Mel Pearson applauds 'disappointed' Owen Power after Michigan says he can't play for Canada
Michigan hockey coach Mel Pearson praised freshman defenseman Owen Power for handling the fallout of his decision to prevent the potential No. 1 pick in the 2021 NHL draft from attending the selection camp of the Canadian national junior team ahead of the world championships in Edmonton from Dec. 25, 2020-Jan 5, 2021.
Heading into this weekend's two-game series against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor, the 6-5, 215-pound Power has four points and is plus seven in four games with the undefeated and No. 3-ranked Wolverines.
"Owen has handled this much better than I would've when I was 17 going on 18," Pearson said. "He said, 'You know coach, I'm disappointed but happy to be here at Michigan. I'm all in and looking forward to the next 10 games before Christmas.'"
Pearson said the COVID-19 pandemic, which suspended Hockey Canada's activities for two weeks after two players tested positive and were quarantined at the team's hotel in Red Deer, Alberta, played a role in not allowing the Mississauga, Ontario-born Power to possibly represent his country at the under-20 hockey showcase.
"In a normal situation, it's a no-brainer," Pearson said. "Normally, they would be asked to report in the middle of December for two weeks but this is a different year with a lot of extenuating circumstances. If Owen made the team, he would be gone for 51 days and it became evident that academically it just would not work in this case.
"I told Team Canada that they could have him around Dec. 10 after the first part of our schedule was done but I guess they had a hardcore rule that they had to be at camp at a certain date (Nov. 17). That's their rule. I respect the date they put in. I wanted to make sure we did everything possible at the University of Michigan to work something out."
Hockey Canada's Scott Salmond, the senior vice president of national teams, issued a statement on Nov. 10 acknowledging the "unique" circumstances during the "ongoing discussions" to add Power to the 47-player roster, including 15 defensemen of which six are former first-round picks from the last two NHL drafts.
"Although we are disappointed Owen will not be able to join our team at camp, we understand and respect the decision," the statement said.
Three Canadian players from U.S. schools (Wisconsin's Dylan Holloway, Boston College's Alex Newhook and Northeastern's Devon Levi) were scheduled to join the rest of the team this week after a mandated 14-day quarantine period entering the country. They were skating on their own in Red Deer and isolated from the rest of the team.
Northeastern coach Jim Madigan supports Pearson's decision after going through the same process with Levi, an 18-year-old freshman and Florida Panthers draft pick competing against four other goaltenders in the Canadian camp.
"Did I have concerns? Absolutely," Madigan said. "We put together an academic plan that works for Devon. Does it work for everyone? Not necessarily. I've known the Power family since I was 15 years old growing up in the Toronto area and I've watched Owen's progress every step of the way. Mel had to make a tough decision in the young man's best interests and in Michigan's best interests too. I respect his decision."
Jerry York, the coach of the No. 2-ranked Boston College Eagles, the winningest active coach in NCAA hockey with 1,091 wins and a 2019 inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, said he wants all the school's student-athletes to follow their dreams, especially Newhook who was one of the last cuts from the Canadian team last year.
"I told Alex that if they invite you, go and pursue your dream," York said. "BC hockey is going to survive, I'm going to survive and if he makes the team, he'll come back a better player in the middle of January. He grew up in Newfoundland and hockey is in his blood just like our American kids now who want to play on that world stage."
According to Craig Button, a former Ann Arbor resident who was the director of player personnel for the 1999 Stanley Cup champion Dallas Stars and is now The Sports Network's director of scouting, Power is "better than most of the defensemen" in Canada's camp and would've "unquestionably" made the team.
"Owen's disappointment might've been different than some players because he knows this age group," Button said. "He's either played against them or with them so his confidence is not unfounded. He's a really, really well-rounded, top-end player. I would've been more surprised if Owen wasn't disappointed about not being able to represent his country.
"It was nobody's fault though. Hockey Canada had to start their camp early because the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) wanted the teams selected sooner, the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) and WHL (Western Hockey League) weren't playing so players needed a place to play and the University of Michigan had their academic requirements. Everyone put their best foot forward. It just didn't work."
Wisconsin coach and former Red Wings assistant coach Tony Granato said the Big Ten Conference pushed for an early start to the season partly because schools with world-junior caliber players like Michigan, Minnesota and his No. 15-ranked Badgers didn't want them "staying at home" and missing national team camps.
"I allowed Dylan to go because everyone had to be there to even have a chance to make the Canadian team," Granato said. "Plus the tournament is in Edmonton and Dylan was a first-round draft pick of the Oilers. Based on his impressive skill set and experience, Dylan can play any style of the game they decide to go with."
Pearson, born in Vancouver and raised in Flin Flon, Manitoba, said "he hasn't made of lot of friends north of the border" with his decision and that his Canadian friends, his sister in Toronto and former Wolverine and three-time world junior gold medallist Jason Botterill have called to see what's going on in Ann Arbor.
Pearson said he also sought advice from his mentor and former Michigan coach Red Berenson, who won a pair of national championships (1996, 1998) during a 33-year career, including 23 years together on the bench as an assistant coach.
"I know how big this tournament is in Canada and why Owen was disappointed," Pearson said. "But he's a first-year student who has only been here two months. He's trying to solidify himself as a student-athlete, not only on the ice but in the classroom which is more important in this decision making.
"Holloway and Newhook are sophomores and they've got established GPAs (grade point averages) and credits. The majority of Owen's classes were at the same time as an intrasquad game or practice. Not all were recordings or whenever you could watch."
Power, who just turned 18 on Sunday, hasn't commented publicly about Pearson's decision. In Power's first media conference call with reporters on Tuesday, the school's communication department said only Michigan hockey questions were allowed and "any questions regarding world juniors would be dismissed."
"We just want him focused on the positives and maybe not the negatives, pulling him through the mud so to speak," Pearson said. "We have six games in 13 days. After that, I have no problem with him answering those questions about how he feels if he chooses to do so. It'll probably be old news by then with a lot of things going on."
In Friday and Saturday's games against Notre Dame (both games are on the Big Ten Network and start at 7 p.m.), Power will be joined by five of his teammates who are candidates to make the U.S. national junior team: Cam York, John Beecher, Matthew Beniers, Thomas Bordeleau and Brendan Brisson.
The Wolverines (4-0) are loaded with NHL prospects and Power's combination of size, speed, strength and skill have led to comparisons to Norris Trophy candidate Victor Hedman of the 2020 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and Hall of Famer Chris Pronger, the first defenseman to win the Hart Trophy in 2000 as the most valuable player in the NHL since Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins in 1972.
"I asked NHL people would this (not attending Canada's selection camp) hurt his draft status because I know he's a highly ranked prospect," Pearson said. "Ninety-five percent of the people said no. Hockey Canada also said there wouldn't be any bad blood between Owen next time if he has an opportunity to try out again."
Owen Power glance
Who: Owen Power
Birthplace: Mississauga, Ontario
Age: Turned 18 on Nov. 22
Team: University of Michigan
Stats: 1 goal, 3 assists, plus-7 in 4 games
Quote: "Owen is playing exceptionally well and he's only going to continue to grow and get better," Michigan coach Mel Pearson said.