When Adam Nightingale met with Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller to discuss the hockey head coach job opening at MSU, Nightingale told Haller, “If I’m here because I’m an alum, I don’t want the job.”
Here is his resumé: Nightingale has worked as a video coach in the NHL (including under former Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill where he was promoted to assistant coach) and he was the head coach of Team USA’s National Team Development Program. He was also Michigan State’s director of hockey operations from 2010 to 2014.
Most recently, Nightingale’s national squad earned silver following a loss to Sweden in the U18 World Championship. For Michigan State, the same cannot be said.
MSU is coming off of one of the worst seasons in its history. After making way into the PairWise rankings last November, Michigan State completely fell off of a cliff and finished in last place in the Big Ten, a place all too familiar for the Spartans.
Nightingale spoke to members of the media at his introductory press conference on Monday.
“We need to be better,” Nightingale said. “It starts with our culture.”
Nightingale says that establishing culture is one of his strengths. That was a point of emphasis. “It’s not about any one guy, it’s never going to be about the coach, it’s never going to be about one player. It’s always about the team.” He says he will put together a staff that holds him accountable.
According to Nightingale, more than 150 potential coaches have applied to work on his staff.
Another main point of emphasis for Nightingale was reestablishing recruiting.
“We’re going after the best players,” Nightingale said. “We’re not taking a back seat to anyone. You look at the facility that we have and the coaching staff that we’re going to put together. This is a spot that every guy we recruit will truly believe and want to play in the National Hockey League.”
As far as development, Nightingale is bringing everything he learned from coaching the national team.
“It is not going to be a short-term development mindset,” Nightingale said. He also said players will be practicing as if they were working to get to the NHL. There won’t be any “down” practices. Every day, every week, every practice will be intense.
Nightingale mentioned that he believes playing style is key to winning in college hockey.
“You need to play with a style that is both advantageous for player development, and you can still win.”
He admires the playing style that Michigan State basketball and head coach Tom Izzo have put together in East Lansing. Nightingale wants to emulate that with his hockey program.
“You could put an orange basketball jersey on MSU and put them against Kansas and you’d still know it’s Michigan State,” Nightingale said about Michigan State’s men’s basketball program. “They play hard, they get to the inside, they rebound. That’s what Michigan State hockey will be for me. We will have a clear identity.”
His task will be to get Michigan State back to the NCAA Tournament. It has been there 23 times, but hasn’t made the tournament since 2012.
Haller’s goal with hiring Nightingale, he said, is “restoring” Michigan State as one of the premier organizations in college hockey.
At the press conference on Monday, which took place at the Gilbert Pavilion in the Izzo Hall of History, several former Michigan State alums were in attendance to show support. Those who were there included former Red Wings and Spartans Justin Abdelkader and Drew Miller. MSU men’s basketball and women’s basketball head coaches Tom Izzo and Suzy Merchant were also in attendance.
Former alums, along with others, guided Haller into making the final decision on Nightingale.
Michigan State’s program has not finished above .500 since the 2014-2015 season. Nightingale commended both former MSU hockey coaches, Tom Anastos and Danton Cole, for their work in getting Munn Ice Arena renovated.
MSU’s new facilities should attract high-level players going forward. The fully-renovated arena opens up this fall.
Full Nightingale Press Conference: