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Adam Nightingale looks to restore 'great tradition' of MSU hockey


East Lansing — Michigan State’s hockey team has been to the NCAA Tournament 23 times, but after a 10-year absence, the Spartans have decided it’s high time to get back to a higher level on the ice.

That’s the task in front of new coach Adam Nightingale, who was formally introduced Monday as the program’s eighth head coach, succeeding Danton Cole, who was let go last month after five years with the program continuing to struggle, its tournament drought extending beyond the 2012 season, the last time the Spartans reached the postseason.

With Nightingale at the helm, expectations are returning to a program that won its third national championship in 2007 but has seen little success since.

“I promise that as a department, we are committed to helping restore Spartan hockey as the premier program in college hockey,” athletic director Alan Haller said Monday to open a press conference in the Izzo Hall of History at the Breslin Center.

On hand to offer support were plenty of Spartans alums, including former Red Wings Justin Abdelkader and Drew Miller. Abdelkader, who scored the winning goal in the 2007 national title game, helped Haller in the search process that landed on Nightingale, who spent the past two seasons as head coach of the United States National Team Development Program. He also spent four seasons as a coach in the NHL, including time with the Detroit Red Wings during the 2019-20 season.

“Spartan hockey has a great tradition with a history of winning championships and developing student-athletes that move on to the NHL,” Haller said. “That's the reason this hire was so important to me. The foundation of success is absolutely here and it’s the reason you've all joined me here today to celebrate not only the hiring of Adam Nightingale, but also a renewed commitment by the department and the community to support Spartan hockey.”

There were plenty on hand, including current and former Michigan State players as well as many members of Michigan State athletics, including men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo and women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant.

Haller said he leaned on those coaches to help establish what kind of coach would fit the culture at Michigan State and they all agreed Nightingale, a former MSU player, was the right fit. Of course, just being an alum wasn’t the first criterion.

“I can tell this was really thorough process, and that was really important to me,” said Nightingale, who was joined by his wife, Kristin, and three children, Trevor, Emmerson and Keeton, who was decked out in a green suit. “They were doing their homework and I remember when I met with them, I said, ‘If I'm here because I'm an alum, I don't want the job.’

“I really think Spartan hockey is different, and I believe the community and the alums all understand that.”

They all understand, too, that Nightingale has plenty of work to do.

The Spartans haven’t finished above .500 since the 2014-15 season and they’ve struggled to be relevant in the Big Ten since conference play began in 2013.

With only three players selected in the NHL Draft under Cole, the focus is on upgrading the talent. And with a newly renovated Munn Arena set to open next season, that is one of Nightingale’s primary goals for a program that has seen 121 players drafted into the NHL.

“We’re going after the best players,” Nightingale said. “We are not taking a backseat to anyone. You look at the facility we have, the coaching staff that we're going to put together, this is a spot where I want every guy we recruit to truly believe and want to play in the National Hockey League.

“I understand that not everyone is going to do that, but if you have that mindset, if you want to come to Michigan State, this is a place that develops you for the National Hockey League. We’ve earned that reputation by the way we develop our players.”

If it all comes together for Nightingale, Michigan State hockey could be headed toward a revival.

“We’re going to get Spartan hockey back to where it belongs,” Nightingale said. “And that's at the top of college hockey.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau