LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Red Berenson was out of a job with the St. Louis Blues less than one year after being honored as the NHL’s coach of the year.
Scotty Bowman was there to help, hiring one of his former players to be an assistant coach for him with the Buffalo Sabres.
“I thought it was going to be a stop-gap job with us in Buffalo before he got another shot to coach an NHL team,” Bowman said in a telephone interview earlier this week. “But he got an offer to go back to Michigan. And, he’s been there ever since and has fulfilled a dream.”
Berenson is in his 32nd season of leading the Wolverines, who will face Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Cincinnati. He won his first of two national titles on the same sheet of ice in 1996.
Speculation has swirled all season that the 76-year-old Berenson, who is in the last year of his contract, will retire when Michigan’s season ends.
So, is this it for him?
“Truthfully, I don’t know,” Berenson insisted Tuesday night. “I went into the season with an open mind.”
Berenson said he talked with former athletic director Jim Hackett about this possibly being his last year, and plans to discuss his future with new athletic director Warde Manuel soon after the season.
If he’s entering the final stretch of his storied career, no one around him appears to know it.
“I think everyone is in the dark,” senior forward Justin Selman said. “It’s hard to ignore what’s going on, especially on Senior Night when the fans gave him a nice send-off cheer. No one is really sure, though, what he is going to do.”
In the meantime, Berenson has shown no signs of slowing down.
He skates with his players, who are young enough to be his grandchildren, during practices. He demonstrates fundamentals and techniques, such as how to shoot a wicked, one-timer, that helped him set an NHL record nearly a half-century ago that still stands.
Berenson, a six-time NHL All-Star, is the only player in league history to score six goals in a road game, helping St. Louis win at Philadelphia 8-0 on Nov. 7, 1968.
“He’s almost like a larger-than-life action hero,” Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s a genetic freak and is still a stud of a gentleman at 70-whatever he is. He embraces life, whether it’s going fishing, on a canoe trip or backpacking. When you talk to him, you can’t help but hold him in high regard.”
The job Berenson did this season was regarded well enough to be named Big Ten coach of the year after winning 20-plus games for the 27th time in his career. The Wolverines went 22-7-5 with a .721 winning percentage that was their highest in in seven years. They averaged a nation-high 4.89 goals a game and earned a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012.
Berenson, who is from Regina, Saskatchewan, was a star player at Michigan in the early 1960s. He played in the NHL for Montreal, the New York Rangers, St. Louis and Detroit from 1962 to 1978 and then made a quick transition into coaching. After serving as an assistant for the Blues for more than a year, he was promoted to head coach during the 1979-80 season.
He won the Jack Adams Award the next season as the league’s top coach after helping St. Louis have its best season in its 28-year history. Late in the next season, he was fired.
Berenson said he turned down his alma mater twice before saying yes to leading Michigan’s struggling program in 1984.
After helping the Wolverines win, NHL teams tried to get him back behind the bench in the league.
“I had some opportunities,” he said. “I remember one guy, I won’t mention his name, from one of the New York teams. He said, ‘Wouldn’t you like to get back to New York?’ I played for the Rangers. I said, ‘Have you ever been to Ann Arbor?’ He said, ‘Oh yeah, it’s really great.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s the answer. There’s no chance.’ I had done my thing there and I was comfortable here.”
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