Jacksonville Sports Day

HOCKEY TALK: Red Berenson Closing in on Win No. 800

By STEVE KORNACKI
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It will be a Mount Rushmore moment when Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson wins his 800th game, becoming only the fourth to accomplish that total in the college ranks.

Berenson, in his 31st season, rests on 798 victories headed into this weekend’s Big Ten series with Minnesota. He won NCAA championships in 1996 and 1998 amid a national-record streak of 22 NCAA Tournament appearances, reached 11 Frozen Fours and won 11 Central Collegiate Hockey Association titles.

He didn’t break .500 until his fourth season. But three years after that, in 1990-91, Berenson began a streak of eight straight 30-win seasons at his alma mater, and his legend grew.

And now he’s about to join three long-time adversaries and friends on the 800-win plateau. Current Boston College coach Jerry York, still active and at 974 victories, tops the list. Former Michigan State and Bowling Green coach Ron Mason is next at 924 wins, followed by recently-retired Boston University icon Jack Parker at 897.

What will No. 800 mean to Berenson?

“It means I’ve been around a long time,” Berenson, 75, said with a chuckle. “When I came here, I didn’t know how long I would be here. I really cared about Michigan. And as I grew into the job, I cared about the players. I wanted to give back, and I wanted other players to have the same experience I had — which I considered more than just a four-year thing. It became a lifetime relationship with the program and the university and the alumni. So, here I am all of these years later.

“The good thing is we’ve had some good teams and good seasons. And it was my intent from the start to help Michigan become a hockey dynasty. Now that’s easier said than done, and we’re still working on it.”

He’s coached two Hobey Baker Award winners — Brendan Morrison in 1997 and Kevin Porter in 2008 — and continues attracting top talent such as Detroit Red Wings first-rounder Dylan Larkin. But the Wolverines are 10-7 (2-1 Big Ten) this season with a very young team.

The wins are going to take care of themselves,” Berenson said. “I can tell you the losses are a lot tougher than the wins are enjoyable. So, to me, it was about not losing. The losses — and you can ask any coach — I can’t believe I survived that many losses.”

He’s lost 391 times with 84 ties.

And it’s hard for Berenson to recall his greatest triumphs in the 1996 and 1998 championship seasons without remembering the loss in the 1997 semi-final game to Parker and Boston University.

“They were huge,” Berenson said of beating Colorado College, 3-2, at Cincinnati in ’96 and Boston College, 3-2 in overtime, in ’98 in Boston. “And there were years when we should’ve won. And our best team was the ’97 team that never won. The ones that you let slip away, too, that you should’ve, could’ve won. Like I’ve said before, the best team doesn’t always win.”

But the year after failing to win with the ’97 team, Berenson beat all-time wins leader York in the most thrilling, high-stakes game he ever coached.

“That was at the FleetCenter,” said Berenson. “It was in overtime, and both teams are hitting crossbars. And they had the better team. But we had (goalie Marty) Turco, and we had 10 freshmen. We’d just graduated Brendan Morrison. So, we had no chance against this team. But we had our goalie and Billy Muckalt and Matt Herr — and they just took over the team. They were seniors, and they were terrific.”

Those three seniors and the two freshmen who scored all the goals in the championship game — Mark Kosick, with a pair, and Josh Langfeld — were among 12 players on that squad to play in the NHL.

Chris Fox set up Langfeld from behind the net, and Langfeld circled in front of goalie Scott Clemmensen to beat him on the short side of the net through an opening just wide enough for a puck. And 17:51 into the overtime, the Wolverines had won it all for an NCAA-record ninth time.

Muckalt made his way to Berenson on the bench and placed a hug on his coach that said it all. It was a can’t-let-go embrace of jubilation and gratitude. And after the biggest of his nearly 800 wins, it was a scene that said the most about what Gordon “Red” Berenson accomplishes from behind the bench.

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