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Michigan’s Berenson undecided on return

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — On Tuesday, Red Berenson and his players met to discuss their season, which ended last weekend in the Midwest regional final.

The big question, though, is what’s next for the 76-year-old Berenson, who completed his 32nd season as Michigan’s coach?

Berenson’s contract is up, and he accomplished his goal of returning Michigan to national prominence, finishing 25-8-5, winning its first Big Ten league tournament title and advancing to the NCAA Tournament after a three-year absence.

“I was proud of our team for how far we came this year, but the challenge is let’s get Michigan back to where it belongs and let’s be able to (win that regional final),” Berenson said. “I think it (Michigan) was back, but until you string years together, you can’t say that.”

And will he lead them back?

“I don’t want to make an emotional decision,” Berenson said. “I want to let the smoke clear a little bit from the season, and who knows what will happen with JT (Compher) and Tyler (Motte) or Kyle (Connor). They are the leaders of this team and they would be the leaders of next year’s team”

But, the status of Berenson’s top line of Compher, Motte and Connor remains uncertain.

They all could return. Or they all could head for the pros.

One thing that is certain is Berenson will have to replace senior goaltender Steve Racine, along with defensemen Zach Werenski and Michael Downing.

But replacing Connor, a freshman and the nation’s top scorer, would be among the hardest to do.

“I don’t think Winnipeg is going to want him to come back (to Michigan),” Berenson said. “I talked to the general manager, and he tells me that everybody in Winnipeg thinks that this kid is going to play like last night in Philadelphia. ... He hadn’t even talked to the kid, nobody had talked to the kids, but the fans and media and everybody in Winnipeg thinks, ‘Well, he’s going to save our team.’ ”

Berenson plans to meet with Connor and his family.

As for his contract, Berenson plans to meet with athletic director Warde Manuel this weekend, then make a decision.

Asked if decisions by Compher, Motte and Connor could influence his own decision, Berenson said, “It could. Yes, it definitely could. I can’t tell it will or won’t, but I can tell you it could.”

If Berenson decides to retire, former longtime Michigan assistant Mel Pearson could be next in line.

Pearson took over a Michigan Tech program that was 4-30-4 and guided it to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 34 years last season. Michigan Tech won the Western Collegiate Hockey Association title this season for the first time in 40 years, finishing 23-9-5.