Mel Pearson is out as coach of the University of Michigan hockey team and based on the investigation that led to his ouster, there wasn't really any other ending possible to his summer. Names are being bandied about already regarding his replacement and if you think about it, this should be one of the hottest vacancies in the sport. Yeah, I said it - all of hockey.
Until this spring, the Wolverines held the NCAA record for men's hockey championships with nine. Thanks to Denver's triumph in Boston at the 2022 Frozen Four, the Pioneers are now tied for rings with Michigan. And if that isn't bulletin board material for the 2022-23 edition of the Wolverines, I'm not sure what is. Because this is a program flush with top-end players and recruits.
Last year's team went to the Frozen Four semifinal before losing to the aforementioned Pioneers in an admittedly disjointed performance. But the talent in the lineup was staggering: Owen Power, Matty Beniers, Kent Johnson, Brendan Brisson and Thomas Bordeleau were part of that squad. And even though they all turned pro after the loss to Denver, the team still returns names such as Luke Hughes, Erik Portillo and Mackie Samoskevich next season, while also adding an incredible recruiting class.
The top prospect is center Adam Fantilli, a potential top-three pick in the 2023 NHL draft who is coming off an incredible career in the USHL with the Chicago Steel. The high end of the 2022 draft was also flecked with future Wolverines, including 13th pick overall Frank Nazar (CHI), 14th pick overall Rutger McGroarty (WPG) and second-rounder Seamus Casey (NJ). Down the road, the Wolverines are attached to other top-end talents such as St. Andrew's College defenseman Matthew Virgilio, who will play in the USHL as a tender with the Tri-City Storm this upcoming season.
Which is a long way of saying that whoever takes over for Pearson in Ann Arbor will have a good deal of talent at their disposal now and in the future. Now, it's fair to ask: If a player had committed to Pearson and the Wolverines, would they now think twice with that particular coach gone? I asked a couple of high-profile NHL agents (or 'family advisors' as they are known when the players are in college) and they both believe the Michigan brand itself will likely prevail. Sure, you have to take each commitment on a case-by-case basis, but most of these kids became enamored with the program as a whole, not just one element of it.
But let's turn our focus here to the job vacancy itself - because it's a pretty tempting gig. College coaches typically have longer tenures than their pro peers and the opportunity to mentor a constant stream of youngsters can be very rewarding for someone in coaching. Greg Carvel, Scott Sandelin and Nate Leaman are among those who have really established themselves in the college coaching game in recent years and while all of them could be NHL bench bosses, they also have pretty great jobs as is.
Specifically at Michigan, you would get to do so at the legendary Yost Arena in a town that lives and breathes college athletics - with hockey one of the marquee sports. So we're not just talking about other NCAA head coaches or assistant coaches who should be thinking about this gig: What about someone tired of waiting for a head coaching job in the NHL to open up?
"If I was an assistant coach in the NHL who hadn't got my shot yet, why wouldn't I consider it?" said one agent. "Look at the prospects, look at the facilities, look at the prestige of the program."
The last time Michigan won a national championship was back in 1998, when the icon Red Berenson was still behind the bench for the Wolverines. The last time the team played in the final was in 2011, when they lost to Minnesota-Duluth in overtime. A lot of pressure comes with the position, but also a lot of praise if you get the job done. The program may be in turmoil right now, but it's hard to think of too many other places with as much promise for a coach's career than the University of Michigan. Especially if you could wrangle that 10th national title.