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Berenson's 6-pack was one for the record books

by John Kreiser
The score sheet says Nov. 7, 1968 was the greatest night of Red Berenson's NHL career. Though the rest of the hockey world probably would agree that becoming the only player in League history to score 6 times in a road game would qualify as the best night in just about anyone's career, Berenson isn't one of those people.

"I can tell you I probably had better games, but just didn't have the numbers, the statistics, the goals to show for it," Berenson told of his famous night. "You have good games, but sometimes they don't show up on the scoreboard. That game showed up on the scoreboard."

Did it ever!

Forty years later, Berenson remains the only visiting player to get 6 goals in a game. Since the Stanley Cup came under the NHL's control in 1926, Detroit's Syd Howe had been the only previous player to score 6 in a game when he did it against the Rangers in 1943. After Berenson, only 1 player (Toronto's Darryl Sittler in 1976) has matched his feat of scoring 6 times in a game. Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull, Mike Bossy -- none of them managed that accomplishment, something that still leaves Berenson incredulous.

"I'm surprised there haven't been more 6-goal games, especially in the '70s, when so many goals were being scored and you had guys scoring up to 100 goals a season and so many more gifted scorers -- Lemieux and Gretzky and others who could have scored 7 or 8 goals in a game," said Berenson, better known to a modern generation of fans as the highly successful coach at the University of Michigan. "For one reason or another, it hasn't happened. All that means is I was lucky."

That may be true, but it's amazing how people who have talent and work hard tend to be luckier than others.

Berenson was the first Expansion Era star. He had earned a Stanley Cup ring with the Montreal Canadiens in 1965, but was sent to the New York Rangers a year later. The college-trained center -- a rarity in those days -- struggled to get regular ice time in New York and was dealt to the St. Louis Blues early in the 1967-68 season, where he quickly found a home.

"St. Louis' philosophy was to get players from winning teams, so they had a number of Montreal players like (Noel) Picard and Jimmy Roberts and Ab McDonald, Phil Goyette, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey and so on," Berenson said. "It was amazing how many Montreal guys we had in St. Louis. But Scotty (Bowman) knew that organization well."

Berenson became a folk hero in St. Louis, earning the nickname "The Red Baron." He finished with 22 goals and 51 points in 55 games with the Blues in 1967-68, leading his new team to the Stanley Cup Final, where St. Louis was competitive despite being swept by the Canadiens.

Perhaps due to post-Cup hangover, neither he nor the Blues got off to a good start in 1968-69. St. Louis arrived in Philadelphia on Nov. 7 after winning at Pittsburgh the previous night, but Berenson still hadn't found his scoring touch, having scored just 3 goals in 11 games -- a big reason the Blues were just 5-5-1.

Flyers goaltender Doug Favell, returning after missing 5 games with a hip injury, stopped Berenson's first shot, but didn't get the second one -- a backhander that flew over his blocker and into the net at 16:42 for the game's opening goal.

"It was early in the year, and I hadn't scored in the previous couple of games," said Berenson. "When I scored the first goal, I went around (defenseman Ed) Van Impe and scored on my backhand. I remember saying to myself, 'Thank God I can still score.'"

As it turned out, his scoring touch was alive and well.

Berenson had 4 shots on goal in the second period, and all 4 beat Favell, giving the Blues a 5-0 lead after 2 periods.

"The second period got even better," he said. "It was a combination of things. None of the goals were bad goals. They were all 5-on-5 goals -- a breakaway, a 3-on-2, just good plays and the puck was going in."

The 4 goals in a period tied the NHL record set by Toronto's Busher Jackson in 1934 and matched by Chicago's Max Bentley in 1943.

By the third period, even the 9,164 fans at the Spectrum knew they were witnessing history. Since the Flyers had no chance of winning, they wanted to see Berenson score some more.


"I don't remember exactly what the chants were, but there was a lot of support from the Philadelphia fans," Berenson said. "We had a pretty good rivalry started with them, and it got even stronger as the years went on. I was probably the last player on St. Louis that Philadelphia fans ever cheered for."

The Blues got third-period goals from Terry Crisp and Camille Henry to make it 7-0 before Berenson made the record books with 5:56 left when he got No. 6.

But there nearly was a No. 7.
"I hit a crossbar on another one -- I had 10 shots on net and then I hit a crossbar," he said.

With time running out, Bowman was giving Berenson as much ice time as he could so he could try for a seventh goal. But Berenson also was conscious that his goaltender, Jacques Plante, was working on a shutout, and he didn't want to spoil that.

"Scotty tried to get me to go back on the ice in the final minute of the game, and I didn't want to," Berenson said. "He could sense that this was one of those special games and he was giving me every opportunity to capitalize on it. But I didn't want to go out there and spoil the shutout, so I didn't.

"Jacques Plante was the goalie, and if we gave up a shutout for me to score another goal, that wouldn't sit too well with him. And that was fine; that was the way it was."

The game finished 8-0, the biggest win in team history to that point.

"Glenn Hall was the backup goalie, and at the end of the game, when I came off, he said 'Good game. At least you were plus tonight.' They didn't give you a lot of credit," Berenson said.

Berenson went on to finish the season with career highs of 35 goals and 82 points, and led the Blues to a second Stanley Cup Final -- in which they again were swept by the Canadiens. After being traded to Detroit in 1971, he closed out his career back in St. Louis in 1977-78, finishing with 261 goals and 658 points in 987 games.
"I don't remember exactly what the chants were, but there was a lot of support from the Philadelphia fans. We had a pretty good rivalry started with them, and it got even stronger as the years went on. I was probably the last player on St. Louis that Philadelphia fans ever cheered for." -- Red Berenson on his 6-goal game in Philadelphia

"I always considered myself an honest, two-way player," Berenson said. "I could score, but I'd make a play in a moment, rather than score a goal. I used to get a lot of criticism for not shooting enough."

Berenson spent some time as an NHL assistant coach, but went into the college ranks in 1984 when his alma mater called. More than two decades later, he's still there.

"I never dreamt I'd be here this long; this is my 25th year," said Berenson, whose teams have made the NCAA Tournament for 18 consecutive seasons and won national championships in 1996 and 1998. "I never even thought I'd be a coach. I never thought of coaching. It just worked out that way. I didn't envision coming back here and being here for 25 years.

"We've had some really good players and good teams. It's been a fun experience here at Michigan. We've recruited good kids and helped them get better."

But do those kids know what their coach accomplished one magical night 40 years ago?

"I think they all know that I played," he said. "I don't know how many know a lot about it, and I obviously don't live in the past. I don't care if they know, and they don't need to know."

At least some of them do know. Phoenix rookie Kevin Porter, who played for Berenson for 4 years before signing with the Coyotes last spring, said he was quite aware of his coach's career and accomplishments.

"He had a great career," said Porter. "He played for the Red Wings and St. Louis and Montreal and had a Stanley Cup. I remember his 6-goal game. He talked about it once in a while. We asked him about it and how exciting that was."

But though that was a night to remember for Berenson, he's never forgotten the Blues' next game (a 3-1 loss in Montreal 2 nights later), either.

"I didn't have any idea that it was a record," he said of his record-setting evening in Philadelphia. "I just thought I was lucky and I was having a good game. If you play long enough, you're bound to have a good game. The next night, I couldn't score a goal."

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