also impacted the Michigan State program in so many ways, not the least of which is a commitment to being involved in the community, which continues today. He is a legend, and he will be missed."
"We are saddened by the loss of a true Spartan," commented Michigan State Athletics Director Mark Hollis. "Amo Bessone was a part of the fabric not only of the Michigan State athletics program, but also the surrounding community. He was dedicated to our athletes as well as growing the sport he loved so much. His influence on the game of college hockey and on the Michigan State hockey program is one we cherish, and will continue to honor."
"This is a big loss for all of us connected to him," added former Michigan State hockey coach and athletic director Ron Mason. "Our thoughts go out to his family, and we are all greatly saddened by this loss. He is the true father of MSU hockey - he built this program, making the best of what he had when he first got here. Even after he left, he continued to support it after he retired."
His 1966 "Cinderella Spartans" won the National Championship in Minneapolis, defeating Clarkson, 6-1 in the title game. At midseason, MSU owned a 4-9 record, but began to jell in the second half going 12-4 in its final 16 games, defeating both Michigan and Michigan Tech in the playoffs to advance to the Frozen Four. He brought the Spartans back to the Frozen Four in 1967 and finished third, and MSU had been the runners-up in 1959 (losing to North Dakota in overtime in the championship game). He was named the Spencer Penrose Coach of the Year in the National Championship season.
Bessone coached 814 games behind the Michigan State bench, second only to Ron Mason (974). Bessone was Michigan State's longest-tenured hockey coach and was instrumental in building the Spartan hockey program, progressing from a 7-13 record in his first season (1951-52) to four consecutive campaigns with 20 or more wins (1973-76). He tutored 12 All-Americans and three Olympians (Weldon Olson, Gene Grazia, and Doug Volmar). He retired after the 1978-79 season with a career record of 367-427-20 at Michigan State, with Big Ten titles in 1966-67, 1970-71 and 1975-76, (outright) and tying for the title in 1972-73.
One hallmark of Bessone's tenure was giving back to the community, a tradition and responsibility that continues to this day within the walls of Munn Ice Arena. Bessone is credited with helping the Greater Lansing Amateur Hockey Association (GLAHA) get off the ground - he donated used Michigan State equipment in addition to encouraging his varsity players to help coach in the youth hockey circuit. GLAHA started with three players in 1953 and by Bessone's retirement from coaching in 1979, the organization boasted 450 players. Today, GLAHA has 23 teams for boys and girls from mites to midgets.
Bessone was acknowledged for his community work with the John MacInnes Award in 1983, which recognizes an individual who has shown a great concern for youth hockey and amateur programs.
In tribute to his efforts over the years, several awards now bear his name. At Michigan State, one player each year since 1980 has been named the winner of the Amo Bessone Award, which recognizes athletic and academic achievement as well as community participation. Each year, GLAHA's Coach of the Year receives the Amo Bessone Award as well. In his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts, the Amo Bessone award is given to the top high school player in Western Massachusetts.
Bessone was born on November 22, 1916 on Cape Cod and raised in West Springfield, Mass. He attended West Springfield High School then later played at Hebron Academy and the Kent Hills School in Maine. He earned his undergraduate degree University of Illinois in 1943, where he lettered in baseball in addition to hockey. He moved onto an AHL career, but that was cut short due to his service in World War II. He began his coaching career at Westfield (Mass.) High in 1946, and made his move into the college ranks at Michigan Tech two years later. He spent three seasons at the helm of the Husky program (1948-51) before signing on at Michigan State in the fall of 1951.
In 1992, Bessone was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame as well as Michigan State's Hall of Fame.
Arrangements are still pending at this time.