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September 27, 2017

Danton Cole

East Lansing, Michigan

COACH COLE: All right. Thanks. Appreciate everybody coming out. I don't have a big opening statement here. I think I've talked with a lot of you already. I'll get the first question out of the way. Yes, I'm very excited to be here. I'm a little on the stoic side sometimes, so it might not appear that way. But it's been outstanding. Probably the most interesting thing for me at least coming back -- and I've obviously been back on and off over the years, but just coming back to Michigan State and the people that are here and just the quality of relationships and have everyone is treated. There is a culture here at Michigan State that I think is quite special, and I'm not talking just about the athletic department, but the campus as a whole and everybody that's been extremely helpful to myself, my family and the program in just getting things rolling. So that is special. That's the one thing that hasn't changed. Everything else is -- it's a lot of fun to be around here. So after that, just open it up to questions. Yes, sir.

Q. How excited are you (no microphone).
COACH COLE: Yeah, you get on campus, and we only get the two hours on ice and six hours off ice with the guys. So for a coach that's just not a lot of time. So you kind of get teased a little bit every day. So looking forward to Saturday, that opening up to where we can get the regular season 20 hours. So I think it's been good for me; from a learning standpoint, I think it's been good for us, too, implementing things slowly and a little bit at a time. I think if we'd have jumped right in at 20 hours, oddly enough, I think the guys would have wanted to do everything at once. I think that slowed them down a little bit and I think the teaching process has moved along fairly well. So from that point integrating things has been good. We've built up -- I don't think we've covered everything, but we'll roll into next week and accomplish some stuff. And the freshman class has been really good for us, and they're going to have to be. It's eight guys. They're all going to probably find some ice time, various amounts. But we're going to count on them. We need them to log some minutes and be impactful. So they showed up. Everybody was in great shape. Most of them were here for the second half of the summer. Gino Esteves was the only one who wasn't. He was a late addition and wasn't able to get in that quickly. But he came in, he worked out in Winnipeg and had a good trainer there and did some good stuff on the ice because he showed up in outstanding shape. So that enabled him to kind of jump right in and fit right in. I know Coach Vorkapich did a great job with the guys over the summer, especially the freshmen, getting them acclimated and learn their way around campus and how to work out and how we do things, so Vork's been really outstanding with that. So really when we've hit the ice in the two hours, guys have really jumped and we've been real happy with the freshmen.

Q. How do you balance the excitement of getting started with the he reality of how much work there is to do to get what you want to do?
COACH COLE: Yeah. I think one thing I've kind of gone back to the NTDP mentally a few times. It's real similar, I think, in terms of starting out with a 17 group because you get real excited. Those guys, when they come in, they've got a lot of parts. They're big and they're strong. They really don't know how to play hockey. They're true 16-year-olds. Their brains aren't fully developed. And they're learning an awful lot, and you know it's going to be a process. So having gone through that with four different groups, I think Coach Luongo and myself talked about that coming in. Coach Exter was there as well, and he brought a lot of experience to college the last six years, but talking about that and just saying, hey, this is going to be the process. And let's have a good long-term plan; let's have a good one-year plan. Let's have good monthly goals. And we've been working on that, and really what we've preached to the guys -- and this is whether you're picked to be the top team in the country or you're somewhere else on those ratings, that process really is the important thing. You've gotta go through it. There aren't any shortcuts. And if you try and take a shortcut, it's just really, really painful. So I think we've slowed ourselves down a little bit and we've said, hey, let's every day get a little bit better. Hopefully the guys will say some of those same things. But that's how we've faced ourselves, and I think that's a healthy way to go at it, but that process is important.

Q. Following up on that, would you call this a rebuild?
COACH COLE: Oh, if I'd been here for ten years, sure, I guess. I'm here just to build. I think every team you have, regardless, it has to be a build. I think Lombardi was really good at that, and he came back after -- I think it was his first champion team and started the next season's talk with a football and saying, hey, this is a football and started right back to basics. And I think you have to do that. And I think the more success, you have the more you have to hammer back in that and not let guys get ahead, not let them skip steps. So we started that way. Our first talk was, hey, this is a puck; and after we win our next National Championship, we'll do the same thing.

Q. What are some positives, maybe even some surprises you've seen with this group, especially being as young as they are?
COACH COLE: Yeah. I think -- you know, I wasn't surprised -- I guess, when you come in as a new coach, you always have the guys' attention. You always have their energy, so that didn't surprise us much. They've been very good on that, even more so than we thought. But what I think surprised us a little bit was how quickly that they've kind of come together as a team. I think that one of the areas we really wanted to focus on is a little bit of -- and I don't want to say bunker mentality, because times really aren't that hard. We're playing a sport. You're getting a great education, it's a great place to be. But in that sense of bringing them together in servant leadership and doing things for the other guys on the team. I think they've grasped that real well. I'll go back to Coach Vork again and just saying the attitude of the guys coming over, even if it was a long workout here and the guys are a little bit tired and run down even getting over to the weight room, they've been really upbeat; they've been really together. I think the older guys -- I talked to the three seniors, and when I say older guys, our three seniors are 21 years old. There's a lot of freshmen in college hockey that are 21. I told them at the beginning of the year that they're going to be remembered more for what happens with this team off the ice than they will be with what happens on the ice, and their leadership is real important in that sense. They've been here, they've seen things, and the more they can help those young guys, the quicker we're going to be a better team, the quicker we'll be a brotherhood, the quicker we'll get things going here how we want to. So that's been a real pleasant surprise. We've worked at it, but the guys have to pick up on it and they've done a great job.

Q. When you look at the numbers from last season, what are two or three of the areas that you think have to be improved the most to get the most out of this team?
COACH COLE: Have to give up less goals. You know, that's just an absolute imperative. You just aren't going to out score -- you can't give up three and a half, four goals a game, and if you look at the Final Four teams in the NCAA last year, the Frozen Four, I think they were first, fourth, seventh and twelfth or somewhere around there, I think. I'm pretty close. You just can't give up that many goals. Penalty kill has to be a lot better. And I think those two things are good because those two things I think in terms of how you play and effort and some attitude things you can change that. I think defense doesn't go into a slump. I don't think you need a lot of talent to play defense. I think you need a lot of attitude and a little cohesiveness. So I think those two things will contribute mightily, and that's probably what we've looked at, not that we spent -- haven't had a lot of time to spend time on penalty kill. But defensive zone and transition. I'd say the last thing was it doesn't have to be defensive zone that keeps pucks out of your net. It can be how you forecheck. It can be how you play through the neutral zone. The game's changed quite a bit. It used to be where you talked, you'd say about the game is won in the corners. Now it's if you can control the puck coming through the neutral zone, if you can defend the puck and make it hard for the other team to come through the neutral zone. I think we skate well enough. I think our sticks are good enough and we'll have some youthful energy that we should be pretty good between the blue lines.

Q. And usually when a new coach comes in like this, obviously there's been some losing and players might think that they were part of the issue. What's the dynamic in terms of you convincing them that they're your guys, that they're part of the solution for you?
COACH COLE: Yeah, well, I think the first thing is that that's how you start, and you never culturally address it like I can't wait for new guys to get in and we're going to do this. I mean recruiting is a part of what goes on with college athletics, and it's different than the pros. And you have to do that. That's a necessary function. But in terms of addressing the team, in terms of dealing with them every day, we got 25 Spartans in the locker room and these are the guys we're going to battle with. And we've addressed it that way. I think the bigger role that you have coming in and what I've kind of taken on, Joe is kind of our CEO of recruiting. Chris has done a ton of stuff in terms of on ice and systems and having that. And I've kind of looked to myself as a culture of ministry, you know, nice old Communist term there I guess (laughs). But that's where it's at, and that has to be there every day. And when we're trying to change it, you know, we're not talking about wins and losses. And again, I think on really good teams you don't either. You're talking about what you have to go through to get those results, and that's the important thing. And you go through them, and good things will happen, and that's how we've addressed it, and I think the guys have bought in very well.

Q. You talk about the youth on the team. You have a massive sophomore class, looks like maybe half the roster is in their second year, and a lot of them had to grow up fast last year because they were heavily involved in the rotation. Is that a good thing for you and do you typically see the most growth from the freshman to sophomore year?
COACH COLE: Yeah. Well, having not been here, I'm hoping their most growth is throughout their sophomore year. But yeah, guys get acclimated. It's a big jump, you know, from junior hockey into college hockey. Guys are older, guys are stronger. We are hoping that those guys come back, especially on the D corps there. Those guys are going to log a lot of ice, sophomores, and we hope Lethemon has a good bump going into his next year. So yeah, we're counting on those guys. And then most of our leading scorers are back. Our freshmen turning into sophomores with Taro and Patrick and Sammy Saliba. So yeah, we're going to count on those guys. And we're going to say that our freshmen are going to have to play like sophomores, sophomores are going to have to play like juniors. And we don't have enough juniors to play like seniors, I guess, but we'll have to do that. And certainly playing a lot helps. And you know, you just want to build on that and take the good parts and go from there.

Q. How would you grade your off season in terms of what you and your staff have been able to accomplish?
COACH COLE: I was an A plus. I was outstanding. (Laughs). No, you know, I thought it was good. Like I said, we set out with certain goals, and I think we tried to make some reasonable ones. We had three weeks to get to know our guys. I mentioned earlier, you're not going to change a culture in three weeks. What you can do is you can start that journey. You can try and at least get the ball rolling downhill a little bit. So we were able to spend some time with the guys. I think I had one practice -- yeah, one 45-minute practice with the guys. So tried to do as good a Mike Babcock imitation and run a really, tight, fast and intense practice, and I thought it was pretty good, just to let the guys know that was going to be there. I think our expectations were laid out for the guys real well, what they needed to do in the off season in terms of how we wanted to play. We want to play faster. In order to play fast you have to train fast. And we changed some things in the summer, just stole a lot of stuff from Darryl Nelson at the National Teams in terms of sprint ladders and Olympic lifts, and Vorkapich did a great job of tweaking some stuff, and the guys came back real well. So I think the attitude, what we want them to have, what we want to accomplish on the ice, how we want to do things off the ice, how we behave, how we attend class, how we do in classes, things like that I think you slowly rolled that out. I tried to have some constant communication over the summer, whether it was a good article, whether it was a quick call to see how the guys were doing, making sure they're staying on task, even just some mind vitamin things that we send out over the years, just make sure guys are constantly thinking the way we want to think, talking the way we want to talk and then try and get the train going the right way, and they showed up that way, and we've just continued to build on that the first four weeks here.

Q. What's your take on the goal-tending situation with Minney and John Lethemon?
COACH COLE: Yeah. Joe has done a good job, and he and Jason worked with them. And we set it up, I guess, in a meeting and talked about it early on and said, hey, it's gotta be a good healthy competition. Hopefully they both have real good years this year. Hopefully they push each other. And one interesting thing with the goalie competition, you want that competition, but it has to be friendly in the sense that John can't score goals on Ed and win the job and Ed can't screen John and win the job. They can only win the job or win their ice time by stopping shots, whether it's in practice or games, and that's the other team. So Joe's done a really good job over the years, and I know him real well in terms of building that up and having that camaraderie, and the guy that's going is the guy that's going. And as long as it's a fair competition, as long as we're truthful with them and they have our trust, I think they'll have pretty good years. We've seen some good stuff. Ed had some injury problems the second half last year and played through them, and hopefully he's over that. He's looked real good. He said it's the best he's felt in a couple of years. So that bodes well. And John has just worked hard right from the get-go. So hopefully they'll push each other. We have to have better goaltending wherever we were at last year. If you're in the 800th anywhere, you're probably not winning many games. So it starts there. The rest of the guys, there's five guys that can help them, but they're going to have to stop some pucks.

Q. How has Chris been helping you along this past, you guys going at this together?
COACH COLE: With Lu and I it's real easy. He's probably one of the few people that can tell me that I'm doing something dumb and I'll actually agree with him and listen to him. We've got a real good relationship. I think we can be honest with each other. I think he knows -- we both talk the same language because we work the same amount of time. So for us we can jump right in. We can go right into systems or whatever it is. I don't have to spend a week teaching him, hey, how do we want to accomplish something in the neutral zone. I can say this is where we're at, this is what we want to do, how do we want to get after it. We're at the end of the book, not at the beginning of the book. So for us that works real well. He's a very, very good teacher. He has a real good ability to break things down and make it easy on guys in terms of going instead of going from A to Z, hey, here's the three parts, and let's do A, B, C, D first. He's just very good at that. So again, it's that common knowledge, and we can jump right in and get working, and then being good at what needs to be taught; he's real good. I don't worry about being away. If Joe tells me I have to go recruiting next Tuesday, it doesn't bother me. Lu can handle the on-ice stuff. We won't miss a beat.

Q. You haven't prepped for this, but I'm just wondering having played for Ron Mason, what's the ingredient in him that you take not only to mold a team but to mold a winner?
COACH COLE: Yeah, you know, we stole a lot. I think anybody that played for Mase, we took a lot. There's obviously a few things. When I always think about Coach and some of the things we had, at the time I don't think you realize it. You look back on it and you go through it. I just think the preparation that Coach put us through and all that, we were extremely prepared. And probably until -- we were talking about Lu there, we watched the '87 CCHA Championships against Bowling Green, and a buddy of mine found it and put it on a DVD and sent it to us, geez, it was probably seven or eight years ago now. But going through and watching it and just saying, wow, we did a lot more things systematically that are pretty common with what we're doing right now in the way the game is played. Mase is a little bit ahead of his time. But I think that preparation. I think going through it, there's a lot of confidence there. You know what I mean? I think competence leads to confidence. So he prepared us. We went into games -- we were favored most of the time, quite frankly, but we went into most games thinking we were going to win or we had a chance to win, and a big reason for that was because of Coach. And we knew if something wasn't going right, he'd figure out something else to do. So you try and replicate that. You try and have your teams as ready as you can at the drop of the puck; and he was outstanding at that, and that's something I've tried to do when I've coached is have my guys ready.

Q. When you look at the preseason and the predictions and everything, how much should this group be pushed by that as far as emotionally, mentally, where they were picked to finish, where guys were or were not selected as far as preseason? How much should that be a driving force for this team?
COACH COLE: Well, you know, if you're an athlete and you're a good athlete, I think most hockey players are -- you have a lot of pride, and you look at something like that, and it's great trying to prove the world wrong. That can be a tremendous motivation. At the same time, you know, I talk to them a lot about not worrying too much about praise or criticism; Borrow John Wooden a little bit, "don't get too high, don't get too low." Those things will take care of themselves. I also tell them that reporters are wrong most of the time, so don't worry about predictions (laughs). But you know what, it kind of is what it is, and if that's where we are today, fine. Everybody's undefeated right now. And we've talked about that. I certainly think that we -- we had a few guys that should be on the watch list, but in the big scheme of things, if you do the right things and work through it, like again, all the cultural things we've been preaching, I think that feeds right into it. You know what, it's always going to be you against the world or us against the world, so let's just look at it that way. Let's pick a seventh every year. Who cares. And we'll take care of business when it's time to take care of business. But it should motivate you as an athlete.

Q. Danton, in your opinion, why should the average MSU fan be excited about hockey this year? Why should they come to the arena?
COACH COLE: Well, first of all, it's a great sport. It's Michigan State hockey, which is a great program. Thirdly, I'd say that from what I've seen -- and I'll lend you a little of my knowledge and experience in being around hockey a long time, this is a pretty good group of young men. And they're going to work hard. They're going to get better. We've made a lot of, I'd say, improvement in the eight hours that we've been able to have on the ice and the time we've been able to spend off ice doing video and working out. And I think we're a team that's just going to keep getting better and better this year and leading into next year. So I think there's a lot of exciting things. Lastly, I always tell them get your tickets now while you can still get them. It's going to hopefully be sold us here and be a hard ticket to again. So I'm excited. And like I said, I think the guys have earned it. They're doing a great job.

Q. Dan, how would you define your offensive philosophy, like how you want to play in the offensive zone and the style you want to play?
COACH COLE: I always like to score more goals than the other team offensively. (Laughs). You know, that's always an interesting question. I think everybody -- you know, the pat answer, hey, we want to play fast, we're going to be physical, you know, we're going to fight and we're going to do this, and we're going to outshoot teams. The practicality of that is you have to figure out what kind of team you have and that might not be the way they're going to play. I don't think right now where we're at, regardless of how I want to play, is that we're going to find ourselves winning a lot of 9 to 8 hockey games. I don't think we're built that way defensively; I don't think we're built that way offensively. So we're going to have to find a way -- does that mean we have to try and play a 2-1 type of game? No, I don't think so. Philosophy wise, I think defensively and offensively there's not a heck of a lot different. I think the faster that we can play, the longer that we can play and play the way we want to without making mistakes -- and that's the fatigue factor of it -- those two things, we can take time and space away from teams. Again, that's not a talent thing. That's a conditioning thing. That's a speed thing. That's how we tried to train this summer. So we will play that way; we'll be fairly aggressive in the offensive zone, when it's time to be fairly offensive. We'll try and close the same way offensively as we do defensively. So I do like to be aggressive, but I think there's also a smart factor in on that. Again, you get back to it, the more we can control pucks, that's great, if we're able to do that. So my offensive philosophy is, like I said, what fits for this group right now, not so much what I'd like to see. So that's how it would look for us to play. Like I said, we're going to be aggressive. We will take time and space away offensively and defensively and we'll try and be really good transitionally, and we're going to have to put pucks on the net and bank some rebounds in.

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