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Potential candidates to fill Michigan State’s vacant hockey coaching job

Michigan State hockey hasn’t been relevant for years. How does the university fix its program?

COLLEGE HOCKEY: JAN 13 Michigan State at Wisconsin Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Michigan State men’s ice hockey has become a laughingstock. The Spartans have not been able to contend in the Big Ten Conference or with its biggest rival, Michigan, in years. Only three of the meetings between the in-state rivals in the past three seasons have resulted in victories for MSU.

Former Spartan hockey player Danton Cole took over a struggling program in 2017. Five years later, Cole has only been able to lift the program out of last place in the conference once.

MSU has not advanced in the conference tournament since its last year in the CCHA, when the Spartans beat the Alaska Nanooks in 2013.

Cole was let go by the university on April 12. Michigan State athletic director Allan Haller said, “A fresh start is what the program needs most.” Most would agree.

In Mike McMahon’s College Hockey Insider, he notes the following:

Michigan State cast a wide net as far as talking to candidates, but sources said they are beginning to narrow their search to a few key individuals.

Whoever ends up with the head coaching position at Michigan State will be tasked with an extraordinary job. The program just ended its season by losing 15 of its last 16 games, with only one win at home against Penn State in 2022.

Goaltender Drew DeRidder, among other stars, has entered the transfer portal. Most seniors who are eligible do not plan on returning for an extra year of eligibility granted by the COVID-19 blanker waiver from the 2020-2021 season.

Here are four options for Michigan State’s head coaching position.

Mike Hastings

After two consecutive Frozen Four appearances, Minnesota State men’s ice hockey head coach Mike Hastings has caught the attention of two major programs: Michigan State and Boston University.

Although it may be more likely that Hastings picks the Boston job over Michigan State, he is clearly worth pursuing. He might not be a Spartan but he’s qualified.

Hastings was the head coach with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL. He was named the USHL Coach of the Year twice and was just named the CCHA Coach of the Year last season, and was given the Spencer Penrose Award (top coach in college hockey) three times.

In 10 seasons at Minnesota State, Hastings has led his team to 20 or more wins every time. The university gave him a 10-year contract extension in 2017.

Hastings is still under contract, so Minnesota State may not allow him to leave. He has ties to Boston (his son attends Northeastern University) so it would not be surprising if he jumped ship. However, MSU could swoop in, as its been reported that the program is highly-interested in having conversations with him.

Eric Lang

Eric Lang, the current head coach at his alma mater, American International, is another coveted coach who could reignite MSU hockey’s spark that it once had.

The American International Yellowjackets are riding three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Prior to Lang’s leadership, the Yellowjackets were ranked No. 60 of 60 Division I teams. Now the program is a tournament team.

If rebuilding is a priority, Lang could be the best man for the job. It could be difficult to get him, though. Lang is still under contract and is at his alma mater. It also isn’t certain as to what Michigan State is willing to spend for a coach such as Lang.

Pat Ferschweiler

Western Michigan head coach Pat Ferschweiler has been on and off with the university for more than a decade. Ferschweiler was the assistant head coach back when current Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill was announced as WMU head coach in 2010. He has also spent time as an assistant coach with the Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins.

Last season, Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray resigned and Ferschweiler was announced as his replacement. In his first season, Western Michigan had an overall record of 26-12-1. The Broncos lost the NCHC championship game to the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

The Broncos defeated Northeastern in the first round of the NCAA tournament and then lost to Minnesota in the second round.

Ferschweiler took Western Michigan from an unranked pre-season team to No. 5 in Week 23. Michigan State seems to have some solid recruiting prospects coming in and could end up giving the program a competitive edge this season.

Adam Nightingale

Currently, Adam Nightingale is the head coach of Team USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. He holds the same position that Cole did before arriving in East Lansing.

With Team USA’s development team, Nightingale has coached several top college prospects, including Michigan’s Luke Hughes and Minnesota’s Chaz Lucius. Both Hughes and Lucius chose their programs over Michigan State for several reasons. Nightingale could help bring some top prospects to the program.

He’s also been a video coach with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings. Then, Nightingale was promoted to assistant coach in Detroit.

Not to mention, Nightingale is a Michigan State alum. He played for the team and was the director of hockey operations from 2010-2014. Of the alums up for the job, Nightingale might be the best, although I would personally appreciate a head coach with no ties to the university.

Still, Nightingale seems like the betting favorite to take this job.