The Penguins added a special guest to their coaching staff for the opening days of camp. In a display of the growing hospitality among the fraternity of coaches, University of Michigan associate head coach Mel Pearson was invited to join the Penguins coaching staff for the first four days of the team’s camp.
“It’s been a great experience for me so far,” Pearson said. “I’ve been around a lot of hockey and a lot of different situations but when the opportunity came up to come down to Pittsburgh and work with this staff and this organization, I thought it would be a great opportunity for myself.”
Pearson enters his 22nd year as an assistant coach with the Wolverines under head coach Red Berenson, and his 10th as associate head. Since his arrival, Michigan has posted a 612-214-66 record, captured 10 Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season titles, made 10 NCAA Frozen Four appearances and won two NCAA championships (1996, 1998).
Despite all of his success on the college level, Pearson is always looking for ways to improve his coaching style and strategy. So he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see how another coaching staff conducts their practices and camp.
“We practice so much in college hockey so you have to be creative and come up with new drills and try to accomplish the same things with different drills and different approaches to it,” Pearson said. “I’ve learned a couple of drills here. Also I’ve learned the system. They do things a little different here than in the college game. There are definitely some things that I can take from here and put into our team in Michigan.”
The Penguins organization, and particularly the coaching staff, has deep roots to the college hockey world. Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Todd Reirden both attended Bowling Green. Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato attended Wisconsin, while WBS assistant coach John Hynes played at Boston University.
“Mel is getting a chance to come here and see a different game, different level, different coaches, different players and a different way to say things,” Bylsma said. “In turn, we get to ask the University of Michigan how they do things, how they’ve won championships in the past. What they do in their practices and how they use their coaching staff. It’s a two-fold benefit.”
Choosing to attend Pittsburgh’s camp was an easy decision for Pearson. Not only are the Penguins the defending Stanley Cup champions, but Pearson also has a few connections to the Penguins organization.
Pearson’s father, George “Mel” Pearson, played in two games and recorded an assist for the Penguins in their inaugural season in 1967-68. Also, Penguins assistant general manager Jason Botterill played college hockey under Pearson at Michigan.
“Jason’s been great and Pittsburgh has a great guy with him,” Pearson said. “He’s going to do some great things here. He already has. It just worked out well. He’s been very supportive. I know he bleeds Blue.”
Botterill played four seasons at Michigan and was a member of the Wolverine’s 1996 national championship team.
“He was an outstanding player and won a national championship for us in ’96,” Pearson said. “He came back in ’97 when we had, maybe the best team we’ve had since I’ve been there. We only lost four games. Botterill was a goal scorer around the net, a great team player, a great leader on our team.”
Pearson and Botterill have maintained a strong bond and 10 years after coaching Pittsburgh’s assistant GM, Pearson is now being welcomed by him and the Penguins organization. And the Michigan coach is taking full advantage of the opportunity.
“Coach Berenson was very supportive and encourages us to learn new ideas,” Pearson said. “It’s been great. The coaches have been outstanding. Management has been really friendly with me. The players have been outstanding too, very supportive. It’s been an amazing experience.”