Mel Pearson is looking forward to watching Michigan play in the NCAA tournament for the first time with him being the main man behind the Wolverines’ bench. Michigan faces Northeastern Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in a Northeast Regional semifinal at Worcester, Mass.
Pearson has been a part of Michigan’s hockey program for a long time, an assistant under the legendary Red Berenson when the Wolverines won national championships in 1996 and 1998, and earning a national title game appearance in 2011, before moving on to lead Michigan Tech’s program the previous six years.
The Wolverines (20-14-3) had a strong second half of the season (12-4-1) to earn an at-large bid into the 16-team NCAA field, and the No. 2 seed in the regional.
Michigan will face one of the premier lines in college hockey in Northeastern’s Adam Gaudette (30 goals, 60 points), Dylan Sikura (21 goals, 53 points) and Nolan Stevens (24 goals, 41 points).
But Pearson also has one of the top lines in the nation in Tony Calderone (23 goals, 40 points), Cooper Marody (14 goals, 46 points) and Dexter Dancs (10 goals, 23 points).
“This year they have maybe the best line in college hockey and the numbers bear that out in Gaudette, Sikura and Stevens,” said Pearson. “I don’t mind going strength on strength and we’ll have the last change and that’s a nice thing. It will be power versus power, our best against your best, and I think we’ve done that most of the year.”
Northeastern ranks fifth nationally in scoring (3.62 goals per game) and Michigan is tied seventh (3.35).
Michigan also has solid goaltending in Hayden Lavigne (16-10-3, 2.79 GAA, .910 save percentage).
The Michigan-Northeastern winner will face the survivor of the Cornell-Boston University game in Sunday’s regional final for the right to move on to the Frozen Four April 5-7 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Pearson thinks the Wolverines are ready for postseason play since they really had to play under pressure the last couple of months to earn an at-large bid, sweeping Wisconsin in a Big Ten quarterfinal series before falling at Ohio State in a semifinal game March 10 in Columbus, 3-2 in OT.
“It was a good game,” said Pearson of the semifinal loss to the Buckeyes. “When you look at it, the Big Ten got two of the top four seeds, two No. 1 seeds, so we’ve seen that all year, we’ve been up against it, and we were a bubble team even four weeks ago so we had to continue to win and that puts a lot of pressure on you.
“Now anything can happen. That ’98 team shows weird things can happen. We didn’t win anything that year, 10 freshmen, nobody giving us a chance heading in and then we win it (OT win over Boston College in championship game).
“In ’97 we probably had the best team I’ve ever been around here (lost to Boston University in national semifinal in Milwaukee), so that just shows you that anything can happen.”
Pearson's statement that anything could happen was backed up by Air Force's shocking 4-1 upset win over No. 1 overall seed St. Cloud State on Friday, along with Notre Dame needing to go to overtime to beat Michigan Tech 4-3 on Jordan Gross' second goal of the game coming 16:24 into the extra session.
Michigan vs. Northeastern
Faceoff: 4:30 Saturday, DCU Center, Worcester, Mass.
Records: No. 2 Michigan 20-14-3; No. 3 Northeastern 23-9-5
Up next: Winner advances to Northeast Regional final Sunday at 4 p.m. against Cornell-Boston University winner.