Kris Mayotte was on his way to a Red Sox game with his brother when he got a phone call from Michigan coach Mel Pearson.
He was calling to offer Mayotte the assistant coaching position for the upcoming 2019-2020 season at a school that had always been a dream for him.
He accepted the job immediately.
“Well, do you want to hear how much you’re going to get paid? Do you want to call your wife?” he remembers Pearson asking.
Eventually, they both agreed that Mayotte had better sleep on it even if trying to focus on a baseball game was a lost cause.
Mayotte had first heard about the opening the way most people hear news: on Twitter. He knew Pearson from the recruiting trail, and Michigan’s program had always been on his radar.
Both of Mayotte’s parents are from Detroit, and he still has family in the area. He’d always wanted to play for the Wolverines, but wasn’t a serious enough hockey player to get recruited by such a competitive program.
Michigan was looking for a coach who could work with the goaltenders, had a good understanding of the defense and had strong recruiting connections on the East Coast. Mayotte checked all the boxes.
He knew he had to at least apply.
In July, Mayotte and his wife came to Ann Arbor to explore the area and meet with Pearson and associate head coach Bill Muckalt face-to-face. It seemed like all the pieces were coming together.
“I wouldn't have gone for the job if I didn't have really high interest in the job.” Mayotte said. “… I assumed that, if I got offered, I was taking the job.”
But as clear-cut as the situation looked on paper, reality only set in when there was an actual offer on the table.
Taking the job meant moving across the country. It meant leaving Providence College, a team with which Mayotte had had lots of success. He had recently been promoted to associate head coach under Nate Leaman and helped lead the Friars to a national championship in 2015. The two coaches also had a history — Leaman coached Mayotte when he played at Union College 15 years ago.
“Outside of my family, (Leaman) was the most influential person in my life” Mayotte said. “… I knew he trusted me 100 percent. Not that he agreed with me 100 percent or I agreed with him 100 percent, but I had his trust with everything.”
Leaving a coach that believed in him and the “comfort zone” of knowing he was valued in the program was not easy.
It didn’t help that Mayotte was walking into a similar dynamic at Michigan where Pearson and Muckalt already had a strong relationship. Pearson recruited and coached Muckalt when he played for the Wolverines. Muckalt later worked under Pearson as his assistant coach when the pair was at Michigan Tech.
And Muckalt isn’t the only one. His predecessor at Michigan, Billy Powers, is a former Wolverine. So is Michigan’s last assistant coach, Brian Wiseman. Steve Shields, the current program assistant, played at Michigan. Josh Blackburn, who spent eight years as Michigan’s volunteer goaltending coach, was a four-year starter for the Wolverines. Pearson himself isn’t an alumnus, but his predecessor, Red Berenson, played for the Wolverines in the 1960s and coached Michigan for 33 years.
Michigan hockey is a highly interconnected web, and it seems all roads lead back to Ann Arbor. The first time Mayotte stepped foot in Yost Ice Arena was during his initial visit to talk with Pearson.
“You start thinking about the staff you have great relationships with, all the people at Providence College and everybody that you know you talk to on a daily basis is about to change,” Mayotte said. “Then you start thinking more on the personal side than on the career side.”
But from a career perspective, Mayotte was ready to make the move. After a couple days of deliberation, he called Pearson to accept the offer.
“It was my dream,” he said. “I wish I got that call as a player. But when you get it is a 36 year old … the butterflies are the same.”
The whole process took about two and a half weeks from start to finish, though to Mayotte, it felt even faster.
In the end, Mayotte took the job because he thought it would force him to grow. As much as he loved working with Leaman, he thinks working with a variety of different people will make him a well-rounded coach. He wanted the experience of coaching in the Big Ten, a decidedly more offensive league than Hockey East, where Providence plays.
“Getting to know Mel and Billy, I thought that I would have the opportunity to come in and kind of carve out a role, you know, with goalies and penalty kill and hopefully help some with recruiting efforts as well,” Mayotte said.
Out of necessity, Mayotte integrated into the coaching staff quickly once he got to Ann Arbor. The Wolverines had a rocky start to last season, holding a 7-10-2 record after the first two months of competition.
“The adversity brought us together, because we really just had to bear down and grind and find a way out of it,” Mayotte said. “I think that's where you grow not only as a team, but as a staff and as coaches.”
And they did find a way out of it — the Wolverines had a record of 18-14-4 when the season came to a premature end due to COVID-19.
Mayotte’s second season doesn’t look like it’ll be any easier, albeit for different reasons. With an uncertain start date and game schedule along with restrictions on practice, the players will be relying on their coaches more than ever this season.
“We obviously grow as coaches when we’re trying to improve just like the players are,” Mayotte said.
Back on that summer evening at Fenway Park a year ago, Mayotte didn’t know that his personal growth would come amid a global pandemic. But he knew that, somehow, some way, it would come at Michigan.
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