The Wolverine

June/July 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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JUNE/JULY 2017 THE WOLVERINE 19 BY ORION SANG O n the morning of April 10, Joy Berenson asked her husband a simple question: "Are you sure you're doing the right thing?" In that moment, Red Berenson thought of the day he and Joy had gotten married nearly half a century ago. As he had walked into the church the day of the wedding, one of his best friends had asked, "Are you sure you want to do this?" Berenson was sure then that he wanted to be married, although he didn't like getting married. And as he left the house that fateful spring morning, he was certain that he wanted to be retired, even if the pro- cess itself was unappealing. Like promised, Berenson had waited for this year's NCAA Tourna- ment to end before sitting down with director of athletics Warde Manuel to discuss the imminent future. It didn't take long — just a couple meetings, in fact — before the two men reached a consensus: It was the right time, and the right thing to do, for Berenson to retire. After 33 years of coaching, Berenson stepped into the Junge Family Center April 10 and announced he was step- ping away from his post as the head coach of the Michigan hockey team. The face of the program, the man who had built it into what it is today, will no longer be behind the bench, spelling the end of a wildly successful era of Michigan hockey. COMING HOME It took some fortuitous timing for Michigan to even land Berenson as its head coach. Legendary director of athletics Don Canham had already approached Berenson twice before 1984 — first when Berenson was still playing for the Detroit Red Wings, and a second time while he was the head coach of the St. Louis Blues. Canham struck out the first two times, but when he asked Berenson a third time while the latter was an assistant coach for Scotty Bowman in Buffalo, he got the answer he wanted. "It seemed like it was the right time, so I made the move," Berenson said. "I left a job making $85,000 to take a job for $40,000, and I thought, 'Did I get my MBA at Michigan to make a decision like this?' "When we had a press conference like this announcing the new coach, Canham said, 'Well, you're 44, you don't want to be coaching when you're 55,' and I guess I didn't listen." It seemed only natural that Berenson would return to his alma mater — the place that had shaped him as a young man and burgeoning hockey star. In three seasons at Michigan be- tween 1959 and 1962, Berenson tallied a combined 79 goals and 59 assists as one of the premier players in all of college hockey. In his final year, he led the Wolverines to a third-place finish while leading the NCAA with 43 goals — a team record that still stands today, even as schedules have become longer. Success, however, came less easily at the next level. This was still the era of a six-team NHL, and Berenson found it difficult to establish himself. It wasn't until after the NHL's ex- pansion in 1967, which doubled the league in size, that he found a perma- nent spot on a roster, joining the St. Louis Blues. Once given the opportunity, Beren- son quickly emerged as one of the NHL's best players regardless of di- vision in the expansion era. Led by Berenson, the Blues made it to three consecutive Stanley Cup finals before trading him to the Red Wings, where he enjoyed several productive years before returning to St. Louis for the end of his 17-year career. While his path as a player was cer- tainly arduous, Berenson's ascent within the coaching ranks took much less time. He became an assistant coach for the Blues as soon as he re- tired and took over as head coach one year later, winning the Jack Adams Coach of the Year award in his second season. Though he was eventually fired by St. Louis, he caught on with Bowman in Buffalo, which is where he was when he received his third overture from Canham and decided to take over a program that had been mired in mediocrity for roughly 20 years. The first three years of Berenson's tenure as head coach were rocky. Mich- igan finished with three consecutive losing seasons, averaging just 13 wins per year. The following three years saw significant improvement while the Wolverines posted three straight winning seasons. And in Berenson's seventh year behind the bench, Michi- gan finally broke through by recording more than 30 wins for the first time in school history and making it back to the NCAA Tournament. The rest, as they say, is history. SUCCESS ON AND OFF THE ICE While the 21 conference champion- ships, 22 consecutive NCAA Tour- nament appearances, 11 Frozen Four appearances and two national cham- pionships were great moments for Be- renson, he took just as much pride in the cultivation of an environment that focused on making his players into well-rounded people — and not just "hockey bums." Berenson's approach may sound cli- chéd — until you hear his conviction when describing the best day of his life. It wasn't any moment during his playing or coaching career. Rather, it was a quiet day in Michigan's busi- ness school, two days after a Stanley Cup championship and the subse- quent parade. That's right — the best day of Be- renson's life was the day he started graduate school, the day that he "knew he could take care of" himself LEGENDARY LEADER After Rebuilding Michigan Hockey, Red Berenson Left The Program In A Much Better Place Than He Found It Berenson is the only hockey coach to ever be named Coach of the Year in the NHL and NCAA. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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