Two San Jose Sharks goalies have been fighting to make things better at the University of Michigan’s men’s ice hockey program.
Law firm WilmerHale released an investigative report today, commissioned by the university, into potential COVID protocol violations, gender-based discrimination, and abuses of power by head coach Mel Pearson at Michigan’s men’s ice hockey program.
This investigation was instigated by a complaint from former Michigan goalie and volunteer assistant coach Steve Shields. Shields backstopped the San Jose Sharks from 1998 to 2001.
Shields contended in Sept. 2021 that he was terminated by Pearson for raising concerns about how the Michigan bench boss was turning a blind eye to how director of hockey operations Rick Bancroft was discriminating against female employees, Pearson’s treatment of now-San Jose Sharks prospect Strauss Mann, and other issues.
The Athletic has a thorough re-telling of what happened with Shields and Mann during the 2020-21 season here.
Today’s report advised the University of Michigan to address:
- The just-retired Bancroft’s “mistreatment of female staff members”
- Pearson’s “inability or unwillingness to hold Bancroft accountable for his conduct”
- “Pervasive fears among both student athletes and staff members of retaliation by [Pearson] for raising issues”
- “Inconsistencies in [Pearson’s] recollection, perception, and/or characterization of key incidents and issues as compared with other participants”
Shields told investigators that on Mar. 26, 2021, two Wolverines players called him from the NCAA tournament because Pearson had asked them “to provide false information on their COVID contact-tracing forms.” Michigan eventually left the tourney because of COVID concerns.
Shields also told investigators that he knew of three female employees that Bancroft allegedly mistreated. Shields testified that he informed Pearson, who responded, “I don’t want to fucking hear it.”
Associate director of external relations Kristy McNeil told investigators that Pearson and Bancroft discriminated against her by “belittling her, preventing her from entering the hockey locker room and excluding her from team activities and meals.”
Employees who took an anonymous university survey at that time described Bancroft as “toxic,” “rude,” and “unprofessional.”
In that survey, players alleged that Pearson made “inappropriate comments” to them (calling one of them a “Jew”) and routinely misled “recruits about the scholarship money they will receive,” among other concerns.
After the Wolverines left the 2021 NCAA tournament, then-Michigan captain Strauss Mann called Shields to tell him that Pearson was “acting erratically, and making statements on the phone to [Mann] that made him feel unsafe.” Pearson, allegedly, was “telling people outside Michigan Hockey that [Mann] was attempting to have him fired.”
Mann and Pearson met on Apr. 2, 2021, and the junior attempted to speak to his concerns and those of the team about how the head coach was running the program.
This apparently was not a productive meeting: According to the WilmerHale report, Mann “felt like he wasn’t welcome back and if he did [return], he wouldn’t play.”
On Apr. 30, Mann announced that he was foregoing his senior season to play professionally in Sweden.
Michigan hockey program administrator Josh Richelew told investigators: “Mann was afraid that [Pearson] would retaliate against him and damage his professional opportunities.”
On May 12, Shields met with Pearson to discuss Mann’s treatment and departure.
Richelew said Mann’s experience “made other members of the hockey team ‘afraid of the consequences’ if they ‘came forward.’”
That August, Pearson terminated Shields’s employment.
According to the WilmerHale report, it was “more likely than not” that Pearson terminated Shields because “[Shields] raised concerns about COVID protocols and [Pearson’s] treatment of student athletes.”
According to Elite Prospects, Shields is not currently working in the hockey world. Mann is gearing up for his first pro season in the San Jose Sharks organization and is expected to start the season with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda.
2020 Sharks’ second-round pick Thomas Bordeleau, who played in Michigan for the past two seasons, doesn’t appear to have a significant role in the WilmerHale report.
Sheng’s Travel Fund
Help fund Sheng's travel! Every dollar goes to the cost of getting to and from Sharks road games.