This article was updated to include Rob Rassey’s hiring as assistant coach.
Usually when a coach takes over a hockey program, they hire close advisors right away. And, interim coach Brandon Naurato started his tenure with the Michigan hockey team that way, making important hires to shape the team.
The program hired Topher Scott to serve as its director of hockey operations and named Rob Rassey its assistant coach.
The Michigan hockey team saw plenty of coaching turnover to start this month as Mel Pearson lost his job and Naurato took over head coaching duties. But there was one job left open — the assistant coach role — and who would fill it remained a mystery as the season drew near.
That is, until Thursday, when Michigan Athletics announced that Rassey would fill the assistant role this season, completing the Wolverines’ coaching trio with around six weeks to go before the season starts.
Rassey, a Northeastern alumnus, has been involved in coaching and front office jobs since 2011 with various junior and college teams. He started his career as an assistant for the Youngstown Phantoms, a team he once captained as a player. After two seasons there, he took the same job at Harvard from 2013 to 2019, working with future NHL players like two-time All-American defenseman Adam Fox and Hobey Baker winning forward Jimmy Vesey.
After working with the Crimson, he joined the Detroit Red Wings’ scouting department in 2019, the same team Naurato worked for as a development coach. Rassey worked there for two seasons before returning to junior hockey last season, this time as the general manager for the Omaha Lancers.
Rassey brings plenty of experience to Michigan’s coaching staff, an important resource for a young coach like Naurato to consult. His familiarity with shaping the offensive games of top prospects — especially of a caliber like Fox — also makes him an invaluable perspective for coaching gifted scoring defensemen like sophomore Luke Hughes and incoming freshman Seamus Casey.
Considering the success of Fox’s offensive game at the NHL level, both defensemen — and the rest of the Wolverines — should be in good hands from a development and coaching standpoint.
And Rassey’s experience coaching scorers extends to special teams. He played an integral part in constructing Harvard’s power play during his time with the Crimson. Combined with Naurato’s power play knowledge, special teams could become one of Michigan’s greatest strengths.
Michigan announced that Scott, who Naurato previously worked with as a hockey consultant, will take over as director of hockey operations for the Wolverines. The move — which fills a role left vacant by Rick Bancroft’s retirement on June 20 — shows a promising start to Michigan’s goals of culture change in the wake of a damning investigation.
Scott brings years of experience as a player and assistant coach to the hockey operations position. An alumnus and former captain of Cornell, he played in 137 NCAA games and put up 107 points. In 2005, he won the ECAC title with the Big Red and after a brief minor league professional career, he shifted to coaching. He started assistant coaching with Miami in 2010 before taking the same role at his alma mater for five seasons. He has also coached multiple triple-A teams.
His resume could complement Naurato’s coaching, who only has one year of experience — last year, as Michigan’s assistant — under his belt. Scott’s background includes plenty of lessons learned through trial and error, and he can help Naurato avoid replicating them in his first season as a head coach.
But Scott’s benefits don’t just center around his experience playing and coaching hockey. He’s also a skilled consultant, tracking trends across the sport and explaining them to readers on his website, The Hockey Think Tank. The site notably published an article with Naurato about how power play goals were scored in the 2017-18 NHL season, offering a sneak peek at the way the duo complements each other from an analytical standpoint.
Away from the rink, Michigan’s hire makes sense from a character standpoint as well. Scott has not shied away from often-ignored issues within the sport, such as abuse by coaches and the rising cost to play AAA hockey. Scott also hosts charity hockey games to support special needs education. Considering the recent investigation into the program that revealed a toxic environment, that progressiveness is a breath of fresh air.
In the wake of the investigation and with a massive need for a cultural reset, Michigan needed to hire a director of hockey operations with both coaching experience and a willingness to address issues within the sport. In Scott, they’ve found someone who checks both boxes.
With Rassey’s and Scott’s hiring, the Wolverines have a complete and stable coaching staff for the upcoming season. Considering its start date is drawing closer by the second, that is a promising sign as the team tries to rise above a tumultuous offseason.