Thoughts from the penalty box

Pearson’s legacy a positive one

I will be the first to admit, I did not see this coming. Despite the fact that Mel Pearson spent 23 years as an assistant under Red Berenson at the University of Michigan, I always believed that if Michigan Tech University, his alma mater, ever came calling with a serious offer, and if he accepted said offer, the Huskies would have kind of coach the Wolverines enjoyed in Berenson, a man who, despite getting better offers along the way, would choose to remain at the helm of said program.

Sunday evening, thanks to report from ESPN’s John Buccigross, that dark cloud that had hung over Pearson’s tenure with the Huskies became a lot bigger and a lot angrier.

As I say all of this, I also admit that none of it comes as a surprise. When it was first announced that Berenson was stepping down, Pearson’s name shot to the top of everyone’s list for the job. I recall having a conversation a few weeks back with Adam Wodon of College Hockey News where we discussed the possibility, and we both agreed that if Michigan did come calling, Pearson would answer.

All that being said, Pearson had a mantra he asked of every incoming freshman: “Leave the program in a better state than the way you found it.”

He lived that mantra at Michigan Tech, and we are all better off for it.

When Pearson’s first collegiate mentor, John MacInnes, took over the Michigan Tech hockey program in 1956, he followed Al Renfrew’s final, and most successful, campaign. Renfrew’s Huskies went 21-7-0 that season, placing second in the NCAA Tournament, the first such appearance in school history.

MacInnes went on to to be .500 or better in all but his second season at the helm, taking the school to nine NCAA Tournaments, three NCAA titles, and three runners-up.

Jim Nahrgang had the unenviable job of following MacInnes, and he was successful for two of his three years behind the bench. He was followed by Herb Boxer, who was succeeded by Newell Brown, and so on and so forth from there for the next nearly 30 seasons.

Boxer was the most successful of the bunch, winning 66 games over five seasons, but never going better than .500 – during the 1987-88 campaign – in any one season. The next coach to win essentially half of his games was Bob Mancini in 1995-96.

Jamie Russell, the coach who preceded Pearson, was the last to post a winning record, 18-17-5, during the 2006-07 season. During Russell’s final three seasons, he won a total of 15 games. The program had reached a low only beaten by Tim Watters’ last three seasons, in which he won a grand total of 14 contests.

Something had to give.

It took two tries for athletic director Suzanne Sanregret to convince Pearson that Michigan Tech was the right place to start his head coaching career. It turned into a brilliant decision, both for him personally and for the university.

The Huskies won 16 games his first season, and all he did after that was continue to win, earning another 102 victories over the past five seasons. He led the Huskies to two NCAA appearances in three seasons, including a year in between where they nearly qualified as the final bubble team.

His Huskies won the GLI in 2012; they won the Desert Classic in 2016; they won a WCHA regular season title in 2016 and a WCHA playoff title this past season.

It is safe to say that Pearson leaves Michigan Tech in a far better state than where he found it.

In the past three seasons, the Huskies have won 23 or more games each season. His teams were puck possession monsters, as their Corsi numbers prove.

Corsi is a statistic used to measure shot attempt differential at even strength. A relatively new term in hockey statistics, it has gained tremendous traction for its measure of success thanks to the fact that it measures total shots attempted by a team versus the number of shot attempts against.

The Huskies ranked second this season in Corsi nationally behind only Penn State and just slightly ahead of Denver, who won the NCAA title this season. In 2015-16, the Huskies were fourth. In 2014-15, they were second.

Pearson’s departure certainly leaves a big hole at the helm of what has become one of the top programs in the country in the last three seasons. However, there is no doubt that the Huskies are a program on the rise again, and that should draw the interest of coaches and players as a good place to be, and to play, during the foreseeable future.

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