Michigan State hires NTDP's Adam Nightingale as new hockey coach
East Lansing — A new era is beginning for Michigan State hockey.
With the Spartans set to begin play in the newly renovated Munn Arena in the fall, they now also know who will be behind the bench.
On Tuesday, the school announced it hired Adam Nightingale as the eighth head coach in program history, replacing Danton Cole, who was let go last month after going 58-101-12 and failing to reach the NCAA Tournament during his five seasons. The terms of Nightingale’s contract were not announced.
“I’m extremely thankful and humbled to have the opportunity to lead at Michigan State University,” Nightingale said in a statement. “Spartan hockey is a source of pride for the University, the East Lansing community, and the entire state of Michigan. I’d like to thank Athletic Director Alan Haller, Deputy AD Jennifer Smith, and everyone involved in the search process for the opportunity to come back home and once again be a part of this storied program.”
A former Spartans player and two-year alternate captain, Nightingale 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.
Nightingale’s arrival marks the second major hiring for athletic director Alan Haller since he took over last September. In February, he named Leah Johnson as the new volleyball coach and he is now following a similar path that former AD Mark Hollis did when hiring Cole.
Cole, too, was head coach of the USNTDP when he took over at Michigan State in 2017. Now, Haller is hoping for a more successful outcome.
“Adam has a passion for the school and the program, and his combination of skill development, player development and recruiting ties promises to make the next era of Spartan hockey a successful chapter in the storied history of a proud program,” Haller said in a statement.
Haller put together an advisory board to help guide the hire, a group he said was made up of Michigan State alumni that include All-Americans and NHL players. He also spoke extensively with other players, coaches and front-office personnel, as well as members of the hockey community to develop criteria for Michigan State’s new coach.
“Criteria such as skill development, strong recruiting ties, style of play, respect throughout the hockey community and an ability to holistically develop student-athletes on and off the ice became the focus and guideposts for the search,” Haller said. “Being a former Spartan player was not a requirement for either me or the advisory group. That was something that was very clear. My focus was finding the right fit based upon the developed criteria. In a thorough search, one which included conversations with some successful current head coaches, Adam matched all the established criteria.”
Michigan State is attempting to turn around a program that won a national championship in 1986 and 2007 but hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2012.
The 10-year NCAA drought is the second-longest in program history, since the NCAA Tournament started in 1948. The longest drought was from 1968-81.
“One thing rang very clear throughout this process,” Haller said. “Michigan State is one of the premier college hockey programs in the country. Everyone, from alumni to our loyal fans, has high expectations each and every year. I hope they’re all smiling today, because the future is bright for Spartan hockey.
“We will take the ice this fall in a renovated Munn Ice Arena, and across the board, there is a renewed commitment to the program. Perhaps most importantly, Adam brings a thorough understanding of where we are as a program, and a clear plan for what’s required to once again reach championship heights.”
Last week, Nightingale finished his stint with the USNTDP by leading them to a silver medal at the U.S. Under-18 Men’s World Championships, using a roster that boasts 22 Division I commitments. It capped a solid run that included helping coach the bronze medal-winning 2021 U.S. Men's World Championship Team. Nightingale was also video coach for the U.S. Men's National Team for three consecutive years (2017-19), including for the bronze medal-winning 2018 squad. He was also the video coach for the 2015 U.S. National Junior Team.
“We want to bring in high-level players with aspirations to work hard and help them develop to the point where they have the opportunity to play in the National Hockey League,” Nightingale said. “Our staff will put a premium on player development so that we can play an exciting and skilled brand of hockey. We will continue the traditions of hard-working student-athletes who are standouts not only on the ice, but also in the classroom and in our community.
“We look forward to building the program back to where our proud alumni and fan base know it should be, which is the top of college hockey.”
Nightingale, a Cheboygan native, also spent four seasons on NHL staffs. From 2017-20, he was part of the Red Wings organization. As an assistant coach in 2019-20, he was responsible for player development, pre-scouting opponents and running the penalty kill. He worked as the video coach for his first two years in Detroit, a role he also held for the Buffalo Sabres in 2016-17.
After a college playing career that included two seasons at Lake Superior State, (2000-02) followed by two at Michigan State (2003-05), Nightingale played parts of four seasons in the ECHL with the Gwinnett Gladiators, Greenville Grrrowl and Charlotte Checkers.