Reflections on victory: Pearson in his own words

Fans+ran+onto+the+ice+to+celebrate+the+Huskies%E2%80%99+win.++++++-+Photo+by+Horatio+Babcock

Fans ran onto the ice to celebrate the Huskies’ win. – Photo by Horatio Babcock

On Saturday, March 18, the Huskies hockey team gave the entire town something to cheer about as they beat Bowling Green 3-2 in the finals of the WCHA. Shane Hanna scored in the second overtime period to lead the Huskies to the win. I was lucky enough to have a conversation with the man who orchestrated the season for the Huskies – head coach Mel Pearson. This is what he had to say:

Sid: Congratulations on the win, coach! It was a great moment when we scored the winner and the stadium erupted. What were your first thoughts on the win?

Pearson: I just thought that it was a great night for not just the Michigan Tech hockey team, but for the entire university and the community. We won the game and the celebrations that followed were amazing. It would have been a very different atmosphere had we lost. I’ve coached for 35 years and have been fortunate enough to win national championships. This whole event on Saturday was very similar to a national championship with the excitement and the great finish. All in all, just a great day for Michigan Tech!

Sid: The Huskies started the season with four straight losses. How did you manage to turn that around?

Pearson: We had a tough schedule. We knew we had a good team so we tried not to be overly concerned with the losses. We were more focused on trying to get better every day. But you have to keep the team together because when you start losing, it affects the mentality of the players. There is frustration and we had to make sure we didn’t splinter as a group. The team has a bunch of really good seniors whose leadership saw us through the tough times. They act like coaches in the locker room and make sure everyone keeps their calm even after a bad result.

Sid: It is as much a mental game as it is physical. During the finals, we were leading 2-0. Bowling Green fought back to make it 2-2 and took it to overtime. The momentum was with the visitors. What was your advice for the players as the game headed into overtime?

Pearson: The key was to get to OT because they were outplaying us in the third period. Once we got into overtime, the team got a chance to regroup. The talk that ensued was around the fact that we could not have changed what had happened but we still had a say in the future. We just needed to press the reset button and I think that helped. The break helped the players to calm down and refocus. I said that if someone would have told you at the start of the year that you would be in overtime in a championship game, would you take that? That got them excited and all we needed was a little extra urgency and energy.

Sid: It sure worked! The hockey team has got many students hooked to the sport and sizable chunk of them are international students who don’t have a very good idea of the WCHA and the NCAA. Could you give me an idea of the format?

Pearson: 16 teams make it to the NCAA. Six teams get there by winning their conference final like we did and the next 10 make it based on a rating system. Four teams go to a regional site. The team that wins the regional goes to the Frozen Four in Chicago. The winner of the Frozen Four is the ultimate champion! They get to boast about being the best division-one college hockey team in the United States!

Sid: How do we compare with the other teams in the NCAA?

Pearson: I’ve been in this tournament in 23 different years as either coach or player. I’ve won two national championships, one of which was at the University of Michigan. I know what it takes to progress at this stage. The beauty of it is that our chances are as good as anybody’s as it all comes down to one game and anything can happen in one game. Winners move on. I have a good feeling about this team; we have all the ingredients necessary to be a successful team. The next game is going to be against the University of Denver, which is currently the best team in the country. It’s going to be a huge challenge but it is also a great opportunity to prove ourselves.

Sid: I hope I get the chance to go to Chicago to cheer the team in the Frozen Four! I’m sure everyone put in their best efforts in this successful run of ours, but any standout performers you would like to point out?

Pearson: You have to look at the goaltender, the freshman Angus Redmond, he’s been incredible. Shane Hanna, the scorer of the winning goal on Saturday has been one of our best performers. Michael Neville and Reid Sturos, two seniors who play forward have been very impactful. Last but not the least is Cliff Watson, the captain and defender. He does many small things that are necessary to ensure the success of the team.

Sid: Coming to you, I’ve read a bit of your exploits in college hockey. It’s no secret you’ve been associated with the sport for a long time and you’ve won college championships as a player as well. From that period to now, how would you say hockey has changed?

Pearson: The players are bigger, stronger, and faster and they are more skilled. Initially, players hailed only from certain regions but now we have some of the best players coming from other countries. The number of good players has also seen a rise which why there are so many good teams out there.

Sid: It was a pleasure talking to you coach. All the best for the NCAA!

Pearson: Thank you! The Huskies take on the University of Denver on Saturday, March 25. All Husky supporters can listen to the game on Mix 93.5 FM WKMJ in the Copper Country, online at Pasty.com, or by using the TuneIn Radio App on a smartphone. ESPN News will televise Saturday’s game. Let’s go Huskies!