Ann Arbor — Red Berenson will be given a huge honor Friday night at Yost Arena when the Wolverines play No. 1 Notre Dame in a Big Ten game.
Prior to the 6:30 p.m. faceoff, Red Berenson Rink will be officially dedicated. There will be a tribute video of Berenson, who guided the Wolverines for 33 seasons, including a pair of national championships (1996, 1998) and another national title game appearance in 2011, before announcing his retirement last spring. He will also take part in a ceremonial puck drop.
“It’s nice and it came right out of left field for me,” Berenson, 78, told The Detroit News during an interview Wednesday at his office inside Weidenbach Hall. “I appreciate the gesture from the administration and the recognition, but I’ve had so many good players and coaches in our program. It’s not just me.”
One of those coaches Berenson had with him for 25 years was Mel Pearson, who took over as head coach of the Wolverines after a six-year stint at Michigan Tech, guiding the Huskies to a pair of NCAA tourney appearances in his last three years.
Berenson attends practice once a week and frequently skates at the rink, which is now named in his honor.
“I think Mel will do a great job; I’m a big fan of Mel and I think he’ll be a fixture here for a long time,” Berenson said. “He knows what it takes. He was around Michigan for 25 years recruiting, coaching and developing and he wants to be here. It was a great pick.”
Michigan is 8-8-2, including 3-5-2 in the Big Ten with Tony Calderone leading the league with 11 goals in 10 games and his linemate Cooper Marody topping the charts in scoring (16 assists, 18 points).
Berenson doesn’t have many regrets about his 33 years as Michigan’s head coach, but one is having players leave college early. His ability to keep Billy Muckalt – now a Michigan assistant – for his senior year in 1998 was a big reason the Wolverines won the national title.
“People ask me what’s the worst thing about college hockey and for me it’s been the players leaving early that maybe weren’t ready to leave early, and they miss their last one or two years and play in the minors,” said Berenson who guided the Wolverines to a 25-8-5 record two years ago, but had five players leave early, including the nation’s top scoring line in Kyle Connor, Tyler Motte and JT Compher, along with defenseman Zach Werenski.
Trip to remember
Berenson is enjoying his retirement and has already taken trips he wouldn’t have been able to make if he stayed in coaching.
Berenson went tarpon fishing in Florida with a buddy, then went goose hunting with former teammate Dennis Hextall in Manitoba.
Berenson also took a memorable trip to Russia in September, marking the 45th anniversary of the famed Summit Series, which put the Soviet National Team against Team Canada – a team filled with a group of NHL players, including Berenson – back in 1972. Canada won the final three games in Moscow to win the series, 4-3-1.
“I got a call from Team Canada,” Berenson explained. “The Soviets invited us to go to Russia and they wanted to show us their new Hall of Fame and kind of re-visit the series.
“I wasn’t thrilled about Russia back in 1972. This time I thought, ‘You know, I should go on this.’ Normally, I couldn’t have left the team. So, I got back from Florida on the fishing trip and jumped on a plane to Moscow.
“Well, I got to Moscow and there was a lady who held out a card with my name on it and said, ‘Mr. Berenson, we’re going to Sochi.’ I said, ‘Where’s Sochi? What’s in Sochi?’ She said it’s a thousand miles south, told me President Putin was sending his plane in two hours, wanted to meet us. We were on the Soviet version of Air Force One, this huge plane with the Soviet players. Sochi is like going to Florida, palm trees on the Black Sea. There was only five of us from the Canadian team that reached Moscow, Pat Stapleton, Frank Mahovlich, Pete Mahovlich, Dennis Hull and myself. There were three stuck in London and a couple more stuck in Florida after the hurricanes.”
Berenson and his former teammates were shown the new rink that was put in place at Sochi for the 2014 Olympics, along with training areas for the national team.
“They put us up with the fans, a couple of thousand who were watching 14-year-olds play in a game,” Berenson said. “So, we’re watching the game and then Putin sits right in the middle of us, like Mahovlich here, Putin here, the rest of us and then the Soviet players.
“When the game ends, we all go down on the ice and Putin, the Soviet players and all of us are there, and Putin brings the 14-year-olds out and spoke to them about the importance of that series in 1972 and how it changed the landscape of hockey in the Soviet Union. He didn’t say who won or lost, but he made it clear that this changed everything, for hockey throughout the world. It was the first time the Soviets ever played NHL players. He (Putin) was 17 years old, wasn’t a hockey player, but a fan and now he plays old-time hockey and loves it.
“We then went to a hotel and had dinner with the Soviet players, maybe 30 people at the dinner. It was classic Russian hospitality, like you couldn’t drink enough or eat enough. Then, there were toasts, and non-stop entertainment. He (Putin) would stand up and give a toast for all of the players that weren’t here anymore since we lost six players (who passed away) and they lost 10. We walked out of there overwhelmed. They had rings for us, commemorating the series, nice tokens of memorabilia.”
Berenson said the next day they traveled back to Moscow on the same plane and visited the old rink where they played in ’72, and went to a Hall of Fame reception.
“All I knew of Putin before was politically,” Berenson said. “I can’t tell you he was overly friendly, but he stayed the whole time, wanted us to be there, wanted to show us what they were doing and wanted us to understand how much Russia appreciated that series and everything that happened.”
Ann Arbor is home
Berenson is still a member of Michigan’s athletic department; his title is senior adviser to athletic director Warde Manuel.
Berenson stays busy while fulfilling his goal of endowing all Michigan hockey scholarships, with current financial commitments exceeding more than $20 million.
Berenson was a two-time All-American at Michigan before starting a 17-year NHL career that included stops at Montreal, the New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues and the Red Wings. He won Stanley Cups with Montreal in 1965 and 1966 and scored six goals in a game with the Blues in 1968.
“I started to play old-timer hockey recently, really having fun with that three times a week, but I dinged my elbow and have been out for a few weeks,” he said. “I’ll be fine.”
Berenson was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, 78 years ago last December, but he calls Ann Arbor home.
Berenson and his wife, Joy, had their first child, Kelly, on New Year’s Day 1962, Red’s senior year at Michigan. When he brought his oldest son, Gordie, to take a look at campus in 1984, Berenson got an offer from then-athletic director Don Canham to become head coach of the hockey program. Berenson asked Gordie, “What do you think if I go with you?”
“There’s no question that this is home,” said Berenson of Ann Arbor. “We still have family in Canada, drive out there every summer, go to Winnipeg, Regina, maybe Calgary where I have a sister, but this is home, where most of our grandkids are, most of our friends. This is home and it couldn’t be better.”
Now, Berenson has Gordie’s son, Blake, living with him while he is attending Washtenaw Community College.
Berenson watched another grandson, Miles, and granddaughter Olivia, in shows and choirs during the holidays in Dexter, where his youngest son, Rusty, a pilot for United, lives.
And Berenson can flip on his TV at home and watch an NHL game with one of his 18 former players competing, three now on Winnipeg and another three on Columbus, and two more with the Red Wings.
He’s also proud that Chad Kolarik earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Kolarik scored 30 goals on Michigan’s No. 1-ranked team 10 years ago, a linemate of Hobey Baker Award winner Kevin Porter.
“Porter won the Hobey, but just as easily it could have been Chad Kolarik,” Berenson said. “Good for him to be on the Olympic team, it’s near the end of his career and I hope he has a good showing.”
Red Berenson’s accomplishments
* Was an All-American and Michigan’s MVP in 1961 and 1962.
* Coached Michigan for 33 seasons, from 1984-85 through 2016-17.
* Compiled record of 848-426-92 as UM coach, the 848 wins ranking fourth all-time among NCAA leaders.
* He averaged 25.7 wins during his Michigan coaching career.
* Led Michigan to national championships in 1996 and 1998, the eighth and ninth titles in program history.
* Reached the NCAA Frozen Four 11 times and led Wolverines to nine CCHA tournament championships.