Wolverines search for next hockey coach

Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - 8:09pm

The Michigan hockey team will need to replace former coach Red Berenson, possibly with one of his assistants.

The Michigan hockey team will need to replace former coach Red Berenson, possibly with one of his assistants. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

 

At the end of the past few seasons, Red Berenson’s status as the coach of the Michigan hockey team was in question. It was thought that he would retire after the 2015-16 season, but athletic director Warde Manuel convinced him to stay for another year.

Monday, Berenson finally put an end to all the questions, as he officially stepped down from his position with the team.

Now, for the first time in 33 seasons, the Wolverines are in search of a new coach.

With Berenson’s status as coach being uncertain over the past few years, there has been plenty of time to speculate on who would take his position when he did retire. The Daily breaks down some of the possible candidates for his replacement at Michigan.

Mel Pearson:

Pearson is currently the head coach at Michigan Tech, where he has led the Huskies to NCAA Tournament appearances in two of the last three seasons as well as a Western Conference Hockey Association Tournament championship last season.

Pearson was an assistant under Berenson with the Wolverines from 1988-2011, and was long believed to be the coach-in-waiting for when Berenson retired. But after joining — and finding success with — Michigan Tech, it’s unclear if Pearson would be willing to come back to Ann Arbor.

Pearson may be the most qualified candidate for Michigan. One of the areas that has plagued the Wolverines in recent seasons is their ineptitude in Corsi percentage — just last season they were the third-worst team nationally in the category, which measures all shot attempts taken at even strength. On the other hand, Pearson’s Huskies have ranked in the top-five in Corsi percentage in each of the last three seasons.

All in all, if Pearson would be willing to return to Michigan, it seems as though the two would make a good fit.

Brian Wiseman:

Wiseman played for the Wolverines from 1991-94 and accrued 164 assists in his career, the most in program history. He has served as an assistant coach under Berenson since 2011. As a result, he is intimately familiar with the current team, so the transition from Berenson to him would presumably be smooth.

Additionally, Wiseman has taken a lead role in recruiting efforts over the last few seasons. He has traveled around the country, and in some cases, was the main contact between recruits and Michigan.

On the downside, Wiseman’s tenure coincides with the Wolverines’ struggles in recent years. This is not to say that Wiseman is responsible, but if Michigan wants to change its program’s momentum, hiring someone who is currently in the program may be counterintuitive. 

Billy Powers:

Powers’ situation is somewhat similar to that of Wiseman. After beginning his playing career at Division II St. Anselm, Powers transferred to Michigan as a part of Berenson’s first recruiting class in 1985. He played the next three years with the Wolverines, and after his college career was over, he immediately transitioned into being a graduate assistant with Michigan.

Powers has been with the Wolverines ever since, and after Pearson left, he was promoted to the associate head coach position that he holds today.

Like Wiseman, Powers is extremely close to the program. He was a part of the NCAA Championships in 1996 and 1998, and he’s also been a part of the recent decline.

So, again, if Michigan is looking to change directions with its program, Powers doesn’t seem to fit the bill. Unlike Wiseman, though, Powers has more experience in a coaching capacity, so hiring him now may be a safer bet.

Bill Muckalt:

Muckalt is a bit more of an outside candidate than the other three because he hasn’t coached under Berenson. He does have substantial and successful coaching experience, though.

Muckalt played his college career at Michigan from 1994-1998 and was a part of both NCAA Championship teams. From there, he experienced a short, six-year professional career.

Muckalt moved on to become an assistant coach at Eastern Michigan before bouncing around as an assistant on a few junior hockey teams. He then reconnected with Pearson, his former associate head coach with the Wolverines at Michigan Tech.

In 2015, Muckalt got his shot as a head coach with the United States Hockey League’s Tri-City Storm, where he led the Storm to its first ever USHL championship in his first season at the helm.

Muckalt appears to be a good option for Michigan in today’s world of hockey, as he is only 42 and would be able to relate to recruits more easily.

***

At Berenson’s retirement press conference, he was asked what he wanted from his successor.

“I hope there’s some Michigan awareness or Michigan connection for a coach that will feel the right way about what a Michigan man should be like and what a Michigan team should be like,” Berenson said.

Pearson, Wiseman, Powers and Muckalt certainly fit that bill with their coaching and playing experience with the Wolverines.

And even if Michigan decides to hire somebody other than those four, one thing is for certain: after 33 years under Berenson, the next head coach will have enormous shoes to fill.