Thoughts from the penatly box: Pearson hitting the century mark
Friday night, Michigan Tech head coach Mel Pearson did something only one other coach in Huskies’ history had done: earn his 100th career victory.
In traditional fashion under Pearson, the historic win was just a footnote of a key sweep by the Huskies over the Lake Superior State Lakers.
After opening the season 0-4, the Huskies — after earning 6-1 and 4-2 victories over the Lakers — are now 6-6-2 on the season. With a four-game road trip to Alaska to face the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves and the Alaska Nanooks upcoming, the Huskies could potentially be 10-6-2 when they return home to face Bemidji State in early December.
Pearson was a candidate for the head coaching job with Michigan Tech in 2003. After coming out of retirement, Mike Sertich had helmed the Huskies two-and-a-half seasons and was ready to return to fishing and a quieter lifestyle.
Sertich had groomed an heir apparent in Mark Maroste, a former Huskies’ forward and long-time professional player in Europe, mainly in Germany.
However, the athletic director was impressed by the interview given by another former Huskies’ skater in Jamie Russell, and decided the Cornell assistant coach would be a better fit than either Maroste or Pearson.
Russell’s Huskies won 23 games over his first three seasons before exploding for 18 in his fourth year. The following campaign, 2007-08, the Huskies won 14 games. While not as many as the previous season, 14 was still a respectable number, especially given the fact that the Huskies had only had three seasons with 10 or more wins over the previous 12 seasons.
Then the wheels fell off the bus.
The Huskies won just 15 more games combined in Russell’s final three seasons as head coach. A four-win season in 2010-11 was the final nail in his head-coaching coffin at Michigan Tech, and current athletic director Suzanne Sanregret headed back to the well to find someone who could restore the Huskies’ swagger.
It took a while for Sanregret to convince Pearson, who had interviewed for the position again, that Michigan Tech was the best place for him to further his career by making the move to head coach.
The change was immediate.
In their first exhibition game, the Huskies beat Lakehead University 5-3. Freshman forward Jacob Johnstone scored a hat trick.
Rather than be excited about the win, which would not count in the standings, Pearson pointed out where the Huskies made mistakes and had things to clean up. He also suggested that Johnstone made freshman mistakes alongside his smart plays.
From there, the message to the players was one of positivity while the public message was that they should never be satisfied with just winning hockey games. They opened the season with four straight wins, including a pair of wins in overtime over the Wisconsin Badgers.
The Huskies won 16 games that season, one more than the previous three combined.
I remember joking that all Pearson would have to do was win 10 and the city of Houghton would erect a statue in his honor. That’s how low the bar was when he came in.
In his fourth year, the Huskies opened the season with 10 straight victories, storming to the top of the college hockey world for a brief moment. They followed that streak up later in the year with an eight-game streak from Jan. 23-Feb. 14, and eventually earned their first NCAA tournament appearance for the first time since Pearson donned the Black and Gold as a player.
Now, two years later, Pearson and the Huskies have reached 101 wins thanks to the sweep of the Lakers. In that short amount of time, the culture of the Huskies hockey program has changed. Winning is now expected going into weekends, even against teams such as Michigan, Minnesota-Duluth and the like. In reaching his milestone, Pearson has changed many facets of the Huskies and put his stamp on the school and the community in the process.