UM hockey's Mel Pearson responds to critics of canceled WMU game: 'Understand the facts'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Michigan head hockey coach Mel Pearson said it was solely the school's medical personnel and athletic department leadership that made the decision to cancel Thursday's marquee game against Western Michigan, but added he supported the final call "100%."

Pearson was speaking on his pregame radio show Wednesday, ahead of a scoreless tie — the program's first since 1954 — against No. 18 Michigan Tech at Yost Ice Arena.

The school made headlines this week when it canceled Thursday's game against No. 4 Western Michigan, but decided to play its game Wednesday against Michigan Tech. Social media had a field day with the announcement, many accusing the third-ranked Wolverines of ducking the Broncos.

Michigan hockey coach Mel Pearson.

"Anybody can get on social media and say anything," Pearson said on his pregame radio show. "People need to understand the facts.

"We're here to do what's right for our team and our players and their safety."

Pearson said a number of factors went into the decision — mainly, roster depletion, with five players in the since-canceled World Juniors, as well as multiple injuries, as well as some COVID-19 cases. A lack of practice time, given the roster issues, was a concern, too, with the team coming back from holiday break.

The Wolverines returned to campus Sunday night after spending time with families, Pearson said. He said school medical personnel on Monday held a conference call, which no hockey coach was on.

The medical personnel had a decision to make: Play both games — Michigan Tech and WMU were part of the revamped Great Lakes Invitational, which moved away from downtown Detroit to campus sites this season — or play one game, or play no games.

Medical officials, after assessing the Wolverines' roster issues, settled on one game, and athletic department officials decided to play the Michigan Tech game. Michigan Tech is host of the GLI. WMU and UM played earlier this season, splitting a home-and-home series.

"Just given the circumstances in where our team was at with injuries and illness and missing players, they felt we could play one game," Pearson said. "We were not involved or had any involvement in the decision.

"But let me be clear. I totally support the decision that was made by our leadership team and medical team."

Michigan (14-6-1) last played Dec. 10-11 against Ohio State, when the short-handed Wolverines split.

Five star players have been away from the team playing in Canada in the World Juniors, which was canceled Wednesday night because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

There was no chance to reinstate the WMU game. The players who were in the World Juniors were heading home to be with family for a few days, Pearson said, because they missed out on Christmas at home.

Those star players — sophomore Matty Beniers and freshmen Luke Hughes and Mackie Samoskevich on Team USA, sophomores Kent Johnson and Owen Power on Team Canada — are expected to return for Michigan's next games, a Jan. 8-9 series at home against UMass.

"Our men and women here at Michigan are way more important than any athletic contest," said Pearson, whose team was forced out of the NCAA Tournament last season because of COVID-19 cases.

"I'm just thankful we have the leadership we do."

The game against Western Michigan was considered a no-contest, and there were few financial implications for the cancellation. The game was not part of Michigan's season-ticket package, with single sales only. Refunds are being issued.

Western Michigan (14-5) played at Michigan State on Wednesday, winning, 3-1, while against Michigan Tech, Michigan posted its first scoreless tie since 1954 against Michigan State.

Michigan State (10-8-1) and Michigan Tech (10-7-0) were playing in East Lansing on Thursday night.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984