In our final installment of the season preview series, we take a look at the coaches of the 2017-18 Michigan Tech Huskies. Unless you have been living under a rock since May, you know that Michigan Tech has a new coaching staff. Head Coach Joe Shawhan begins his first year at the helm along with assistant coaches Chris Brooks and Dallas Steward. They will attempt to shepherd a young roster and revamped goaltending unit to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the first time since 1976. While they have big shoes to fill considering the success of the preceding head coach, there is plenty of optimism surrounding Coach Shawhan and his assistants.
Joe Shawhan will be in his fourth season in Houghton as takes over the head coach role. His background is in goaltending, playing his career with Lake Superior State in the mid 80’s. He found great success there, finishing second in the nation in goals against one year as the Lakers developed into an elite program. Upon graduation, he spent seven years coaching that LSSU team before getting his big break. Shawhan was the head coach of the Soo Indians, a junior program in Sault Ste. Marie, for ten years until 2005. He won nearly 500 games with a winning percentage of .730. He then spent the following 12 years as an assistant coach with Lake State, Northern Michigan, and finally Michigan Tech.
According to the Michigan Tech website, Shawhan was brought in to work with both goaltenders and defensemen. Whether or not he should be given full credit for last year’s success – developing Angus Redmond and turning the blueline into not only a top-five defense, but also a serious scoring threat – there is no doubt that it is a feather in Shawhan’s cap. I am not as familiar with the hiring process as other here at THG or even many die-hard fans, but I feel comfortable saying that the consistent success of the goaltending and defense in the last three years was a major factor in Shawhan getting promoted.
I certainly cannot guarantee that this season will go as smoothly as the last three years have when Mel Pearson was running the program. Still, Shawhan has been here for the only two tournament appearances of the century and all three of his starting goaltenders are playing high-level professional hockey this year. At the very least he deserves the benefit of the doubt from fans (and commentators like me) with the knowledge that the growing pains we may see this season will be as much or more about roster turnover than about a new man at the helm.
Assistant Coach – Chris Brooks
Coach Brooks begins his first year with the Huskies fresh off his third straight NCAA Division III Frozen Four appearance as the head coach of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. The Western Michigan graduate won the D-III Coach of the Year Award and National Championship in 2016. Brooks was in the lineup for the Broncos all four years where he was an elite scorer. After three years in the pros, he turned to coaching in 1999. He has had stops at Western Michigan, Rio Grande (CHL), and finally Stevens Point.
In the introductory press conference, Head Coach Shawhan hinted that he will be a major factor in recruiting, THG spotted him at this year’s NAHL Showcase. This makes sense considering his ability to create a perennial power at USWP. He has proven to be able to find competitive players at the D-III level, so Tech is counting on Brooks to be able to continue his skill in prospect relations. He will also certainly be involved in the decision making with forwards. There seems to be an indication that he will split both aforementioned roles with the other assistant coach, Dallas Steward.
Assistant Coach – Dallas Steward
Coach Steward joins the Huskies fresh off winning the USHL championship with the Chicago Steel as an associate head coach. His background begins with four years at Alaska-Anchorage from 2000-2004. After six years in the pros, he took to coaching career in the USHL as a scouting director with Sioux Falls, under Cary Eades. He then spent the last two seasons with Chicago.
Shawhan noted that Steward has a deep network in the USHL, which can only be a benefit over the years as Michigan Tech competes with dozens of other schools for the best that the Tier I Junior league has the offer. His background in scouting makes him a great compliment for a former head coach like Brooks. In tandem they can identify players they like and court them effectively to give the Huskies the best possible chance to acquire top talent.
At the beginning of the hiring process, I was quietly hopeful for a splashy hire from some eastern school that has found great success in recent years. With the news of the hire of Shawhan, I was disappointed not only because I have a natural eastern bias after three years going to school on the east coast, but also because I thought hiring from within was a cop-out to some extent.
Today, I no longer see it that way. Shawhan is qualified and deserves the chance to prove that he was actually the man behind the success of recent years, especially with the goaltenders and defense. Consider that he hired two assistant coaches, both of whom are former forwards. This should tell you that he has every intention of keeping control of the back half of the lineup. The confidence he has in himself to continue the success he has already found here is easily respected. I think his hires make sense because they give him a great chance to pick up strong recruits and develop them as a coaching unit.
Regardless of my thoughts in early June or in late September, Coach Shawhan and his staff will not be able to be fully judged until their team touches the ice. Will there be a noticeable difference in style of play this season? Will the program continue to attract the level of talent that it has the last few seasons? Does Shawhan continue his streak of having elite goaltending or was that Pearson’s doing? These are all questions that will be answered in time. For now, know that your Michigan Tech Huskies are in capable hands.