Report: U. of Michigan Hockey Coach Lied to Investigators

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University of Michigan hockey coach Mel Pearson lied to investigators amid their probe into his program, according to a report from Washington D.C.-based law firm WilmerHale obtained by the Detroit Free Press on Tuesday.

Pearson was under fire amid allegations of instructing players to lie on COVID-19 tracing forms ahead of the 2021 NCAA tournament, and retaliating against a student-athlete for raising concerns about team culture.

Pearson and former director of hockey operations Rick Bancroft were also accused of discriminating against female staff members. Additionally, Bancroft allegedly knew of sexual misconduct committed by former Michigan team physician Robert Anderson.

Volunteer assistant Steve Shields, a former Michigan goaltender, filed a complaint against Pearson and Bancroft via the school’s Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office, accusing Pearson of firing him in retaliation for reporting the aforementioned allegations.

While investigators determined Shields was not retaliated against, and their investigation did not focus on the alleged falsified COVID-19 tracing forms or the Anderson case, they were concerned by other findings, according to the Free Press.

Pearson deceived investigators regarding his handling of team culture concerns expressed by starting goalie and captain Strauss Mann and other rising seniors in spring 2021. Mann left the team after the 2020-21 season to play minor league hockey in Sweden, and Shields alleged that was due to Pearson’s retaliation against Mann. 

Other than confirming Pearson remains the Wolverines head coach, Michigan athletics provided no further comment to the Free Press.

According to the report, presented to Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel in early May, Pearson told investigators he never discussed culture concerns with Mann. Witness interviews and recordings reveal Pearson did have those talks with Mann, the coach going so far as to tell the player his status with the program was in jeopardy in April 2021.

The report says other senior players met with Michigan athletics administrator Josh Richelew about their concerns after the 2021-22 season, telling him Pearson would deduct playing time if they raised complaints. They feared they might face the same fate they believed Pearson inflicted on Mann.

WilmerHale’s report also shows that Bancroft, who retired June 20 with no explanation, bullied female hockey staffers and that Pearson did not do his due diligence to stop it. Three women gave testimony in the report of mistreatment by Bancroft.

Despite the turmoil, Manuel said June 17 he expects Pearson will still be the Wolverines' coach next season. Pearson's contract reportedly ended after last season, one of Michigan's best under the coach, but he has seemingly been retained despite no official announcement from the school.

Michigan went 31-10-1, leading to an appearance in the 2022 Frozen Four — the second Frozen Four appearance since Pearson was hired in 2017. Pearson was previously a Michigan assistant from 1988-2011.

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