Amo Bessone

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Amos "Betts" Bessone (November 22, 1916 – January 9, 2010) was a collegiate ice hockey player and head coach.

Bessone was born in Sagamore, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he learned to play hockey.

As a hockey coach, Bessone is best remembered for winning a national championship as a heavy underdog in 1966 with the "Cinderella Spartans."[1] He was one of the most colorful college coaches of his era with a trademark whistle he used to signal line changes.[2]

As intense as Bessone was behind the bench, he was warm and endearing off the ice. During his coaching days, he regularly invited fellow coaches, officials and reporters out for drinks or back to his house for spaghetti following games.[2]

Playing career[edit]

High School[edit]

Bessone played high school hockey in West Springfield, Massachusetts, and for two preparatory schools in Maine, Hebron Academy and Kents Hill School.[3] Bessone also played hockey for Association Saint-Dominique, a Lewiston amateur team. During his days in Maine, he was described as cocky[4][5] but one of the best defensemen in high school hockey.[6] Bessone was graduated from Kents Hill in 1939.[7]

College[edit]

After prep school, he played college hockey from 1940-43 at the University of Illinois under legendary coach Vic Heyliger. He was team captain his senior season of 1942-43.[3][8] In addition to hockey, Bessone earned letters in baseball and basketball.[9]

Professional[edit]

Following Illinois, Bessone played minor league hockey in the AHL for the Providence Reds. He made his professional debut with the Reds on March 16, 1943 in the first game of the opening round of the AHL playoffs against the Cleveland Barons.[10] His career in the AHL was cut short by serving in World War II. Bessone also played for his hometown Springfield minor league baseball team of the Eastern League.[11]

Coaching career[edit]

Westfield[edit]

Bessone was head ice hockey coach for Westfield High School for three seasons following his playing career.[12]

Michigan Tech[edit]

Bessone got his first collegiate head coaching job on September 13, 1948,[13] when he was hired by Michigan College of Mines and Technology (now Michigan Technological University). He coached at Michigan Tech for three seasons compiling a record of 20-31-2.

Michigan State[edit]

Following the 1951 season, Bessone accepted the head coaching position at Michigan State University after Harold Paulsen resigned. Bessone would remain at MSU for the next 28 years.

When Bessone arrived at Michigan State, the ice hockey program was just beginning its third season and its youth was evident with a 6-25 record over two seasons. 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 Spartans lost the 1959 national championship game in overtime to North Dakota.

Following 1959, Michigan State became a charter member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), which 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 both WCHA playoff games which earned MSU a spot in the NCAA tournament. In the national semifinals, Bessone squeaked out a 2-1 victory over highly favored Boston University. In the national championship game, Bessone and the Spartans faced Len Ceglarski's Clarkson team that owned the national-best record of 24-2. Michigan State shocked Clarkson with a dominant 6-1 victory sealing MSU's first national championship. Len Ceglarski and Bessone shared the Spencer Penrose Award as the national coach of the year in 1966.[14] 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 in the national semifinals.

Bessone began the 1970s with six straight winning seasons. As MSU hockey was building momentum, the 7,000-seat Munn Ice Arena was opened in 1974 just south of the old ice rink, Dem Hall. The peak of the momentum came in 1975-76 when Bessone guided MSU to its best WCHA conference finish. Michigan State was on the verge of earning an NCAA tournament berth when Minnesota knocked MSU out of the WCHA playoffs in triple overtime. Minnesota, who had finished below Michigan State in the conference, received an NCAA tournament bid instead.

The loss proved devastating to Bessone and the MSU hockey program. The Spartans suffered three straight losing seasons following 1976.

Bessone announced his retirement effective at the end of the 1978-79 season. He finished his coaching career with a 5-3 victory over archrival Michigan completing the weekend series sweep of the Wolverines. His success at Michigan State helped form a loyal group of MSU hockey supporters dubbed "Amo's Army." Bessone holds a 387-458-22 career record in 31 seasons.

Legacy[edit]

Bessone's legacy extends beyond his accomplishments at Michigan State. Bessone helped establish the Greater Lansing Area Hockey Association (GLAHA), the first organized youth hockey program in Mid-Michigan. He assisted the league by 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. GLAHA alumni include current and former NHL players: Jeff Brubaker, Danton Cole, Kelly Miller, Kevin Miller, Kip Miller, Ryan Miller and Alfie Turcotte.

For his efforts in establishing GLAHA, Bessone received the first John MacInnes Award in 1983. The award, given out by the American Hockey Coaches Association, recognizes great concern for amateur hockey and youth programs.

In 1992, Bessone was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

Bessone is also the namesake of numerous awards including:

  • The Amo Bessone Award (Springfield, Massachusetts) given to the top high school player in Western Massachusetts. The award is celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2007.
  • Amo Bessone Award (Lansing, Michigan) given to the GLAHA coach of the year.
  • Amo Bessone Award (Michigan State University) presented to an MSU hockey player for outstanding athletic, scholastic and community participation achievements.

Personal[edit]

Bessone was married to the late Mary Kennedy Bessone. They had one son, John, who wrote for Sports Illustrated and was an associate television director for ABC Sports.

His older brother, Pete, played six games for the Detroit Red Wings in 1937-38. Pete had a successful career as a player in the AHL and is a member of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

Bessone retired first to Englewood, Florida with his brother Pete Bessone, then later to Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his son John Bessone. His final visit to the Michigan State campus was October 2006 for a reunion of the 1966 and 1986 NCAA national championship teams.

College Head coaching record[edit]

Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Michigan Technological University (Independent) (1948-49–1950-51)
1948-49 Michigan Tech 5-10-0
1949-50 Michigan Tech 10-7-0
1950-51 Michigan Tech 5-14-2
Michigan Tech: 20-31-2
Michigan State University (MCHL) (1951-52–1952-53)
1951-52 Michigan State 7-13-0 3-9-0 6th
1952-53 Michigan State 5-16-1 2-16-0 7th
Michigan State University (WIHL) (1953-54–1957-58)
1953-54 Michigan State 8-14-1 4-13-1 6th
1954-55 Michigan State 9-17-1 5-14-1 7th
1955-56 Michigan State 5-18-0 1-17-0 7th
1956-57 Michigan State 7-15-0 5-15-0 7th
1957-58 Michigan State 12-11-0 9-11-0 5th
Michigan State University (Big Ten) (1958-59–1958-59)
1958-59 Michigan State 17-6-1 5-2-1 1st NCAA Finalist
Michigan State University (WCHA / Big Ten) (1959-60–1978-79)
1959-60 Michigan State 4-18-2 4-18-2 7th / 3rd
1960-61 Michigan State 11-16-0 5-15-0 6th / 3rd
1961-62 Michigan State 13-11-1 6-9-1 4th / 2nd
1962-63 Michigan State 11-12-0 6-10-0 T - 5th / 2nd
1963-64 Michigan State 8-17-1 1-12-1 7th / 3rd
1964-65 Michigan State 17-12-0 7-7-0 4th / 2nd
1965-66 Michigan State 16-13-0 9-11-0 4th / 2nd NCAA Champions
1966-67 Michigan State 16-15-1 8-11-1 5th / 1st NCAA Third Place
1967-68 Michigan State 11-16-2 6-13-1 6th / 3rd
1968-69 Michigan State 11-16-1 7-10-1 6th / 2nd
1969-70 Michigan State 13-16-0 10-12-0 7th / T - 3rd
1970-71 Michigan State 19-12-0 12-10-0 4th / 1st
1971-72 Michigan State 20-16-0 15-13-0 4th / 3rd
1972-73 Michigan State 23-12-1 16-9-1 4th / T - 1st
1973-74 Michigan State 23-14-1 15-12-1 4th / T - 3rd
1974-75 Michigan State 22-17-1 19-12-1 5th / 4th
1975-76 Michigan State 23-15-2 20-12-0 2nd / 1st
1976-77 Michigan State 14-21-1 11-20-1 T - 8th / 4th
1977-78 Michigan State 7-27-2 7-23-2 10th / 4th
1978-79 Michigan State 15-21-0 12-20-0 T - 8th / T - 3rd
Michigan State: 367-427-20
Total: 387-458-22

      National champion  
      Conference regular season champion         Conference regular season and conference tournament champion
      Division regular season champion       Division regular season and conference tournament champion
      Conference tournament champion

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Longtime MSU hockey coach Amo Bessone dies". Lansing State Journal. 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-11. [dead link]
  2. ^ a b "Longtime Spartan coach Bessone shaped foundation of college game". Lansing State Journal. 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  3. ^ a b "Sports Survey". The Lewiston Daily Sun. 1943-01-04. Retrieved 2014-03-25. 
  4. ^ "Bowdoin Opens with Notre Dame, Cyclones v Doms". The Lewiston Daily Sun. 1939-02-22. Retrieved 2014-03-25. 
  5. ^ "Cyclones Going After St Doms In Sunday Tiff". The Lewiston Daily Sun. 1939-01-18. Retrieved 2014-03-25. 
  6. ^ "Amo Bessone Injured". The Lewiston Daily Sun. 1938-05-18. Retrieved 2014-03-25. 
  7. ^ "Kents Hill School Awards 74 Diplomas". Lewiston Evening Journal. 1939-06-12. Retrieved 2014-03-25. 
  8. ^ Norman S. Thomas (1938-04-14). "Ye Sport Sandwich". Lewiston Evening Jonral. Retrieved 2014-03-25. 
  9. ^ "Sports Scope". Reading Eagle. 1966-05-02. Retrieved 2014-03-25. 
  10. ^ Associated Press (1951-10-04). "Cleveland Wins Playoff Opener". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 2014-03-25. 
  11. ^ Associated Press (1951-10-04). "Spartan Coach Played Pro". Reading Eagle. Retrieved 2014-03-25. 
  12. ^ "West Springfield 'Rink Rat' Amo 'Betts' Bessone remembered as a legend". The Republican. 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-11. 
  13. ^ "Sports in Short". The Milwaukee Journal. 1948-09-14. Retrieved 2010-01-11. 
  14. ^ "Spencer Penrose Award (Division I Coach of the Year)". American Hockey Coaches Association. 2010. Archived from the original on 16 January 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
James Fullerton
Spencer Penrose Award
1965–66
Shared With
Len Ceglarski
Succeeded by
Edward Jeremiah