Amo Bessone Era
When Bessone arrived at Michigan State, the ice hockey program was beginning its third full season after being reinstated. That same season, in 1951-52, the Spartans joined Colorado College, Denver, Michigan, Michigan Tech, Minnesota, and North Dakota as founding members of the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League (MCHL).
Amo Bessone won his first collegiate hockey game as head coach on November 29, 1951, when the Spartans defeated Ontario Agricultural College 8-2. The Spartans struggled with six losing seasons before Bessone turned things around in his seventh season as coach. In 1957-58, Michigan State enjoyed its first winning season. The following season, Bessone guided MSU to a Big Ten championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament. The tournament was MSU's first NCAA tournament appearance. The Spartans defeated Boston College 4-3 in the semifinals and advanced to the schools's first championship appearance. The Spartans lost the 1959 national championship game in overtime 3-4 to North Dakota. MSU finishes the season 17-6-1. Michigan State became a charter member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) in 1959. The WCHA was a reincarnation of the loosely affiliated Midwest Collegiate Hockey League and Western Intercollegiate Hockey League that disbanded following the 1957-58 season. Bessone and MSU struggled during the first five seasons of the WCHA. Again, Bessone turned things around with a winning season in 1964-65. The following season, Bessone coached Michigan State to an improbable NCAA National Championship.
MSU began the 1965-66 season 4-10, but rebounded winning 12 of their last 15 games including defeating the defending national champion, Michigan Tech, to win the WCHA playoffs after finishing sixth in the regular season. The win earned MSU a spot in the 1966 NCAA tournament. In the national semifinals, Bessone upset highly-favored Boston University 2-1 with a goal by Spartan forward, Doug Volmar. In the national championship game, Bessone and the Spartans faced Len Ceglarski's Clarkson team that owned the national-best record of 24-2. On March 19, 1966, Michigan State beat top-ranked Clarkson 6-1 victory to give Michigan State is first national championship. Len Ceglarski and Amo Bessone shared the Spencer Penrose Award as the national coach of the year in 1966. The national title and coaching award cemented Bessone's legacy as a coach. To this day, Bessone's 1966 Michigan State team remains one of the biggest underdog stories in NCAA ice hockey history. The total number of team victories (16) and team winning percentage (.551) is the lowest of any NCAA ice hockey champion. MSU made the NCAA tournament again with a strong WCHA playoff finish in 1967, but lost 2-4 in the national semifinals, a rematch of the 1966 NCAA Tournament against Boston University.
Bessone began the 1970s with six straight winning seasons. During Bessone's time coaching the Spartans the team won MSU won its first Great Lakes Invitational by defeating Michigan Tech 5-4 on December 28, 1973.
As MSU hockey was building momentum, Munn Ice Arena opened October 25, 1974, when Michigan State hosted Laurentian. That same season saw the first sellout crowd in Munn's history when the Spartans defeated North Dakota 6-2. A season later, in 1975-76, Bessone guided MSU to its best WCHA conference record of 20-12-0 before Minnesota knocked MSU out of the WCHA playoffs in 6-7 triple overtime loss. Minnesota, who had finished below Michigan State in the conference, received an NCAA tournament bid instead. Bessone announced his retirement effective at the end of the 1978-79 season after three straight losing seasons. Bessone coached his final game as head coach on March 3, 1979, when the Spartans defeated rival Michigan 5-3.
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