Report details University of Michigan hockey’s ‘toxic’ culture amid bullying, retaliation claims

Troubling situation for a program that’s been a pipeline lately for top NHL draft picks and team USA players

A new 70-page report is out detailing serious allegations inside the University of Michigan's storied men's hockey program. Former players and coaches describe a toxic culture within the program, rewarding silence while also punishing those who spoke out.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – A new 70-page report is out detailing serious allegations inside the University of Michigan’s storied men’s hockey program.

Former players and coaches describe a toxic culture within the program, rewarding silence while also punishing those who spoke out.

A troubling situation for a program that’s been a pipeline lately for top NHL draft picks and Team USA players.

We are talking about allegations of berating staff, retaliating against players and staff, and getting players to lie on COVID contact tracing forms.

All of it is yet another scandal for Michigan athletics.

Inside the new report from the Washington D.C. Law Firm WilmerHale, former goalie and volunteer coach Steven Shields alleges bullying and retaliation against staff and players by head coach Mel Pearson and operations chief Rick Bancroft.

According to the report, Shields complained that Pearson kept employees with knowledge of sexual abuse at the hands of former U-M Doctor, Robert Anderson, fears of retaliation against women on staff and players, and skirting COVID policies.

In one instance, Shields alleges Bancroft had issues with women being on staff, saying, “We know Rick doesn’t behave himself around women.”

In another allegation, players would have their professional dreams damaged or their play time reduced if they spoke out.

Would-be captain Strauss Mann left the team last year to play in Sweden despite being a top prospect for the N.H.L. among them.

Michigan sports historian John U Bacon who literally wrote the book about Michigan hockey, called this incident another black eye for the university with the potential to get worse.

“This adds up to too much, and if all this is ok, then anything is ok, and you have no moral authority to talk to anybody in the medical school, the engineering school, and the law school about similar conduct,” said Bacon.

Ultimately investigators also found multiple university administrators were sent complaints about Pearson that frequently involved Pearson directly or called into question his supervision of the program.

Bancroft retired from the team back in June.

Local 4 did reach out to both the men’s hockey program and Athletic Director Ward Manuel Thursday but did not get a comment back.


About the Authors:

Grant comes to Local 4 from Oklahoma City. He joins the news team as co-anchor of Local 4 News Today weekend mornings and is a general assignment reporter.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.