GRAND RAPIDS — Named as the Grand Rapids Griffins head coach just last week, Danton Cole is already leaving town this week on his first assignment.
Cole will spend most of the week at the Troy Sports Center evaluating prospects signed by the Detroit Red Wings, the NHL club that will provide the AHL franchise with up to a dozen players for the upcoming season.
Picking Cole to replace Bruce Cassidy was pretty much a no-brainer for Griffins GM Bob McNamara. McNamara said at a news conference last week that his search for a new head coach started with Cole and ended with Cole.
“Danton is a perfectionist and a winner. He is a guy that has a tough time accepting defeat,” McNamara told the Business Journal.
“He is just a great fit for us at this time,” he added. “We feel he is the right guy to lead us into this Red Wings era and we hope he will help us take the next step and bring a cup here to Grand Rapids.”
Cole became the fifth head coach in seven years for the franchise that recently began a five-year player affiliation and marketing agreement with the Red Wings — who, by the way, told McNamara that they admired his choice.
“Their comments were that they certainly respected Danton as a player and that they were comfortable that we were making the right decision for the organization,” said McNamara.
Cole played for the Griffins for three years and served as an assistant coach for the club for two more under Guy Charron and Cassidy before he guided the Muskegon Fury to the United Hockey League title this past season. Cole won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 1995 and a collegiate crown with Michigan State in 1986.
“I am very thankful for this opportunity,” said Cole, a 35-year-old Pontiac native. “I feel this is the best organization in the AHL and the Red Wings are the best organization in the NHL.”
Cole signed a two-year contract, the terms of which were not revealed. Cassidy, who led the Griffins for two seasons, left last week to coach the Washington Capitals.
While Cole is at the prospects camp in Troy, McNamara will spend much of the week in Hilton Head, S.C., attending the AHL meetings. But before going to Hilton Head, McNamara said he would talk with some of the prospective players the Red Wings brought to Troy — which is an unusual move for the NHL franchise to make.
Detroit doesn’t normally bring its prospects together until September, just before training camp opens in Traverse City. So, has the new affiliation with the Griffins prompted the Red Wings to place a stronger emphasis on developing young players? McNamara said he wasn’t sure, that he couldn’t speak for the Red Wings.
“But maybe it has something to do with it. This is an important year for them in terms of rebuilding their minor-league system. It’s a big year for us, too,” he said.
“Obviously, they need to know where some of these guys are at, and some of the guys at that camp are going to be future Griffins. So I think, perhaps, that (the affiliation) probably played into it as well.”