Mel Pearson stepped down as coach of the University of Michigan hockey team, and judging by the investigation that led to his dismissal, his summer couldn’t have ended any other way. Rumors are already swirling about his replacement, and when you think about it, it must be one of the hottest jobs in the sport. Yes, I said it – all hockey.
Until this spring, the Wolverines held the NCAA record for men’s hockey championships with nine players. Thanks to Denver’s triumph in Boston at the 2022 Cold Four, the Pioneers now share the ring with Michigan. And if that’s not bulletin board material for the 2022-23 Wolverine issue, then I’m not sure what is. Because it’s a program full of top players and new recruits.
Last year’s team advanced to the Frozen Four semi-finals before losing to the aforementioned Pioneers in an apparently rambling performance. But the talent in the lineup was overwhelming: Owen Power, Matty Beniers, Kent Johnson, Brendan Brisson and Thomas Bordelot were all part of the team. And while they all went pro after losing to Denver, next season the team is still bringing back names like Luke Hughes, Eric Portillo and Maki Samoskewicz, as well as adding incredible recruiting class.
The top prospect is center Adam Fantilli, a potential top 3 pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, who ended an incredible career in the USHL with the Chicago Steel. The top of the 2022 draft also included future Wolverines including Frank Nazar, who selected 13th overall, Rutger McGroarty, who selected 14th overall, and Seamus Casey, who took second overall (NJ) . Going forward, the Wolverines will join other high-profile talent such as St. Andrew’s college quarterback Matthew Virgilio, who will play in the USHL as a draft with the Tri-City Storm this upcoming season.
It’s a long way to say that whoever takes on Pearson’s role in Ann Arbor will have a lot of talent at their disposal now and in the future. Now it’s fair to ask: if a player moved to Pearson and the Wolverines, would he think twice after that particular coach left? I asked a couple of high-profile NHL agents (or “family counselors,” as they’re called when players are in college), and they both think the Michigan brand is likely to take over. Of course, you have to make every commitment on a case-by-case basis, but most of these kids were fascinated by the program as a whole, not just one element of it.
But let’s pay attention to the vacancy itself, because this is a rather tempting job. College coaches tend to have longer tenures than their professional peers, and being able to mentor a steady stream of youth can be very rewarding for someone in coaching. Greg Carvel, Scott Sandelin, and Nate Liman are some of the people who have really established themselves in college coaching in recent years, and while they could all be NHL bench chiefs, they have pretty good jobs as it is.
Particularly in Michigan, you could do it at the legendary Yost Arena in a city that lives and breathes college athletics and hockey is a major sport. So we’re not just talking about other NCAA head coaches or assistant coaches who should be thinking about this performance: what about someone who’s tired of waiting for an NHL head coach job to open up?
“If I was an assistant coach in the NHL who hadn’t gotten a chance yet, why will not Am I considering it? one of the agents said. “Look at the prospects, look at the opportunities, look at the prestige of the program.”
The last time Michigan won a national championship was in 1998, when icon Red Berenson was still on the bench for the Wolverine. The last time the team played in the Finals was in 2011, when they lost to the Minnesota-Duluth in overtime. The position comes with a lot of pressure, but also praise if you do your job. The program may be in turmoil right now, but it’s hard to think of too many other places with as much promise for a coaching career as the University of Michigan. Especially if you could defend the 10th national title.