Danton Cole to Be Honored as Distinguished Spartan
March 26, 2013
Former Spartan standout, Stanley Cup winner, and current USA Hockey National Team Development Program coach Danton Cole will be given the Distinguished Spartan Award at the hockey program's annual post-season banquet. The banquet will be held at Eagle Eye Golf Club on April 17. The evening will feature a cocktail hour/team autograph session beginning at 6 p.m., then the banquet, which will feature the team's individual awards in addition to the Distinguished Spartan honor for Cole, will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35, and still available at the Spartan Ticket Office (517-355-1610) or online at http://tinyurl.com/MSUHockeyBanquet/>
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- For Danton Cole, there are two great jobs in this world.
One is playing hockey.
The other is coaching hockey.
Cole, 46, has done both and has been very successful as a player and a coach. He found his passion and followed it, and wouldn't change a thing about his college and career path.
"I don't know if I've enjoyed anything as much as I did in playing hockey, but the challenge and day-to-day ins-and-outs of coaching have been outstanding,'' Cole said. "I found a passion in coaching, fell in love with it and can't see myself doing anything else.
For about 25 years, Cole was a hard-working, all-around forward at every level, starting, like most hockey players, at a young age.
Born in Pontiac and raised in Lansing, Cole played youth and junior hockey in Lansing, Detroit and Canada before arriving at Michigan State in 1985 for the start of an outstanding four-year college career, which included a national championship in 1986 and two other trips (1987, 1989) to the NCAA Finals.
In 1989, Cole started getting paid for playing the sport he loved, and spent 11 seasons as a pro. He played in 318 games in the National Hockey League, with five teams, and won the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 1995.
When his pro career ended in 2000, Cole got into coaching almost by accident. He's now finishing up his 14th year as a coach, which includes jobs in the pros, college and now coaching the best 16-18 year-olds in the county with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor.
In recognition of his achievements in hockey as a player and teacher, Cole will receive 2013 MSU Distinguished Alumnus Award at the MSU Hockey Awards Banquet on April 17.
Surprisingly, Cole never thought about coaching until his pro career was almost over and he was contemplating life after hockey. He was just starting his third season with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League when injuries kept him off the ice and ended his playing career.
"The first time I thought about it was at the end of my career in Grand Rapids. I was getting older, I was getting banged up and I kind of knew that would be my last year, and I was starting to think about the real world,'' said Cole, a Lansing Waverly High School graduate who has a degree in finance from MSU.
"I had a couple of injuries early that season and wasn't able to play. The Griffins (management) came to me and asked if I wanted to help out as an assistant coach with (head coach) Guy Charron and (assistant) Curtis Hunt.
"I said yes, kind of jumped into it and fell in love with it. I found a real passion for coaching.''
Suddenly, one career ended and another began.
At Michigan State, Cole played on highly skilled teams that worked hard under coach Ron Mason, won a lot of games and were consistently in the national spotlight.
Cole was an excellent penalty killer for all four seasons. He was used as a strong two-way forward during his first two years and then emerged as a top scorer as a junior and senior.
He had 11 and nine goals and 21 and 24 points, respectively, during his freshman and sophomore seasons. As a junior, Cole was second in team scoring with 20 goals and 56 points, and then the third-highest scorer as a senior with 29 goals and 61 points.
Cole ended his Spartan career with 69 goals and 94 assists for 163 points in 180 games. He shares the MSU career games record with former teammate Don McSween (1983-87).
In four seasons, Cole's teams compiled a record of 131-44-8 - that's 87 games over .500.
But when Cole looks back at his four years at MSU, the goals, wins and titles are not what he finds most memorable.
"The more you're away from it and being in the business as a player and coach, you realize it's all about the people that were there that stands out,'' he said. "It's the guys, the coaches and the people around Michigan State and the impact four years of college put on a young man.
"There were so many things that you carry with you past college and into life.''
Still, Cole remembers how a great group of players came together and continued to keep the Spartans as a powerhouse program.
"I always talk about how coach Mason had us prepared. Sure, we were talented, but we were also a kind of a blue collar, hard-working type of team,'' he said. "The players were really good guys. When we get together, we kind of laugh about what coach Mason was saying. We kind of scratched our heads back then, but over time it sinks in.
"The guys I played with on those teams are the people I still keep in contact with the most. Some are still my closest friends in the world. 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.
"I look at those years fondly, and wouldn't trade them for the world.''
Mason said Cole was a player every coach wants to have on his team.
"He was a well-rounded person and you never had to worry about him going to school, working out or not being ready to play,'' Mason said. "He was a first-class kid. He never worried about being on the power play or what line he was on. He just wanted to play the best he could and help the team win.
"He worked hard, had good skills and wanted to improve. That's how he made the National Hockey League.''
Mason said he didn't sense that Cole would make necessarily make a good coach when he was at MSU, but later when he heard about Danton's desire to get into coaching, it didn't surprise him.
"Some guys, it would surprise me. Not Danton. He was very intelligent about the game,'' Mason said. "He went into it the right way. He learned as much as he could everywhere he's coached.
"Right now, he's coaching the best young players in the country.''
Cole's coaching path has been different than most young coaches take. Most start out in youth hockey or in juniors, then move up to college and then to the pros. Cole went from the pros to college to juniors.
Cole served as an assistant for two years in Grand Rapids, then spent one year at Muskegon in the United Hockey League and guided his team to the playoff championship.
That led to almost a three-season stay in Grand Rapids, coaching the Griffins, the Red Wings farm team in the AHL. After being let go by Grand Rapids midway through his third season, Cole caught on with the UHL's Motor City Mechanics, in suburban Detroit, for the end of the 2004-05 season and through the next season.
Cole's five-year pro coaching record is 222-126-17.
In 2005-06, Cole got his first college job as an assistant at Bowling Green. A year later, he was hired as head coach at Alabama-Huntsville. In 2009-10 - his third season at UAH - the Chargers won the College Hockey America title and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament. UAH lost to Miami, 2-1, in the first round the NCAA Midwest Regional in Fort Wayne, Ind.
After that season, Cole joined USA Hockey in Ann Arbor as coach of the U-17 team and then continued to guide those players as the U-18 team last year. This season, he's back with the younger players - the U-17s.
The NTDP attracts most of the best young players from all across the U.S. - Alaska, California, Arizona, Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine and anywhere there's a highly skilled player.
"It's quite a process here and we're blessed with the resources and young men to be in as much of a pure coaching situation as I've ever had,'' Cole said. "It's a great spot to coach.
Players are recruited from bantam programs from across the nation. They stay with housing families - billets - in Ann Arbor, and attend Pioneer High School. It's all about developing the skills of high-end players through lots of practices, games and international tournaments.
Most of the U.S. players selected for the team representing the U.S. in the World Championships came through the NTDP in Ann Arbor.
"Each group is a little different. They all have their own personality and that makes it fun,'' Cole said. "You only have them for two years but you take that plan and work on development. The real challenge is that the brain of 16- and 17-year-old young man is an interesting one.''
Cole still remembers the advice he got when he got into coaching from one of his former coaches - Terry Crisp, a former NHL player with the St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia who coached the Calgary Flames to the 1989 Stanley Cup.
"He kind of laughed when he heard I was going into coaching and he said, `here's some advice: Patience and Repetition.'
"Never has that been more true than with these (young kids). With their ability and skill, they're fun to work with. We can do things and challenge them with things that we couldn't do with some of our AHL teams.
"Their understanding of the complete game isn't quite there, but there is a lot they can do and it's amazing to watch their progress over two years.''
Cole said it's been fun and rewarding to see the impact some of the players from last year's U-18 team - players born in 1994 - have had in college and in Canadian junior hockey.
Jacob Trouba (Michigan), Riley Barber (Miami) and Nick Kerdiles (Wisconsin) have been outstanding as college freshmen, while Seth Jones (Portland, Western Hockey League), Mike Hartman (Plymouth, Ontario Hockey League) and Stefan Matteau (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) have excelled in juniors. Jones, a 6-foot-4 defenseman, could be the No. 1 pick in this year's NHL Entry Draft.
In two full seasons at USA Hockey, Cole has coached three teams to international championships.
When asked what he's most proud of from his hockey career, Cole said it's not about the championships and victories but the role he can play in shaping the lives of his players.
"I've been blessed to win a lot of championships as a player, but when you go through it with a team as a coach, and there's 22 guy, it's like winning the Stanley Cup 22 times at once,'' Cole said. "You sit back and see the guys understand about all the hard work and team unity and what it can bring.
"Sometimes, I enjoy watching a group of kids work hard, overcome the struggles and come together as a team more than the wins and titles. Then it's watching them move on and be successful in hockey or became teachers, doctors, businessmen, and find success in life
Cole's been in coaching for 14 years and he finds its special when former players call asking for advice or just to keep him up to date on what's happening in their lives.
"You hope that from all the time you've spent with them, that you've had a positive impact,'' he said. "Outside of my three kids, these are the guys I spend most of my time with.
"I'm proud of the 700-800 guys I've coached.''
Cole and his wife Debbie, also an MSU graduate, have three daughters - Ashton, a sophomore in college; Madeleine, a senior in high school, and Payton, who's in eighth-grade.
Cole said he's humbled and honored to be receiving the Distinguished Alumnus Award.
"You look at the list of the people that have been honored - people like Coach (Amo) Bessone, Coach Mason, the Millers (Lyle, Butch, Kevin and Kelly) and Don McSween, a teammate and one of the best guys I've been fortunate to play with,'' Cole said. "It's an impressive list.
"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.''
MSU's Distinguished Spartan Award
at the official