Mel Pearson’s return to Ann Arbor last weekend was no happy homecoming.
After a 23-year stint as an assistant coach of the Michigan hockey team, Pearson accepted the head coaching position with Michigan Tech in 2011. Last weekend, the Wolverines welcomed the Huskies (1-6-1) to Yost Ice Arena — the first time in almost three decades that the two teams met on the home ice of either school.
Pearson’s team put up quite a fight, but both games of the two-game series ended with close Michigan victories. The Wolverines (6-1-1) triumphed on Friday in overtime, 3-2, and staved off a comeback the following night to win 2-1.
“We’ve had a real tough schedule, and I put our team in a tough spot,” Pearson said after Saturday’s game. “I did that for a reason. We want to play good teams in good buildings. … It can be frustrating.”
It doesn’t get much more difficult than facing No. 2 Michigan at Yost, but the competitiveness of both games was a testament to how far Pearson has brought the program in just two years. In 2010-11, the Huskies won four games and lost 30. But last year, Michigan Tech beat No. 1 Minnesota, No. 7 St. Cloud State and No. 14 Nebraska-Omaha, marquee wins for a program that hasn’t won a national championship since 1975 or made a Frozen Four since its last NCAA Tournament appearance in 1981.
And last December, the Huskies routed the Wolverines at the Great Lakes Invitational, going on to claim the tournament title for the first time in 32 years. Pearson’s teams won 29 games in two years entering this season, good for the best two-season stretch in the last 18 years of Michigan Tech hockey.
But last weekend, the Huskies’ only victories were moral ones.
“We’ve taken our lumps right now,” Pearson said. “I think the record is a little misleading. I like the way we’re playing right now.”
Despite leaving Yost without a win, Pearson said his return was “awesome.” He already helped facilitate two more scheduled games between the programs — in Houghton, Mich. next year and back in Ann Arbor for 2015-16 — and hopes the former CCHA rivals continue to play regularly.
“(Yost) is a place I love,” Pearson said. “I know it’s a hard place to play and a hard place to win at, but I think it’s a great experience for our players.”
And though he and Michigan coach Red Berenson insisted the meeting between the two longtime friends and former colleagues was purely business, the two spared some time to catch up. Pearson brought with him a package of frozen pasties — the Upper Peninsula culinary staple — as a gift, and the two promised to stay in touch until they meet again.
“I love coach Berenson and Michigan hockey,” Pearson said. “I’m glad they’re doing well, and I’m really happy for them and I know they’re going to have a great year.”
Note: Berenson confirmed that defenseman Kevin Lohan successfully underwent surgery on Monday afternoon. The freshman suffered a right knee injury after sliding awkwardly into the boards on Friday. Berenson called the injury a “worst-case scenario” and that the procedure involved reconstruction. Lohan will miss at least three months.