When it comes to college hockey, no coaching position has bigger shoes to fill than the top job at Michigan State University.
Current head coach Rick Comley has been in charge of the Spartans for five seasons, and he still has a long way to go to catch up to Ron Mason, who is the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Div. I hockey.
But it was legendary coach Amo Bessone who set the standard not only for future Spartans bench bosses but college coaches in general.
Born on Cape Cod, Bessone grew up in Springfield, Mass., where he learned to play hockey. After attending prep school in Maine, Bessone played college hockey at the University of Illinois under legendary coach Vic Hilfiger.
From there it was on to a minor league career, which was interrupted by military service in World War II.
When Bessone arrived at Michigan State in 1951, the ice hockey program was just beginning its third season and coming off an unimpressive 6-25 record over two seasons. Under Bessone’s watchful eye, the Spartans continued to struggle with six losing seasons before a reversal of fortune in year seven.
During the 1957-08 campaign Bessone guided MSU to a Big Ten championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament. The following season the Spartans lost the 1959 national championship game in overtime to North Dakota.
Six years later, Bessone would bring a team back to the title game, and this time the underdog Spartans shocked Clarkson, 6-1, to win the program’s first national championship.
The national title and the Spencer Penrose Coach of the Year Award, which he shared with Boston College’s Len Ceglarski, cemented Bessone’s legacy as a coach.
Bessone announced his retirement after the 1978-79 season, finishing with a career coaching mark of 367-427-20.
To this day, Bessone’s legacy extends beyond the Spartans’ campus. He helped establish the Greater Lansing Area Hockey Association, donating used equipment and encouraging his players to volunteer as coaches. GLAHA started with three players in 1953 and by Bessone’s retirement from coaching in 1979, the organization boasted 450 players, including the Miller clan, which went on to fame in the college ranks as well as the NHL.
For his efforts in establishing GLAHA, Bessone received the first John MacInnes Award in 1983, which is given out by the American Hockey Coaches Association.
Today there are several Amo Bessone Awards presented, including one given to the top high school player in Western Massachusetts.
In 1992, Bessone was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. He currently lives in New Mexico with his son, John.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Known for a booming shot and colorful personality, Al Iafrate was one of the most dynamic defensemen of his generation.
The Dearborn, Mich., native played 12 seasons in the NHL, including a breakout year offensively in which he scored 25 goals with the Washington Capitals in 1992-93.
He retired after the 1998 season and began to impart his knowledge to the next generation of youth players in the Michigan area.
“I feel I have an obligation to pass along all the knowledge I have developed and learned over the years,” said Iafrate, a member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team.
These days Iafrate works with Warrior Sports, helping the upstart company gain a loyal following in the ultra-competitive hockey stick and glove business.