Pearson focused on readying Tech for next season

Pearson looks back fondly on learning from Berenson

Michigan Tech head coach Mel Pearson works the bench during the first period in the regional semifinals of the NCAA college hockey tournament against Denver, Saturday, March 25, 2017, in Cincinnati. Denver won 5-2. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

When Red Berenson announced his retirement as Michigan’s head hockey coach on Monday, Twitter blew up with speculation about his replacement, as blogs and sites gave their opinions on who will replace him.

One of those names being thrown around the web was Michigan Tech head coach Mel Pearson, a former assistant to Berenson. However, Pearson’s mindset is currently set on preparing for next season with the Huskies.

“We are going to face our biggest challenge, probably, the next couple of years, as we get better,” said Pearson. “As you get better players, the tendency is to lose those players early. That’s where you really have to do your diligence, and do a good job, and be prepared for those losses.”

Pearson is also proud of what he is accomplishing at Michigan Tech, but he is focused on continuing to build the program.

“I have a really good job,” said Pearson. “I really like the people I work for. I like the people we have on our team. I like our staff. I like the community.

“So, I have a good gig, as good as it gets.”

Ever since the announcement in March of 2011 that Michigan Tech athletic director Suzanne Sanregret had accepted the resignation of then-head coach Jamie Russell, there were really two names that she and the committee were interested in bringing in to restore the hockey program to at least a semblance of its former glory.

Her top choice, Pearson, rejected the possibility almost immediately. He was a former Huskies’ skater who had served some time as an assistant coach at Michigan Tech before moving to a much bigger name in the world of college sports for a significant period of time. At the time he turned down the offer, his team was fresh off a loss in the Frozen Four championship game in overtime.

“I had turned a couple of other jobs down, head coaching jobs, good jobs,” said Pearson. “When you have been somewhere for so long, sometimes change is hard.

“The timing was such a short window. You don’t want to make any snap decisions.”

As the story goes, while Pearson did not take the job at Michigan Tech right away, he would be convinced to take a second look at the position two months later, and upon further consideration, decided to make the move.

“You want to make sure you take your time,” said Pearson. “When I took that job and made that decision, I took it like it would be my last job. I just wanted to make sure that I was comfortable and that my family was, with moving.”

For years, Pearson was the heir apparent to Berenson at Michigan. He was the Wolverines’ top recruiter. He was the one who brought in top-end prospects like Bill Muckalt, who would go on to become his assistant at Michigan Tech, to Michigan and helped win two national championships and make 11 appearances in the Frozen Four.

Pearson, who had never been a head coach before taking over in 2011 but had 30 years of college coaching experience, felt it was time for the change.

“I think the leadership, with [President] Glenn Mroz and Suzanne, I felt good and confident that they were willing to do some things necessary to make the hockey program relevant again at the national stage,” said Pearson. “The tradition that Michigan Tech has, you can see that in a lot of different ways. Also, I had a great experience as a student-athlete at Michigan Tech. I really enjoyed my time there.

“I just felt it was time. Where else would I rather be to start my first head coaching experience than Michigan Tech? It actually turned out to be a real good opportunity. I am glad that I took it.”

In his first season, Pearson took a team that won a combined 15 games the previous three seasons and won 16 games that first season, winning the WCHA Coach of the Year honors and earning a place in the WCHA Final Five by sweeping Colorado College on the road.

That was when the questions first began to rise. How long until Red Berenson retires? Will Pearson be the first name on what is sure to be a short list of top candidates? Will he jump if the job is offered? What will happen to Michigan Tech when he leaves?

Since 2012, Pearson’s Huskies have won 13, 14, 29, 23, and 23 games. Those numbers place him firmly into the second spot in school history behind John J. MacInnes for wins.

As for Michigan, according to Pearson, the Wolverines will be hard-pressed to find another coach like Berenson.

“Somebody told me they would like to dial it back 20 years and find another Red,” said Pearson. “But, you are not going to find another Red. They broke the mold when they built him.”

Pearson feels he owes a tremendous amount to Berenson for being a great mentor to him as he worked through the consistent success the Wolverines had while he was there as an assistant and now as a head coach with Michigan Tech.

“You couldn’t ask for a better mentor, not only the hockey part of it, but the life part of it, just the way he carries himself, just the way he lives his life,” said Pearson. “It’s a great example to be around that for so many years and just see how he goes through his daily routine.

“It was a pleasure to work with him, and for him. Obviously, he helped shape me in so many different ways, no doubt about it.”

Pearson remains in contact with Berenson, and looks to his mentor for advice.

“I have a close relationship with Coach Berenson,” said Pearson. “We stay in constant contact. We talk about a lot of different things… It’s nice to be able to pick up the phone and talk to him. He’s a very positive person.”

The Huskies certainly have a steep hill to climb with the early departures of defenseman Matt Roy and goaltender Angus Redmond to the professional ranks. Pearson may find himself leaning even more heavily on Berenson in the coming months as he works towards building off of the success the team had this season.