Let the debate begin. Who can take over the historic Michigan Tech University hockey program and bring it out of the basement?
Longtime University of Michigan and Red Berenson assistant coach Mel Pearson sounds great, especially since he is an MTU alum.
North Dakota assistant Cary Eaves would be considered a steal for any WCHA team hoping to compete with the Fighting Sioux.
Nebraska-Omaha and former Minnesota assistant Mike Guentzel, former Miami and current Denver assistant Steve Miller and another Tech alum, Ron Rolston at the U.S. National Team Development Program, are all great head college coaching candidates as well.
But if Michigan Tech hires any one of them, the Husky hockey program will continue to be the punching bag of college hockey's elite.
It's time for Michigan Tech to be more like Northern Michigan University, as painful as that may sound to MTU alumni.
The truth is, both programs are very similar. They are Division II schools competing against giants in a Division I league. They don't have the luxuries of the Big Ten or even some MAC schools at home or on the road. Both schools are located in remote locations of the country that get little media exposure outside of the locals and both receive enough snow enough months out of the year to make Frosty the Snowman cry for mercy.
So why has NMU had success over the last two decades while Michigan Tech gets pummeled year after year?
It's not because Northern has lower academic standards, a more vibrant night life that is enticing to college-age males or more shopping choices than Houghton - no matter how great it is to finally have a Best Buy in town. And no, the ratio of males-to-females at NMU compared to Tech is not the thing keeping the Huskies in the basement of the WCHA.
While all of these factors do play a small role in a recruit possibly choosing NMU over MTU, in the end, it all comes down to one thing - the ability to get to the NHL.
The Huskies need a coach not with an MTU diploma hanging on his wall or his name in the Husky hockey record books. Tech needs a coach that has strong ties to the NHL who has a proven track record of developing young talent for the pro level.
What the Huskies need is a Walt Kyle.
The current coach of Tech's biggest rival is the pedigree of what small Division II or III college hockey programs in Division I need to be successful. Kyle spent over a decade as an assistant under Rick Comley at NMU before working in the AHL, IHL, Western Hockey League and with the NHL's Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers.
Kyle knows what it takes to get to the pros and if there are any doubts, just ask Nathan Oystrick, Mike Santorelli, Mark Olver and Erik Gustaffson, who have all suited up and taken the ice in the NHL this week. Oystrick, Olver and Santorelli all scored goals this week.
So who fits that billing, besides St. Louis Blues head coach and MTU alum Davis Payne?
Lets start with former Ohio State head coach and current scout for the Dallas Stars John Markell, who led the Buckeyes to six NCAA tournament appearances and the 1998 Frozen Four. Surprisingly, he'd probably have more support from the fans, alumni and administration at Tech than he did in Columbus, which seemed to forget it had a hockey program at times.
Current Notre Dame coach and former Lake Superior State head coach Jeff Jackson is not returning to the Upper Peninsula like some from MTU are dreaming, but the Huskies could land one of his top assistants from the past - Jim Montgomery.
Currently coaching the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL, Montgomery also has experience as an assistant at a tough academic institution like RPI and more importantly, spent time playing professionally in Europe, the UHL, IHL, AHL and in the NHL.
Finally, Tech should take a good, hard look at Ferris State assistant Mark Kaufman, who has done well recruiting for head coach Bob Daniels at a small GLIAC school, in part because of his ability to sell his experience as an assistant with the San Jose Sharks.
While none of these hires would be as flashy as a Cary Eaves or Mel Pearson, they would give recruits a reason to come to Michigan Tech University.
Outside of a hometown product like Justin Florek, recruits do not choose Northern Michigan University because of its academics, location, the amount of women, the Upfront or Jimmy Johns. They chose NMU because Walt Kyle can improve their chances of playing professional hockey someday.
Michigan Tech needs a coach that can do the same because like NMU, college hockey's top prospects aren't coming to Houghton to be engineers or visit Finnish festivals.
They want to go to the NHL. Tech just needs someone who will get them there.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.