As the renovations are being completed in Munn Ice Hockey Arena, the foundations of the program that resides there are being laid.
Newly-hired Michigan State Head Coach Adam Nightingale and his assistants have wasted zero time getting underway in recruiting and building the connections with the players on the roster. Just in making his introductions to the players after being hired in April, he sold his pitch to a team that was in a state of flux and kept players like the Krygier twins on the roster with a short call after introducing himself.
“Three minutes after the Zoom call, Christian called me and said, ‘Coach, I want to come back,’” Nightingale said.
Now that the roster is set with the arrival of freshman Karsen Dorwart, the pitch now translates to the future. That pitch, coupled with newly hired assistants Jared DeMichiel and Mike Towns, is that Michigan State hockey has entered the new age of hockey.
Equipped with brand new locker rooms, weight rooms, film rooms, water treadmills, new lounge areas and more, the time to produce results is now here and Nightingale knows it.
“I get in here and there's an unbelievable facility and then you rewind it back further and the work that Tom Anastos did to get the interior of Munn really dialed in and then obviously Danton (Cole) with this (current renovation),” Nightingale said. “Big-time excitement, I think those two assistants that we hired, that's an attraction for them is that they know that pieces are in place. Now, it's our job to go help the current players that we have to improve and go get guys that we can make this place a special spot.”
The renovations hope to spark some better results on the ice this season. Technology like new films rooms to allow the coaching staff to show the athletes where they can improve for future games, new athletic training centers with water treadmills and more to help keep players healthy, refueling stations with food and water and new saunas are all a part of the new investment into Michigan State hockey.
“I think that shows in this investment here with the renovation,” Nightingale said. “We were sixth (seventh according to USCHO) in attendance last year, so I think the community is really behind us. When you bundle all that together and then the two assistants that I think are gonna do an unbelievable job helping guys get better and I think we can put all that together.”
Recruiting in the age of NIL and ever-growing investment has to be more than just the puzzle piece that is facilities, you have to be able to present a multi-faceted pitch. In the early part of this century, part of that pitch for Michigan State was the ability to play in Frozen Fours and win national championships. But 15 years removed from the last national title and Frozen Four, many of those being recruited don’t remember or were even born when Michigan State was last at its peak.
For Nightingale, the pitch shifts to being the one to change it all.
“I think that's kind of the cool part about it is that those are the guys we want, that embrace the challenge,” Nightingale said. “They want to be the guy. We have that opportunity to play in the Big Ten and you have an opportunity to come in and be the guy.”
“We're talking about turning around the program, the guys that are wired that way are the guys that are going to turn this thing around,” he continued. “We're trying to use that to our advantage and we've definitely had some good conversations with some high-end guys and I'm confident that they're going to decide to be Spartans.”
The staff alongside him will be crucial in selling that pitch. Both Towns and DeMichiel come from tournament experience and even national championship experience, something that Nightingale believes shows what Michigan State can bring in.
“DeMichiel, he's got a reputation as being a top recruiter in college hockey and then on top of that he's worked with some of the best players there at UMass and brought in a guy Cale Makar and he worked with him,” Nightingale said. “I think that says a lot about Jared and when he got there, I think they had five wins the first year and they won a championship and lost in the finals twice, three times in the national championship game in seven years. And then with Mike Towns, when he was at AIC, I think he built a program to be in the tournament and contending team. Then he went to Clarkson, they're a top-20, top-15 program.”
Nightingale has the wheels turning in East Lansing on the recruiting trail and the pieces are in place for success to come. But ultimately, Nightingale’s true test is doing what the past two coaches in Anastos and Cole could not, and that’s developing talent.
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“I'm not a perfect coach, but I do think I've unique background,” Nightingale said. “I have coached at Shattuck St. Mary's, which is the top prep school, maybe in the world for developing hockey players. That's where I learned how to coach. I got a chance to coach in the National Hockey League for four years and be around the best players and be on the bench with them. I had the opportunity to coach the national team with our team this year, it was nine guys right in the first round. I feel like my background has really been in development. I think that if I'm a young kid and a family and these advisors are talking, I think they are drawn to that.”
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