The Wolverine

June/July 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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JUNE/JULY 2017 THE WOLVERINE 21 help raise awareness and money for the fight to cure ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease). In 2014, Berenson participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and dedicated his efforts to former Wol- verine Jim Ballantine, who passed away from the disease in 2002. Be- renson has also sought to help the cause of Scott Matzka, who played at Michigan between 1997-2001, after he was diagnosed with the same dis- ease. Matzka took part in a ceremo- nial puck drop before the Wolverines played Union Oct. 8, and Michigan played host to an event in January that raised money for Matzka's "My Turn" foundation. "What it means to me is it just makes me proud to be a part of the Michigan hockey family and the Michigan fam- ily, period," Berenson said in January. "I know our fans are going to support this event, I know our team will support it and obviously the community. So it's not a happy thing, but it's an important thing." THE END OF AN ERA The past few years held many struggles for Berenson and his Michigan teams. The program's 22-year NCAA Tour- nament streak was snapped in 2013, and the Wolverines made it to the tourney just once — losing to North Dakota in the second round in 2016 — in the final five years of Berenson's tenure. What had once been a guarantee had now become a nearly unattainable goal. Berenson considered retiring after that 2016 season. It would have been a fitting end — as close to a ride off into the sun- set as possible — considering it would have come off the heels of a season during which observ- ers were given a glimpse into Michigan's heyday. The Wolver- ines, led by the dominant line of Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte, boasted the nation's best scoring attack, prompting flashbacks to the offensive jug- gernauts of past teams. Manuel, though, asked Be- renson to stay for at least one more year. The newly hired di- rector of athletics — who had once worked for Berenson in the hockey office several decades ear- lier — was still settling into his new job following the departure of interim AD Jim Hackett. Berenson agreed. But almost im- mediately, a team that had appeared poised to contend for a title quickly crumbled away under the weight of early departures after Connor, Com- pher, Motte, and key defensemen Zach Werenski and Michael Downing all chose to leave for the NHL. It was apparent that the past year wasn't easy for Berenson while the Wolverines stumbled to a 13-19-3 overall record. There were brief flashes, but the team never coalesced into a consistent product despite the veteran coach's best efforts. He changed up the lines. He benched the seniors. He rotated the goaltenders. But inexperience, a lack of firepower and injuries derailed the team, result- ing in U-M's worst season since the early years of Berenson's tenure. The past season's results and the program's overall downward trend seem to have influenced Berenson's decision to retire. He admitted himself that he thought the team fell short of expectations — even when they were making the postseason. "I don't think we did as well as we should've … with the players we've had and the teams we've had," Be- renson bluntly stated. "We had a lot of situations that we didn't like that ended our seasons — and we had a couple of good ones that ended it the right way — but I thought we could have done better, and I still think we could do better and that's kind of what keeps me going." Recruiting had also become a drag in recent years. Despite bringing in highly touted players such as Dylan Larkin, Werenski, Connor and droves of players from the United States National Team Development Program, Beren- son found himself constantly facing questions about his fu- ture on the recruiting trail. So with all of those factors considered, Berenson felt it was the right time to step down and hand over the reins to a new coach. "The last few years, I'd been questioned about, 'How long are you going to coach?' or 'When are you going to retire?' particularly on the recruiting trail, and it bothered me that this was an issue," Berenson said. "At one time with [former athletics director] Bill Martin, I signed a three-year contract, and then it came up again under Dave Brandon, and it wasn't the athletics director asking me, it was the people along the recruiting trail. "I feel that it's come to the point now where, as Warde said, you should sign a long- term contract, and I don't know if that's in the best interest of this program — I feel it's not, and it really put it in perspec- tive." LASTING LEGACY A coaching transition of this magnitude could have been difficult. Legends don't always Berenson graduated from Michigan in 1962 (he also received his MBA from the school in 1966) and was the team MVP before embarking on a 17-year NHL career. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS

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