New coach breathes new life into Michigan Tech hockeyNo. 4-ranked Minnesota Duluth gets a chance to see the revitalized Huskies on Friday and Saturday in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
Mel Pearson applied for Michigan Tech’s hockey coaching job in 1990 and 1996 and was turned down.
When the school sought a replacement in April, it came after Pearson. At first he said no, but when athletic director Suzanne Sanregret asked a second time, Pearson agreed to a five-year contract to return to Houghton, Mich., where he had played for the Huskies and been an assistant coach.
Pearson, 52, spent the previous 23 seasons as an assistant with Michigan’s successful program and has turned a few heads on the Upper Peninsula in just two months. Michigan Tech is 8-5-1 and ranked No. 20 in Division I, after the Huskies and coach Jamie Russell went 4-30-4 last season.
“I wasn’t going to come in here and throw away the first season just to build for another year. I knew the cupboard wasn’t bare and I was just crazy enough to think we could compete right away,” Pearson said Tuesday. “I think I’ve got the right staff (assistants Bill Muckalt, Damon Whitten and Steve Shields) and I received a commitment from the administration to have the best program we could in the coming years.”
A program that flourished under legendary coach John MacInnes through 1982 has withered the past 30 years. Michigan Tech has had just two winning seasons the past 27 years and the past three have produced just 15 wins total. The last time the Huskies were over .500 after 14 games was 1984.
No. 4-ranked Minnesota Duluth (9-3-2) gets a chance to see the revitalized Huskies on Friday and Saturday in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena. UMD is tied for second in the league and Michigan Tech is tied for fourth.
“The most important thing was to have the players here believing in themselves and to encourage them,” said Pearson, who will earn $250,000 this season and $275,000 next season. “We have a much more upbeat system on the ice, we’re attacking; it’s not just defend, defend, defend. And while I love to see a team score goals, we also play hard defensively.”
Pearson was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, but came to Minnesota with his family as his dad, George (Mel) Pearson finished his professional hockey career with the World Hockey Association’s Minnesota Fighting Saints in 1972-73. The younger Pearson played for Willard Ikola at Edina East High School and was at Michigan Tech from 1977-81, including an NCAA Frozen Four appearance in 1981 at the DECC.
He was a Michigan Tech assistant from 1982-88 and began at Michigan in 1988. He was an associated head coach under Red Berenson since 1999 and looked to be next in line when the 71-year-old Berenson retires. The Wolverines were 667-243-71 in Pearson’s tenure, including an NCAA runner up finish to UMD 3-2 in overtime on April 9 in St. Paul.
“There’s no time table for Red and he still loves his work. I can see him going another 10 years,” said Pearson.
Michigan Tech’s seniors have made Pearson’s start a success. Goalie Josh Robinson (7-3-1) has a .929 save percentage and 2.08 goals-against average. Center Brett Olson of Superior leads in scoring with 15 points in 14 games, and has 78 career points.
“Brett is the consummate team captain. He’s a tireless worker who does things the right way,” said Pearson. “I rely on him a lot.”
UMD and Michigan Tech have had home-and-home series for 17 of the last 18 years and Pearson, along with UMD coach Scott Sandelin, said he wants the series to continue after the Bulldogs leave for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference in 2013-14.
Pearson and the Huskies make their Amsoil Arena debut on Jan. 27-28.