The Mel Pearson File
by Wes Frahm
Born: Vancouver, British Columbia
Raised: Edina, Minnesota
Family: Wife—Susie; children—Kim (25), Sarah (22) and Paul (19)
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration, Michigan Tech, 1981
Michigan Tech 1977–81
- 97 games played
- 21 goals, 35 assists, 56 total points
Michigan Tech assistant coach 1982–88
- 97–136–9 record
- Recruited Randy McKay, Scott White, Damian Rhodes, and Shawn Harrison
University of Michigan assistant coach 1988–2011
- 667–243–71 record
- 11 Frozen Four appearances
- 2 national championships
- 23 NCAA tournament appearances
- Recruited 54 future NHL players
Mel Pearson became the twenty-first coach in Michigan Tech hockey history when he was hired last May. The former Tech player (1977–81) spent the last twenty-three years as an assistant coach at the University of Michigan, helping the Wolverines to a 667–243–71 record, eleven Frozen Fours, and two national championships.
Pearson sat down with Michigan Tech Magazine for a Q&A session during one of the few days over the summer he wasn’t off recruiting.
How did you get into playing hockey?
I was born into it. My dad was a professional hockey player, so I was on skates and playing by the time I was six.
What are your first memories of hockey?
My first goal. I think I was six. I couldn’t skate, so I was hanging around my own net. When the puck came to me I shot it in and scored a goal in the wrong net.
Describe the process of being recruited to Michigan Tech.
I played high school hockey in Minnesota, and I was recruited by two schools: Michigan and Michigan Tech. One of my high school line mates was going to Michigan and the other, Michigan Tech. I visited the campus and fell in love with the place. Once I visited with Coach [John] MacInnes, it was an easy decision for me.
What was your first visit with MacInnes like?
It was a little intimidating. I had heard so much about John. I never would have expected such a successful coach to have such a tiny office. It was like a broom closet under the stairs at Sherman Gym. But he made me feel so welcome, and I knew I wanted to play for him right away. That meeting is one of those things I’ll never forget.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from John MacInnes?
How he treated his players. He was so approachable, giving, and kind. It was hard to get mad at him even if he didn’t have you in the lineup. He had a way about him that the players all respected.
What coaches inspired you to become a coach?
Of course, John MacInnes had a huge impact on me. Then later on, Jim Nahrgang and Herb Boxer; they were the ones that really got me into coaching. I hadn’t really thought about being a coach until they approached me. Before that, it was my high school coach, Willard Ikola, in Edina, Minnesota. He was a really good coach, and I learned a lot from him. Editor’s note: Ikola compiled a record of 616–149–38 as a high school coach.
Your most famous goal was the game-winner in the 1979 Great Lakes Invitational championship game, helping Tech defeat Michigan in triple overtime. Describe that.
That story seems to come up every year at the GLI. I like to joke that it was my first shift of the game and everybody else was tired. I just waltzed around everyone and scored. It was obviously a great thrill for me as a player because the GLI is such a big tournament. We won four straight GLI titles when I was a player.
Are there any more highlights that stick out from your playing days?
Playing in the 1981 NCAA Frozen Four—Final Four as it was called then—was certainly one of the top moments of my career. It’s every player’s dream to win a national championship. We didn’t win it that year, but we gave ourselves a chance. My brother actually won the title that year as a player for Wisconsin. I was hoping to get a chance to play against him in the title game, but it didn’t happen. It was still a really neat experience to play in that environment and have my parents there.
You spent twenty-three years as an assistant coach at Michigan, winning 667 games and two national titles. What was the secret to your success there?
Recruiting good players and good people. We had a lot of continuity on our staff, and we never let up. We kept our foot on the gas in recruiting, always working to make our team better.
How did you decide to come back?
I had tried to get back to Michigan Tech twice before, and it hadn’t worked out. Suzanne [Sanregret, athletic director] approached me within twenty-four hours of our loss in the NCAA Championship game, and there were too many emotions for me to make the decision at that point. After the dust settled a little bit, I had the opportunity to rethink it. I’m glad Suzanne stayed persistent with me. I’ve been trying to get back here, and I’m glad it finally happened.
How does your family feel about moving back to Houghton?
My family’s very excited. We still have a lot of friends in the area. My daughter was born in Hancock. They’re all looking forward to spending more time in the area.
What are things you will do to try to bring success back?
Recruiting is A-1. We have to get the type of student-athlete here who can be successful. We have a type of style we want to play, and we have to try to get the players here to do that. We’ve got a good staff in place here to get where we want to be. We also have to change the culture by building from the ground up.
Can you recruit top-level players to Michigan Tech?
I think you can. I think we have some on our roster already. Tech is not for everyone, but there are players who want what Michigan Tech has to offer. I believe there are enough good players out there that we can be successful here.
How has the support been from the Michigan Tech community so far?
It’s been great. There have been a lot of community members and alumni who have reached out to me with well wishes, and I thank them for that. I look forward to representing them and putting a good product on the ice—something they can be proud of. I understand how important hockey is to this community and this university.
What kind of style will your teams try to play?
The style I’d like to employ is a puck-control, speed, skill game. It’s going to take us some time to get the players in here that can play that type of game, and there are some here already. We want to open it up a little bit, push the pace and allow the players to use their skill and speed. We also want to be rock-solid defensively. I’d like to be the highest-scoring team and at the same time give up the least amount of goals. That’s what we’re striving for.
What are your goals for 2011–12?
It’s important for us to have a good year. There’s excitement any time there’s a coaching change, and we’re hoping to build that excitement into success on the ice. We need to try to get better every day, and we need every player to buy into our system and play as a team.