Year 2 also tough for MacInnes, Berenson/Inside the Huskies
It’s such an instant gratification culture, but as Michigan Tech’s roller coaster season continues, another reminder about the big picture is in order, but this time a much bigger one.
Last week I talked about success in March being the only thing that really matters, and anything that helps build toward that and teaches lessons can be valuable. It’s still true, and there’s been a lot of tough lessons learned this year, through a variety of peaks (see last Tuesday’s 8-2 win over Northern Michigan) and valleys (see last Saturday’s 6-1 loss at Minnesota State).
But this week, as the Huskies endure yet another off week, I’m going to expand the scope well beyond this season in a way that should encourage many Tech fans about the process of developing a program.
Everyone in Houghton wants coach Mel Pearson to usher in another John MacInnes era, but what many may not realize is he’s starting out almost exactly like his former coach and mentor did.
In his first two years, MacInnes earned 25 wins (25-25-6 record), with the second year being three wins worse than first (and that was after inheriting a 21-7-0 team from 1955-56).
Another of Pearson’s mentors and another coaching legend, current University of Michigan coach Red Berenson also tallied 25 wins in his first two seasons (25-52-1), with the second year being one win worse than the first.
Pearson to date has 26 wins, and his 26-35-8 record is eerily similar to Berenson’s after their first 69 games (25-43-1). Tech’s 10-16-4 record is currently six wins behind last year’s record, but there’s a minimum of six games left this year (also remember Pearson inherited a 4-30-4 team).
In short, MacInnes, Berenson and Pearson have all started similarly, and have all had second seasons worse than the first. Much of that likely has to do with mixing half a roster of recruits from the prior administration with a new style.
If history continues to repeat itself, by the way, MacInnes was 16-10-1 and 21-10-1 in years three and four, and he won an NCAA championship in year six. Berenson was 14-25-1 and 22-19-0 in years three and four, and he earned a 34-10-3 record in year six.
It’s way too early to project Pearson’s record the next two years, let alone year six, but following are some statistics that could certainly point to a similar trajectory.
The only sample size by which to judge Pearson and the current coaching staff, aside from of course the wins and losses noted above, is the first two recruiting classes. It’s looking pretty good based on average points per game played, by class.
Perhaps it’s a convoluted stat, but Tech Hockey Guide has created a graph comparing every Tech freshman class since 1996, and Pearson’s first two groups are the best – by far – based on average points per game played.
Last year’s class, including Blake Pietila, David Johnstone and Tanner Kero, averaged .429 points per game as a group last season. Now in year two for that group the number grows to .582 (two-year average of .494).
This year’s incoming freshmen, including Jujhar Khaira, Alex Petan and Malcolm Gould, have averaged .527 points per game. The highest previous freshman year by a Tech team since ’96, before Pearson arrived, was .339 in 2003.
For comparison’s sake, the best single year for any single class during the eight years Jamie Russell was coach was .507 points, which was earned by the incoming class of 2007 in its senior season.
The highest individual point total average during a four-year career during the Russell era was .363 by that 2007 class. Mike Sertich’s high was .402 with the 2001 class. Tim Watters’ high was .454 with the 2000 class.
Both of Pearson’s recruiting classes have already exceeded any of those numbers, and they haven’t even reached their junior and senior seasons.
Now, zooming back on this season with that background, things look a bit better, don’t they? Heck, just two years ago, beating the No. 1 team in the country, winning the Great Lakes Invitational and winning Winter Carnival would have been enough to satisfy most Tech hockey fans.
So, instead of riding the extremes of an emotional high after a big rivalry win – “I think we’ve finally turned the corner!” – or sulking after a deflating loss – “Oh, here we go again.” – enjoy the baby steps toward developing a championship team.
Stephen Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/steander and interact throughout the week about Tech hockey with the #mtuhky hashtag.