Ann Arbor — Red Berenson took a seat on the sofa outside his office Wednesday, looking fit and relaxed, ready for another season.
He was talked out of retiring last spring after guiding Michigan to its first Big Ten tournament title and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Berenson, 76, now has a different task ahead.
Instead of having an experienced team expected to contend for the conference title, it will be a challenging job of rebuilding the Wolverines. Five players left early, which results in his biggest freshmen class (11 players) in his 33 years of leading the program.
“I feel good and we have our team in place,” Berenson said ahead of Sunday's 3 p.m. exhibition battle against the University of Windsor. “We want to see our team start evolving."
Practice begins Saturday without last season’s premier line — Kyle Connor (71 points, 35 goals), Tyler Motte (57 points, 32 goals) and JT Compher (63 points, 16 goals) all turned pro.
But the departures didn’t end there.
The Wolverines also had a pair of defensemen — Zach Werenski and Michael Downing — leave early.
Still, Berenson is optimistic with what he calls a deeper defense and an elite scorer in senior Alex Kile, who had 16 goals last season playing with Motte and Compher the first half.
“He’s one of those breakaway players who jumps into holes and finds ways to score goals," said Berenson, noting that Kile played his sophomore year on a great line alongside future NHL players Dylan Larkin (Red Wings) and Zach Hyman (Maple Leafs).
"Last year, (Kile) started out with JT and Tyler and they got off to a good start, but Kyle Connor wasn’t doing much so we made a change.
"Alex Kile still ended up with 16 goals, so he had a serious role on our team the last two years.”
MSU looking to rebound
This is a big season for Michigan State and sixth-year coach Tom Anastos.
For starters, the Spartans went 10-23-4 (6-12-2 Big Ten) last season and have had one winning season (17-16-2, 2014-15) the last four years.
Then there’s the task of not only replacing goaltender Jake Hildebrand, but focusing on playing better defense (the Spartans allowed averages of 3.4 goals per game and 33.3 shots last season).
“We have eight guys competing for time and we weren’t even close to that last year,” Anastos said. “We’re going to show some patience, deal with a little bit of inexperience we have and the mistakes that we’ll probably make, but I think in the big picture, it will make us much better back there, both moving the puck and also just competing defensively.”
The Spartans host the University of Toronto in a 4 p.m. exhibition Sunday.