By Michael Caples -
Former Michigan assistant coach Mel Pearson led a radical turnaround for the Huskies last season. What will Michigan Tech do under the direction of their bench boss in Year 2?
The rebuilding process in Houghton is alive and well. The 2011-12 campaign saw a dramatic 12-win improvement for the Michigan Tech Huskies, punctuated with an appearance in the WCHA Final Five. Much of the credit for the turnaround should go to new coach Mel Pearson, who brought a wealth of experience from Ann Arbor to his alma mater up north, and promptly improved the outlook for Michigan Tech moving forward.
A year ago, Pearson was just getting his feet wet, having been named the new Michigan Tech coach in May of 2011. Now, he’s got momentum. Taking over a program that had finished 4-30-4, Pearson led the Huskies to a 16-19-4 record in 2011-12. MTU was predicted to finish in last place in the WCHA preseason poll; instead, they had a shot at fifth place during the final weekend of the regular season (eventually ending up in eighth). Pearson was named WCHA coach of the year for his impressive first year. It will be interesting to see what he can do next at his alma mater; Pearson recorded 56 points in 97 career games as a Husky from 1977-81.
There will be some noticeable absences when the Huskies start their 2012-13 season. Top scorer Brett Olson – he recorded 30 points last year – is gone, as is the No. 3 scorer, Jordan Baker. The club also loses goaltender Josh Robinson, who played in 35 games for the Huskies last season. Senior goaltender Kevin Genoe played in seven games last year, but played to a 1-5-0 record. Freshmen netminders Phoenix Copley and Jamie Phillips (a seventh round pick of the Winnipeg Jets) will share in the battle for crease time leading up to the regular season. Another new freshman on campus is forward Jujhar Khaira, a third-round pick by the Oilers.
If the water bottle is half full…
If Pearson could turn the team around that much in one season, what can he do with two? The club returns the Johnstone brothers, David and Jacob; the former posted 29 points as a sophomore last season. And Blake Pietila, a fifth-round pick of the Devils, had 24 points as a freshman. He’s got older brother Chad and cousin Aaron with him for one more season before they both graduate. And the drafted youngsters mentioned above could add an immediate boost to the line-up.
If the water bottle is half empty…
It’s going to be hard for the Huskies to replace their top scorer and their goaltender. Olson was the only player to top 30 points for MTU, and Robinson played in all the important situations in goal last season. Plus, now that Michigan Tech has the attention of the rest of the WCHA, it might get a little tougher from week to week.
I’m going to go with David Johnstone. As mentioned earlier, he was second on the team in scoring last year, just one point behind Olson. Approaching his junior season, Johnstone should be ready to roll, and lead the Huskies on the score sheet most weekends.
The youngest Pietila on the Huskies roster is also the most talented of the three, and with one collegiate season under his belt, Blake should be ready to go in 2012-13. He had 10 goals last season; if he can add to that total this year (and he is expected to), Pietila will make the Huskies that much more difficult to deal with both in Houghton and on the road.