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. So far, we've discussed six candidates. Now we'll discuss Damon Whitten, former assistant to Mel Pearson at Michigan Tech and current head coach of the Lake Superior State Lakers.
Birthplace: Brighton, Michigan
Current Position: Lake Superior State University
College: Michigan State
Damon Whitten totaled 75 career points (35G, 40A) as a forward for the MSU Spartans in 1997-2001, wearing the Alternate Captain's "A" in East Lansing during his senior year. After a brief three-year professional career around the ECHL and IIHL, Whitten has been coaching Division I hockey for 13 years, including four seasons as an assistant with Michigan Tech from 2010-2014. Following the departure of Jim Roque in 2014, Whitten received his first head coaching position at Lake Superior State. In his three seasons as head coach, the Lakers have posted a 33-68-14 record.
Whitten was the subject of Tech Hockey Guide's February 2016 story For the Love of the Game.
Whitten will likely come up as a potential candidate for the Michigan Tech position due to his knowledge of the program and Mel Pearson's coaching style. Whitten was assistant to Pearson from 2011-2014 and coached some notable recent Tech Alums such as Tanner Kero, Blake Pietila, Alex Petan, Pheonix Copley and Jamie Phillips in that span. He would also be familiar to some of the 2017-2018 senior class whom he coached as freshmen.
As a head coach in Sault Ste. Marie, Whitten tried to emulate the MTU program in many respects, but was unable to grow the program as much as he would have liked. Returning to Houghton, he could continue to build with a team that has a larger profile and more university support. Several players from his last two seasons have signed contracts with professional organizations, including sophomore Mitch Hults (Anaheim) and freshman Kristofers Bindulis (Washington). Sophomore Owen Headrick also left LSSU for major juniors in January 2017.
Damon Whitten already has a head coaching position within the WCHA. Setting Mel Pearson aside, a lateral transition like this is unlikely. That said, Whitten has not proven himself as a successful head coach in Sault Ste. Marie yet, and the Lakers today look very similar to the Huskies of 2010-2011 it terms of team statistics and style of play. In the 2016-2017 season, the Lakers averaged 2.86 goals per game, 3.31 goals allowed per game and earning the nationally 3rd highest 17.9 penalty minutes per game. LSSU has not earned home ice in the WCHA playoffs during Whitten's tenure.
Damon Whitten seems to check off a lot of boxes: he has familiarity with the UP and recent Michigan Tech teams, and experience as a head coach in the current WCHA. He has knowledge of Mel Pearson's style of coaching, which is definitely a plus, and knows some of the older players whom he coached in 2011. However, he may be a tough sell given his lack of proven success as head coach at a rival UP school.
Feature image courtesy of Dr. Pete Scornaiencki