The Tech Hockey Guide staff brainstormed potential candidates and settled on our top picks. Through the next few weeks we will break down potential candidates while discussing pedigree as a player and coach as well as likelihood of being Coach Pearson’s replacement. Today we discuss Bill Muckalt the former head’s protégé and speculative front-runner according to many in the college hockey world.
Muckalt was the first person Mel Pearson hired upon taking over the Huskies in the summer of 2011. He had just completed his first year as head coach of the NAHL New Mexico Mustangs. He led the Mustangs to a division worst record of 19-35-1 in the team's first year of existence, results we wouldn’t put much weight upon. From his time in New Mexico he brought along players Patrick Anderson and Max Vallis who both ended up being important role players for the Huskies
Birthplace: Surrey, British Columbia
Current Position: Head Coach, Tri-City Storm (USHL)
While an assistant with the Huskies he was instrumental in recruiting some of the fan's favorites and even convincing other staff, including Coach Pearson who felt the team was in good shape, that some prospects had something to add to the program. Some of these internal victories including convincing the other coaches that Jamie Phillips was worth a scholarship when the Huskies had Pheonix Copley in the pipeline to join the Huskies. Muckalt was responsible discovering Mike Neville while scouting the Lincoln Stars (USHL) tryout camp. Even though Neville missed the roster in Lincoln, Muckalt liked what he saw and brought him to Michigan Tech.
During Muckalt's four years with the Huskies, the team compiled a record of 73-58-17 culminating with the 29 win season that lead to the Huskies first NCAA tournament appearance since 1981. After which, Muckalt was given an offer he couldn't really refuse to become head coach of the Tri-City Storm of the USHL.
He took over a successful team that had won 37 games during the previous season and lead the Storm to a conference title and eventually the Clark Cup, becoming just the fifth USHL coach to win a title in his first season as head coach in the league's Tier 1 history. His 2016-17 campaign was not nearly as successful, seeing the Storm finish 25 points out of a playoff spot, last in their conference, and 15th out of 17 USHL teams. There are always reasons for success or failure in the USHL and looking over the transactions near the 2017 trade deadline, it does appear that Muckalt made a conscience decision to trade away some assets in order to be better in the near future.
Muckalt recruited many of the players that are expected to be on the team next season and can likely pick up the torch for Pearson and continue to play his style and be the leader of this program for the foreseeable future. Because of the relationship he likely already has with the athletic department, it's safe to assume he was one of their first calls. His history as a player really plays well to recruits. His standout career at Michigan which includes two national championships (his sophomore and senior seasons) shows he knows what it take to get to the NCAA mountain top and the fact that he played five seasons in the NHL also means he can help players reach that dream as well with connections to help them get there.
Michigan Tech is likely to get a bunch of qualified applicants and quite a few of them will likely have more coaching experience than Muckalt has with his seven years as a head coach or assistant in junior or college. Michigan Tech may also be turned off by the idea that Muckalt (like Pearson) has aspirations that go beyond what Michigan Tech has to offer. If he builds on Pearson's success, it’s likely that he would jump at the chance of an AHL job if offered. It doesn't happen very often, but it does appear that Muckalt is attempting to follow in the footsteps of John Cooper or Jeff Blashill as he tries to find his way to a job in the NHL.
The other consideration is that Muckalt may be offered a role at Mel Pearson’s Michigan. An opportunity that may be difficult for him to turn down, much like a position on Pearson's staff at Michigan Tech was just six years ago.
Muckalt has a lot going for him as the favorite in this race but as we saw with the opening Northern Michigan, front runners don't always get the job. It should be very interesting to see if any rumors come out of Tri-City, Ann Arbor, or Houghton as this search progresses over the coming weeks.
Feature Image courtesy of Ryan Johnson, taken during the outdoor Great Lakes Invitational