A reputable Sault Ste. Marie native has become the 22nd head coach in the storied history of the Michigan Tech Huskies hockey program that was established back — way back — in 1919.
54-year old Joe Shawhan has been promoted from assistant coach to bench boss of the reigning Western Collegiate Hockey Association champions from Michigan Tech.
Born and raised in the Michigan Sault and someone who maintained a hockey presence in the Canadian Sault, the affable Shawhan is coming off his third season as an assistant under the since-departed Mel Pearson at Michigan Tech.
Shawhan takes the helm of the Huskies from Pearson, who left Michigan Tech following the 2016-2017 championship season to replace retired legend Red Berenson as head coach of the University of Michigan Wolverines.
One of the good guys in the game, Shawhan has more than paid his dues as an assistant coach at the Division 1, WCHA level. Besides three seasons at Michigan Tech, he has seven years experience from earlier full-time gigs with the Northern Michigan Wildcats and Lake Superior State Lakers.
A former goalie at Lake Superior State, Shawhan had hoped to return to his alma mater three years ago when the Lakers fired Jim Roque. But the Lakers passed on Shawhan and instead hired Damon Whitten as their new head coach. In a touch of irony, Shawhan subsequently left his assistant’s job at Northern Michigan to replace Whitten as an assistant at nearby Michigan Tech.
As a head coach, Shawhan has considerable experience and success from an earlier 10-year gig with the Soo Indians of the junior level North American Hockey League.
While coach and general manager of the erstwhile Indians from 1995 to 2005, Shawhan won more games in the history of the NAHL when he compiled an astounding record of 474-162-43 and moved more than 100 of his players on to the National Collegiate Athletic Association ranks.
In taking over as the new head coach at Michigan Tech, Shawhan beat out a host of top candidates to get the job. And Michigan Tech athletic director Dr. Suzanne Sanregret spoke about the national search process that ended in the Huskies own back yard with the hiring of Shawhan.
“Joe has been an instrumental part of our success over the last three seasons, and winning has followed him in every program he has been a part of,” Sanregret began. “We were looking for a coach to build upon our recent success and raise the program to yet another level. We were also looking for a leader who has integrity, character, and a genuine interest in developing players to be leaders both on and off the ice.
“Well, Coach Shawhan has all of these characteristics. He is a tremendous human being who will coach our hockey student-athletes for life. I look forward to working with Joe in the years to come. I am confident in his abilities as a coach, teacher, and professional, and he will continue to grow and advance Michigan Tech hockey,” Sanregret added.
Shawhan, to be sure, is thrilled to be taking on the top hockey job at Michigan Tech.
“I am honored and excited for the opportunity to remain a part of the Michigan Tech family,” Shawhan said. “The past three years have been an amazing journey. Sharing in the passion this community has for this university and hockey program has been an experience most only dream of. Tech hockey has a colorful history painted by legendary individuals and teams. My family and I are excited to be part of the next chapter.”
Shawhan mentioned the “culture” that makes Michigan Tech hockey what it has become.
“My goal is to continue the work of my predecessors that allows each individual to grow into the person they are capable of,” continued Shawhan. “Our culture is our strength and our great student-athletes drive our culture. The rest takes care of itself.”
Jeff Jackson, two-time former national championship head coach at Lake Superior State and now the bench boss of the esteemed Notre Dame Fighting Irish, commented on the hiring of his former Laker goalie.
“I spent a lot of time with Joe at Lake State both as his coach for one year and afterwards during his time with the Soo Indians junior team. I learned to respect Joe for his knowledge and passion for the game. He’s paid his dues and he is very deserved of getting the opportunity to become a head coach. He’s worked for some good people and that has only accelerated his development as a coach. Joe’s a good man, and I’m really happy for him,” Jackson said in praise of Shawhan.
An active member of USA Hockey, Shawhan led the 2004 United States Junior National Team to a silver medal at the Viking Cup in Alberta as head coach and a bronze medal in 2002 as an assistant.
Meanwhile, Jeff Blashill, head coach of the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League, gave his thoughts on Shawhan and his elevation to become the main hockey man at Michigan Tech.
“I had always been extremely impressed with the job Joe did as the head coach of the Soo Indians,” Blashill began. “I thought he always maximized the talent level on his teams and my brother played for him as well.
“I think Joe is somebody who has great hockey knowledge,” Blashill continued. “I think he understands what it takes to win and is a lifelong student of the game. He will be an excellent head coach for Michigan Tech.”