By @MichaelCaples –
ANN ARBOR – Mel Pearson spent 23 seasons with the Michigan Wolverines under Red Berenson.
You build quite a connection with a place and a hockey program when you spend that long there.
That’s why, when the Wolverines came calling in need of Red Berenson’s successor, Pearson accepted the challenge, despite it meaning he would be leaving his alma mater after rebuilding Michigan Tech into a college hockey power once again.
“…There weren’t any jobs I was going to leave Tech for – other than this one,” Pearson said. “It was a hard decision, but at the end of the day, there’s a lot that goes into it. My family is here, my daughters are here. I spent 23 years here, I have a lot of friends here, and it’s the University of Michigan. It’s one of, I think the top five college hockey programs in the country.”
Pearson was introduced as the new head coach of the Michigan Wolverines today, as he moves from Houghton back to his longtime home in Ann Arbor. When he left for MTU in 2011, he wasn’t sure if he would have a chance to return.
Now, he does so with a resume that features lengthy tutelage under Berenson – and his own successes at Tech. Pearson led the Huskies to the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three seasons, and he was twice named WCHA coach of the year.
“I had a hard time leaving here, I enjoyed it here, I love it here,” Pearson said. “It was a tough decision at the time, but it was the right decision. I was pre-shaped from the guidance I’ve gotten from coach Berenson and AD Dave Brandon at the time. I think that was always in the back of my mind, to have the opportunity to come back to Michigan. In my wildest dreams, I don’t know if I ever thought it would happen, but I’m excited to be back, very thankful for the opportunity.”
His former boss sat in the back of the Junge Family Champions Center for Pearson’s introductory press conference, listening to the new coach of the Wolverines. Pearson said Berenson had some advice on how to handle his first media appearance.
“I called Red, he answered, and I said, ‘Hey Red, it’s Mel,’” Pearson said. “In typical Red fashion, he goes, ‘Mel who?’ I wanted to ask some advice for today, so I asked Red, ‘Is there any advice you could give to me for tomorrow?’ He said, ‘Keep it short.’”
When asked about how he would handle ‘filling Red’s shoes,’ Pearson said he’s not trying to.
“You don’t – he’s got big shoes to fill, and I’m not here to fill his shoes,” Pearson said. “We’re here as a team, as a group, to make sure those shoes stay polished and in great shape. I’ve got some of my own ideas on how we need to do some things. I had one of the best mentors ever in the game of college hockey, so I learned a lot from him and I think that’s one of the reasons I was fortunate to have some success up at Michigan Tech.”
Pearson said he likes what he has to work with on his new Wolverines team, despite their lackluster finish to the 2016-17 season (13-19-3). It was easy to tell that he had been keeping an eye on his former team while in Houghton; he also competed against them.
“I like the make-up of this team: they’ve got size, speed, good up front, good on the back end, good goaltending; all the ingredients are there,” Pearson said. “It’s just like making a cake; we’ve got to make sure we’ve got everything and mix it up the right way. There’ll be some tweaks we make, but like I said, the car’s in great shape. We just might have to make a couple minor repairs… I like this team. I like the individuals on this team.
“Having played them, you get a feel for what they can do. I’m anxious to get out on the ice rink and get going, but I think the sky’s the limit. We’re not gonna put ceilings on this team, not gonna talk about our expectations or where we should finsh. I don’t want to set the bar too high… and this is up to them. This is their team. I’m just directing them a little bit.”