Michigan coach Red Berenson says he is recruiting players his grandkids' age. (Photos by Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Ann Arbor — Red Berenson skated over to a group of players in the corner of Yost Arena during a recent practice to give them instructions as the Wolverines prepared for their series with Michigan State, which gets underway tonight at Joe Louis Arena.
Berenson turned 74 last month and is in his 30th year as Michigan’s head coach. He still skates with players young enough to be his grandsons.
In fact, Berenson skates so well that he was the talk of the Red Wings-Maple Leafs alumni game New Year’s Eve at Comerica Park, leading to comments about him from Scotty Bowman and former Leafs players. He took a key face-off with the Wings holding a one-goal lead during the final minute, leading to the win.
“I used to think it was good because I kept up with them and that was good, but now they blow by me,” said Berenson who was an All-American at Michigan, played on Stanley Cup teams with Montreal (1965-66) and scored six goals in a game with the Blues in 1968 while playing for Bowman. “I scrimmaged with them to get ready for the Winter Classic (alumni game) and was impressed with how quick and how strong and fast they were and good for them because we’re going to slow down. I think it’s been good for me because it keeps my head in the game.
“I’m watching hockey every night whether it’s the NHL, college hockey or our team. We have about 15 players in the NHL. The other night (Jacob) Trouba was playing on one channel, (Jon) Merrill on another and then it went to the Anaheim game and there’s (Andrew) Cogliano scoring. I think that focus keeps you young.”
Berenson is ageless, doing everything but slowing down. He is active and watches his diet, a reason he has never been more than five pounds over his playing weight of 190.
“I weighed myself the other day and I was a little heavy, 193,” pointed out Berenson. “I have breakfast, don’t eat lunch and then have dinner. I have a high metabolism, but it also helps that I’m active, too.”
Berenson enjoys his coffee throughout the day and works out prior to practice, a half hour on the exercise bike five days a week and light weights and push-ups. He said his routine hasn’t been as consistent this season and a sore shoulder has kept him from lifting.
Copp is impressed
Michigan sophomore forward Andrew Copp grew up in Ann Arbor and looked to Berenson as a legendary, intimidating figure during that time.
Copp’s father, Andy, took him to Michigan games since he was three months old, then coached him and watched him develop through the U.S. National Development program. He competed for Team USA in the World Junior Championships a few weeks ago, missing the Great Lakes Invitational.
“In Michigan’s ’96 championship video there’s a picture of my Dad holding me up after the Wolverines scored a goal during a regular season game,” Copp said. “I went to a lot of games. My first visit with Coach Berenson was when I was 14. I thought of him as an imposing, intimidating figure. When he offered me when I was 17 he kind of stared and waited like, ‘You’re from Ann Arbor, you’re expected to come here.’ I always wanted to, too. It was my dream.
“He’s still the most intimidating figure when you walk in as a freshman. He has that look like, ‘You better know what you’re doing.’ Then he starts to open up. He’s a great coach.”
The Wolverines had a break after their game against Ferris State Dec. 11 and Copp needed to get ready for the World Junior tournament.
“After the Ferris State game we had a few days while our finals were going on and I was trying to skate to get ready for the World Juniors and he (Berenson) got on the ice in his full gear to scrimmage with us and he wasn’t out of place.
“We had seven guys, plus him, so we went four-on-four and he was fine. Really, it was kind of crazy how good he was.”
Years blow by
When Berenson was hired by former Michigan athletic director Don Canham at age 44, Canham told him, “You don’t want to do this at 54.”
Canham’s comment stayed in the back of Berenson’s mind. Thirty years later Berenson still isn’t ready to call it a career. He plans to stay until he no longer gets his message through to the players. The Wolverines’ run of 22 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances ended last season despite their run to the CCHA championship game.
“I came here in a sense it would be a challenge for me and a chance to try and do something for Michigan,” said Berenson, who won the Jack Adams award as NHL Coach of the Year in 1981 with the Blues and was an assistant under Bowman at Buffalo being coming to Michigan. “I really liked my time here, felt it was a special time in my life and I believed in the education part.
“Then, I got really involved in recruiting and trying to develop young players and before you know it time flies by. After 10 or 12 years, we were having success and winning championships and we kept pushing. I feel good about where I am at Michigan and I’ve had great support. If I didn’t have a great staff I wouldn’t be doing it. This is more than a one-man show, especially with all the video, special teams meetings and preparation. It’s not like it was when I first started.”
The Wolverines won national championships in 1996 and ’98, advancing to the national title game again in 2011, losing in overtime to Minnesota-Duluth.
Now, Berenson is recruiting players who are his grandkids’ age, as well as sons of his former players.
“I’m recruiting kids now that I could be their grandpa,” joked Berenson, pointing out he has a 19-year-old grandson. “At first I was recruiting players’ sons who I played with or against. Now, it’s on to the next generation of players. I’m recruiting the son of one of my former players right now.”
And, Berenson will be guiding the Wolverines against Michigan State, coached by Tom Anastos whose senior season with the Spartans was Berenson’s first as Michigan’s head coach.
“I have great respect for Red,” Anastos said. “I developed a relationship with Red while I was commissioner of the CCHA (from 1998-2011). He’s made a significant impact for an awful long time and it’s not an easy thing to do, sustaining that high level of success and I admire that.”