:m .ey progra
Michikan coach Red Berenson could teach a course on
he practically has for the past 13 years
By Jim Rose Daily Sports Writer
ed Berenson is telling the Michigan unwritten rule was that if you wanted to be a profes- Berenson, who looks back on his playing days fondly.
State story. It is one of his favorites. sional hockey player, you simply did not go to college. "I felt that Michigan should be one of the top pro-
"The home crowds weren't always Berenson didn't buy that, grams in the country," Berenson says. "I really believed
the way they are now, you know," In 1962, he became the first collegiate player to go in the academics, and with everything it had to offer, I
Berenson says. "I remember whni directly to the pros. His path was so direct, in fact, that just really believed it should be a top program."
higan State would come into Am Arbor, aler his Michigan team lost in the NC'AA toumament, Perhaps it should have been. But it wasn't.
Startin9 from scratch
"I thought we could be a winning team in a couple of
years," Berenson says of his initial timeline. Then he
shakes his head. "I didn't really fully understand what I
was getting into."
What he was getting into was a program that had
become accustomed to losing. And he inherited a team
full of players who were used to that losing mentality.
"I would say it was probably a year or so before I
realized that this was going to be a long process,"
Berenson says. "We just didn't have the parts. We did-
n't have all the pieces you need to win night after night."
So the job presented itself: find the pieces, put them
Berenson says that "the image of the program had to
change, off the ice."
It sounds pretty simple. Just change the image, right?
But think about it for a minute. How do you do some-
thing like that?
Berenson started by bringing in new people - his
type of people. He says he made academics a priority in
recruiting, and he made it clear that players should only
come to Michigan if they're serious about hockey and
"A guy can be a good hockey player, but can he do
the things to be successful at a place like Michigan?"
Berenson asks. "If not, he's not worth our time."
There was another problem. Berenson already had a
team - the one he inherited. And this wasn't the NHL.
He couldn't just trade the guys he didn't want.
So the players he didn't think were good enough were
cut from the team - but allowed to keep their scholar-
ships and continue their education. He wanted to create
an image - off the ice, again - of fairness.
He started an alumni golf outing, held at the
University's course, asa way of involving former play-
ers and creating an atmosphere about the program. The
first year, Berenson says, there were about 30 golfers.
Last year, there were 160.
All the while, he was recruiting. Heavily.
The first player Berenson recruited was Myles
O'Connor, a highly touted high school player who had
his choice of schools. He chose Michigan.
"I could have gone other places, for sure," says
O'Connor, who now plays for the Cincinnati Cyclones
of the International Hockey League. "But a big part
of my decision to go to Michigan had to do with
Red Berenson. And, of course, the fact that
Michigan was a great school academically."
So with the commitment of O'Connor and
the earliest changes in image, the program
inched forward. But it was a tedious process.
While O'Connor was fnishing high school, the
Wolverines were stumbling to a ninth-place finish
in the CCHA, with just 13 wins in 40 games.
And the arrival of O'Connor and the rest of his
class did not turn things around immediately. In
the 1985-86 season Michigan was 12-26, eighth-
best in the CCHA. In 1986-87, the team won 14
games and moved up to seventh place.
Leaps and bounds? Certainly not. But steps.
"It was tough on Red," O'Connor says. "He
was a winner. He had played on good teams
throughout his career, and then at Michigan, we
were losing to teams like Ferris State every week.
"It was hard on us as players, too. There were
some rough days back then."
But in the 1987-88 season, Michigan's incre-
mental improvement inched a bit further--just past
the .500mark. And the next year saw one of the biggest
landmarks in the Berenson era.
For years, the Great Lakes Invitational -a four-team
holiday tournament held at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit
- had been a focal point for Berenson. And for years,
Michigan had watched other teams celebrate with the
But in O'Connor's senior season, Michigan won its
first GLI. Berenson looks back on it as a tuming point.
O'Connor looks back on it asa career highlight.
"That was a pretty big thrill for us," says O'Connor,
who was a co-captain at the time. "Because in reality,
we didn't have too many highlights in my four years."
Still, O'Connor's class laid the foundation for things
to come. But the turnaround was nowhere near com-
plete. Even a season later -a season in which Michigan
won another GLI title and crept up to fourth place in the
CCIIA - fan support was hard to come by.
In a 1990 column in The Michigan Daily, then-editor
Rich Eisen (now with ESPN) said that ina game against
Michigan State - at Yost, no less - the "Michigan
fans sounded as quiet as church mice," and that the.
Wolverines "can't fill the barn for the big games."
Ma licg Die orip n
Senior Associate Athletic Director Keith Molin
recalls the time he ran into Berenson after a rare, early-
'90s victory over Michigan State at Yost. When he con-
gratulated the coach on the win, Berenson looked at him
and asked, "Were you there?"
Molin, who, indeed, had not been there, stammered
that he had been told the game was sold out. And in fact
it had been - by visiting Spartans fans.
"Real fans know how to get a ticket," Berenson told
him. These days, Molin is a fixture at Michigan hockey
The painstaking climb continued. Berenson says it
was "like pulling teeth."
"You know, after three years, we were still a losing
team, but you could see things were getting better,"
Berenson says. "And by the time we finally got over
.500, the team really started to believe that they could
win, rather than hoping to win.
"And I thought that was the big changeover."
The big leap
came in the 1990-
91 season, when
the team won 34
games and finished
second in the
league. A stellar
freshman class that
Wiseman and Steve
not making the
the previous sea-
son, the Wolverines
denly, one of the
The fan base
tionately to the win
hosted Cornell in
the opening round
of the NCAA tour-
nament in 1991,
and the Wolverines
won a series that
Berenson sees as a
point of his tenure.
that series, it was
like, 'now, we-had
made it,"' he says.
"This team was on
The recruits kept
coming. By the
time the Oliver-
class was in its final
year, there was
another crop of
out. This group was
led by a couple of
and Jason Botterill.
After years of
ment and limited
Berenson and the
program were final-
ly developing a rep-
And then it got
On the night of
March 16, 1994, as
Banfield's Bar and
Grill in Ann Arbor,
a police officer was
watching from across
the street. The officer
watched as Berenson first urinated
outside next to a wall of the public library, then
got in his car and put it in reverse. Berenson had gone
about 20 feet before the officer stopped him and arrest-
ed him for drunken driving and urinating in public.
And suddenly, like never before, Red Berenson was
a front-page story. And so was the Michigan hockey
"It was good for me, and it was good for our team,"
Berenson says now. "It made us realize how vulnerable
we all are and how visible we all are and how account-
able we all are to each other. You know, you do a hun-
dred good things and one bad thing ...
"And that's good. It may not be fair, but it's a goo'
lesson for everyone. I set high standards for my team
and for the people around me, and I'm accountable to
them as well."
The charges were eventually reduced to "driving
while visibly impaired." And true to form, Berenson
learned from it, built on it, and most importantly, moved
The next year, Michigan won 30 games. And the rest
Last season, the Wolverines won their first. nationa
championship in 32 years, and this season, the team has
been ranked No. I nationally for all but one week. One
more victory, in this weekend's NCAA regional game,
would break the school record for victories in a season.
And who are this year's leaders? Those same
Berenson recruits named Morrison and Botterill
Morrison scoredthe goal that won last year's title game.
Botterill leads the team in goals this season.
And Berenson has evolved with the program. Ninth-
year assistant coach Mel Pearson says that winning has
made Berenson "a little more mellow."
For his part, Berenson says the support he's had alonD
the way has been tremendous. He points, for instance,
to the time when the Athletic Department set up a tick-
et stand in the middle of campus during the week lead-
ing up to a home game with Michigan State - to try
and fill Yost with the right fans.
"I've always felt that, you know, if you're doing the
right thing, people will find out," Berenson says. "And
then when they find out, that adds to what you're
Consider this: Before this season even began, ever,
game at Yost was sold out.
Berenson must be doing something right.