Ten years ago, Michigan State hockey won the national championship. To do it, they downed the behemoth Boston College, which had scored 14 goals in the three tournament games they played to get to the final. Jeff Lerg allowed them just one, Justin Abdelkader put the game-winner in with 18.9 seconds left, and Rick Comley finally guided Ron Mason’s machine across the finish line that Mase himself had been unable to cross a second time.
Comley then put the machine in neutral, hopped out, and flopped into a hammock for the next 4 years, in which time the machine rolled down a hill, over an embankment, down a ravine, and into a crevasse 20 miles deep.
To extract the machine from said crevasse, Michigan State hired Tom Anastos in 2011. Anastos was an outside-the-box choice to do this; he had never operated a wrecker himself per se, but had considerable experience in preparing business documents for tow truck companies, and was therefore judged knowledgeable enough for the job.
6 years later, Anastos had not extracted the machine from the crevasse. It’s generally agreed that he has arranged a really good tow truck, with all the necessary equipment.
To pierce this increasingly tortured metaphor, begin here: MSU hockey was once quite good. 3 national titles hang in the rafters, and revered coach Ron Mason retired in 2002, to be succeeded by Rick Comley. Comley had, himself, won a title with Northern Michigan, and sure enough, he brought another one to MSU in his 5th season.
And then he retired.
Except he didn’t tell anyone and continued coming to the office.
What he did do, though, was stop giving a crap on the recruiting trail. And when the last of the players Mason had been involved with left after 2008, the results quickly came to reflect that. By the time Comley formally left in 2011, the above-illustrated encrevassing had occurred.
Into that wreck stepped Tom Anastos, former CCHA commissioner. He said all the right things, and he received plenty of slack from the athletic department, which claimed to the dismay of the program’s followers that a 6-year period would probably be necessary before it would be fair to evaluate Anastos’ progress.
To his credit, Anastos dragged Comley’s disinterested, talent-bereft leavings into the NCAA tournament in his first season.
And then...we’re still waiting for the next good news from his program. Last season, MSU won 7 games. And Mark Hollis had finally seen enough, firing Anastos and bringing in Danton Cole, former head of USA Hockey’s NTDP.
Cole is a product of Ron Mason’s program peak in the late 1980s, played 9 seasons in the NHL, and took Alabama-Huntsville (yes, they have a hockey team) to the NCAA tournament in a brief stint there. He is generally regarded as being familiar with coaching at every level, and frankly would probably have been the better hire in 2011.
He has perhaps his tallest task in front of him. MSU was the worst team in the 6-team B1G hockey conference by a pretty wide margin last year. Fan interest has bottomed out after the dismal results of the Anastos era, and long-overdue renovations to Munn Arena were recently placed on hold for want of contributions to finance them (imagine that).
There is reason for optimism, though. Wisconsin found itself in a similar malaise a year ago, and by nailing their new hire with Tony Granato, they vaulted themselves back to respectability in a single offseason. The general consensus appears to be that Anastos had sufficient talent collected, but simply could not develop or utilize it effectively. Cole’s track record suggests better times are ahead for MSU as well.