|1983-84 Buffalo Sabres - Berenson is third from right on bottom row (Photo: Bill Wippert)
Assistant Coach in Buffalo: 1982-84
Career NHL head coaching stats (1979-1982): 204 games; 100-72-32
Career NHL playing stats (1962-1978): 987 games; 261-397-658, 305 PIMs
Following two years as an assistant coach with Scotty Bowman and the Buffalo Sabres, Red Berenson was offered the chance to become the head coach at the University of Michigan, his alma mater. It was the summer of 1984, and Berenson assumed this would be just another stop on his road back to the NHL.
It’s now 31 years later, and Berenson has become a legend in U.S college hockey.
Berenson won his 800th career game with the Wolverines on January 10, and now sits fourth all-time in coaching victories in NCAA history behind only Jerry York, Ron Mason and Jack Parker. The Wolverines won national titles under Berenson in 1996 and 1998, have made 11 Frozen Four appearances, and qualified for 22 straight trips to the NCAA tournament from 1991-2012.
Berenson played at Michigan from 1959-62, and captained the team for his junior and senior seasons. That was followed up by a 17-year NHL career where he collected 658 (261+397) points in 987 career games with Montreal, New York Rangers, St. Louis and Detroit.
A native of Regina, Saskatchewan, Berenson won a Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1965, etched his name in the NHL record book with a six-goal performance as a member of the Blues in 1968, and played in the historic 1972 Summit Series with Team Canada.
LISTEN TO BERENSON'S INTERVIEW ON HOCKEY HOTLINE
The summer of 1984 wasn’t the first time Berenson had been approached about going back to Ann Arbor as head coach, but the timing just seemed to work out this time.
“It had actually been offered to me a couple of times in the past when I was playing; even as far back as when I was playing in Detroit. It was also available to me when I was coaching in St. Louis,” Berenson explained. “I hadn’t thought about it, it just kind of dropped in my lap at the right time. I talked to Scotty about it and he thought it would be a good challenge since I’d gone to Michigan.
“Scotty knew I believed in education, and that I liked the idea of having something to fall back on after hockey. I had great memories of being in college hockey, and the impact that Michigan coach Al Renfrew had on me and my career. I thought that if I can do that for these young guys, then I’m going to try. It all seemed to be a good fit so I went for it.”
Berenson looks back fondly on the two years he spent in Buffalo. Named Coach of the Year with St. Louis in 1980-81, Berenson said that working with Bowman and Jimmy Roberts behind the Sabres bench was a very appealing proposition to him.
“I had some other options, but working for Scotty was number one. I played for Scotty in St. Louis and when I was in the Montreal system, so I had an understanding and a lot of respect for what he brought to the game. I just thought it would be a win-win for me to be part of that,” Berenson said by phone on Wednesday. “Jimmy and I were good friends, and he played in Montreal and won a lot of Stanley Cups. These guys knew what it took to win, and I wanted to be part of that.”
The Sabres went 86-54-20 during Berenson’s two seasons on Bowman’s staff from 1982-84. Buffalo was an entertaining mix of veteran savvy and youthful enthusiasm, while unveiling a pair of future stars in the process.
“We had all these great young players to work with - Paul Cyr, Dave Andreychuk, John Tucker and Phil Housley, who alone was worth the price of a ticket every night. Then the next year we drafted Tom Barrasso. Those were really good teams those years. And we still had Gilbert Perreault leading the way, along with guys like Craig Ramsay, Brent Peterson, Larry Playfair and Billy Hajt. We had some really solid players who worked well with our younger group.”
It was more than just the hockey that made Berenson’s time in Buffalo so memorable.
“I really liked the city. We lived out in Clarence, and it was really like a small town atmosphere. I had four kids in school; we liked the schools, we liked the people.”
One of Berenson’s current players could be a member of the next wave of Buffalo’s young stars. JT Compher was drafted in the second round (35th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft, and Berenson speaks in glowing terms of the tenacious forward.
“He’s a low maintenance player to coach because he shows up everyday and he brings it. He’s got a terrific will and intensity about him; just about too much sometimes. JT has been a delight. He’s a solid student, and he’s a great leader on our team, as well as being a hard-working, hard-nosed player.
“His stats aren’t necessarily a reflection of his contribution to the team. JT can score, he can make plays, and he kills penalties for us. He does it all.”
Working with young players like Compher is what has kept Berenson excited about coming to work at Michigan for the past 31 years. Berenson knows he can’t do this forever, but continues to enjoy every second of it.
“I’m 75 now and I’m getting obviously closer to retirement. But I do look forward to having the young players come in each fall. They’re full of enthusiasm, they’re coachable, and their eyes are wide open. It really does help you stay young.
“I think about retirement a lot, and I want to do the right thing for the program; it’s not just about me. My health has been good and I feel good, but there will be a time when it’s the right thing for the program.”