Fired hockey coach Mel Pearson speaks for the first time on ‘what really went

EDINA, Minn. — In five years as the head hockey coach at the University of Michigan, Mel Pearson’s teams won nearly 60% of the time. His players went to class and graduated. The Wolverines went to the NCAA Frozen Four, twice. In this era of the transfer portal, where players can leave for any reason at any time, almost none of the Wolverines did. At the 2021 NHL Draft, four of the first five players selected had chosen to play for Pearson’s team, and did so even with offers of pro hockey money being waved in front of them.

Still, there was friction with a few former Wolverines and staff. After being fired, a former Wolverines assistant coach made serious claims of things like asking players to falsify COVID-19 forms, mistreatment of women who worked with the Wolverines program and retaliation toward players and staff who spoke up to complain. A law firm spent months investigating those claims, conducting more than a dozen interviews of Pearson and others, all while the Wolverines were playing a season that ended with 31 wins, a Big Ten tournament title and a trip to the Frozen Four.

In the end, the law firm found there were cultural issues to be addressed and corrections to be made within Pearson’s hockey program. Investigators concluded in discussions with Pearson that some of his responses regarding the allegations were not truthful.

But the report concluded that the 63-year-old head coach had not retaliated against the former coach or players, nor had he violated school policy governing gender-based discrimination. His name seemingly cleared of the most serious charges, Pearson was discussing a new contract with the Michigan athletic director over the summer.

Then, less than two months before the start of the current hockey season, Pearson was fired. He quietly left the school that had employed him for 28 years, as an assistant coach and a head coach. One of his former assistant coaches was named the Wolverines interim coach.

Pearson has not talked about his departure from Michigan since Aug. 5,

when the school announced his firing

. But recently, Pearson chose to break his silence via an exclusive conversation with The Rink Live.


In 2012, head coach Mel Pearson, far right, and goalie coach Steve Shields, far left, helped direct Michigan Tech to the championship of the Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

Contributed / Michigan Tech Athletics

Pearson recalls hiring his former goaltender to his coaching staff. However, the head coach began to hear rumblings and made another decisive move.

Steve Shields was successfully recruited twice by Mel Pearson. In 1990, Pearson – then an assistant coach at the University of Michigan – convinced Shields, a talented goalie from Toronto, to become a Wolverine.

Shields played four years at Michigan, then logged almost 250 games in the NHL, retiring from professional hockey in 2007. When Pearson was named the new head coach at Michigan Tech in 2011, he reached out to Shields again, at the urging of friends concerned for the retired goaltender, who was living in California.

Shields accepted Pearson’s offer and became the volunteer goaltender coach for the Huskies.

That was the beginning of a coaching partnership between Shields and Pearson that included two college hockey programs, and ultimately ended with both men out of work.

Shields was on Pearson’s staff with the Huskies for one season and part of another, while living rent-free in a room above Pearson’s garage for a time. After leaving Houghton, Shields spent a year with the Florida Panthers, then was hired at Michigan by former head coach Red Berenson. Pearson inherited Shields when the former was hired as head coach of the Wolverines in 2017. Pearson said there were good times in their relationship, but by the summer of 2021, things had soured.

“I wanted to move on from Steve because I just didn’t think he was healthy to be around our team after my first year,” Pearson recalled. “He’s…

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