On Monday, Red Berenson announced his retirement as the head coach of the Michigan hockey team after 33 seasons. With his career coming to a close, former Michigan Daily hockey beat writers chose to reflect on their time covering the Wolverines under Mr. Berenson.
Avi Sholkoff, 2016-17: Prior to beginning my studies at Michigan, I knew little about hockey or Red Berenson. After only one year in Ann Arbor, I learned all about the famous head coach and his work at the helm of the Wolverines. In my second year, I had the opportunity to cover the Michigan hockey team for the Daily. About a month into the season, I went to Yost Arena after class one day to interview him by myself. Before he answered my questions, he asked me about where I was from and what I studied. Once learning I intended to minor in Spanish, he commended me for my decision to study a language and explained that he was once in Finland with some Finnish and Russian players who could speak multiple languages, while he could only speak English. It really warmed my heart because it showed that he cared what we Daily kids did.
Additionally, as someone who stutters, I’m often self-conscious of myself when I ask questions in press conferences. When I told Red about my stutter, he encouraged me to continue to asking questions and to not be afraid.
I’ll always cherish my year covering the Michigan hockey team and the time I spent speaking with Red Berenson.
Mike Persak, 2016-17: The first time I met Red Berenson, I nervously shook his hand as he walked out of the room. The bones in his hand cracked loudly as I grabbed it, and he continued to walk, seemingly unfazed. Whether it was talking about hockey, or telling me off to the side of practice how he was worried about millennials using their phones too much, Red had a fascinating way of being commanding without seeming angry or scary. I’m grateful for his acceptance of the Daily and his willingness to give us all the access we had. Talking with other writers around the country, I’ve come to realize that we might have it better than any other college paper in that sense. Because of this, I believe my writing has come an extremely long way, and I have Red’s generosity to thank.
Laney Byler, 2016-17: I’ll never forget when Red Berenson told me he would look for my story in the paper the next day. It might not seem like much — it was a simple story about the history of Yost — but it was a story I was excited to write, and the fact that Red wanted to read it made it seem that much better.
Everyone always talks about how much Red Berenson meant to college hockey, and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the impact he made will last forever. But if there’s one thing I want to make clear, it’s that Red Berenson meant just as much to the college journalists he worked with.
His generosity was unparalleled as he let our beat (and many before us) fly on the team plane to attend games we otherwise couldn’t go to. He gave us honest answers and expected us to act like real journalists, whether we were a group of 19-year olds or not. But covering Michigan hockey with Red Berenson was never something I didn’t look forward to; it wasn’t easy, but it was unbelievably rewarding.
The Daily was lucky to have a coach like Red to cover, but not as lucky as the student journalists who experienced it firsthand.
Orion Sang, 2016-17: One doesn’t have to look far to understand the impact Red Berenson had on everyone he touched throughout his career.
Just open up Twitter and scroll through the few hours around 3 o’clock Monday, and you’ll get a good idea. But it wasn’t just those on the rink who Berenson had an immeasurable impact on — the way he handled writers, especially us young cubs at the Daily, was truly remarkable. He didn’t have to sit down with us after every weekday practice, yet he did — sometimes running perilously close to his scheduled radio show at Pizza House in the process. He didn’t have to offer us two seats on the team plane for road trips, yet he did — and the plane didn’t even leave without us when we showed up at the wrong side of Willow Run Airport. And he didn’t have to be just so damn nice to us, as we worked on our craft and asked him questions he may not have felt like answering. Yet he did, and I will forever be grateful to him for that and all of the other gestures.
Jason Rubinstein, 2014-16: In my opinion, there was no coach friendlier to the media than Red. He always went out of his way to accommodate the Daily, including taking us on the team plane to cover away events. You truly had to no excuse to be uneducated about the team and if you were, Red would call you out or simply give you his famous blank stare. I always felt like Red cared about my life outside of hockey writing as well, and he helped me decide what I wanted to do with my future. I’ll be forever grateful to Red.
Minh Doan, 2015-16: Red didn’t just understand hockey himself, but he wanted everyone to understand with him. Whether it was giving me a blank stare when I didn’t notice he had switched lines in practice (which happened regrettably often) or explaining to me how the umbrella power play system worked after practice one afternoon, Red wanted me to be knowledgeable about hockey and went out of his way for me to be so.
But in my mind, that not what I’m the most thankful for about Red. That award would go to Red’s level of care for those around him. And the access he gave to the Daily exemplified that. By taking us on the team plane to opening up every practice to us, Red made it really hard for us to do a bad job.
He gave us everything we needed to do a good job, and after covering college hockey for a year, I really believe that no college hockey outlet had it better.
That’s what I valued the most about Red. He truly cared about my success, whether it was within journalism or outside, and it’s for that care that I’m incredibly thankful to have had the opportunity to cover him for a year.
Kevin Santo, 2015-16: There are just two stories that I need to tell.
Last November, roughly a month after I started covering the Michigan hockey team, Red walked out of his office while I was waiting to interview one of his players. He stopped in the doorway, turned to me and said, “Just so you know, the first thing my wife asks me when I get home is, ‘Did you bring home a Daily?’ ”
The second happened a couple months later, when I sat down with Red to watch one of the team’s practices. We didn’t mention a word of hockey. Instead, I asked him where he thought his life would have gone without the sport, and he told me of all the things that piqued his interest in college. What surprised me was that he then asked me about my future plans. I told him I wanted to go into journalism. He paused.
Then he looked me in the eyes and told me, “You know, you’re gonna need to outwork a lot of people for that.”
It was something I already knew, but hearing it come from Red was a kick in the ass I needed at the time.
So I just want to say thank you Red, for always caring about the college kids who covered your team, and thank you Mrs. Berenson, for caring about what those same college kids were writing.
Zach Shaw, 2014-15: Like everyone, I learned a lot from Red Berenson, probably more than I realize yet. But my main lesson has to do with Red’s comical desire to fly the student hockey reporters to all the road games. I mean, who does that? Red does, whether his administrators wanted him to or not. But what impressed me most was why he did it. Red is not this charismatic storyteller that loves to have bumbling student reporters ask him questions or write stories about him, and the Daily has a long history of not holding back when hockey players get into trouble on campus. The flight was not a gift to show his appreciation, it was a lesson. When you get to be as close to a team as Red let the Daily get, you learn just how human the team is. You learn what that flight home is like after a curb-stomping loss, and you learn how emotional an injury can be for the entire team.
Living, studying and spending all of your time with your teammates is a phenomenon unique to college athletics, and it’s so difficult to truly understand it from the outside. But when I thanked Red for letting me cover the team at the end of the season, and he said “I hope we gave you a better understanding of what we go through,” I realized he put us on the inside not just for P.R. or goodwill, but to give us that inside experience so few ever get. Every time I write a story, I draw on that experience that Red went out of his way to give me.
Erin Lennon, 2013-15: I knew nothing about ice hockey when I started writing about it. Red Berenson knew that as well as I did, though he never asked and never once called attention to questions that exposed my untrained eye. Instead, Red’s answers were coated in thoughtfulness and filled with a type of confounding wisdom that resonated far beyond the ice rink. I’ll remember his gentle delivery, the anecdotes and the drawn out metaphors, the crooked smirk he’d make when he delivered a line he knew would become the pull quote in my article — “With cement trucks out there, you have to decide how fast you’re willing to go. There’s a risk involved in using that speed. Do you want to go or is it safer to stay here?”
And I’ll never forget the hushed plane ride back from a losing effort against the Gophers in Minnesota. I was making my way back to my empty row from the restroom when Red looked up from his game notes and gestured toward me in the aisle. He wanted to make sure I’d also received one of the warm cookies and milk that his players were wolfing down behind us, compliments of the charter plane. Yes, I had. Thank you, Coach.
Greg Garno, 2012-14: The thing I appreciate about Red is that he never tried to BS me. With Red, you could count on his honest thoughts. He wasn’t afraid to say how poorly his team played if they had a bad game (and they did). He never tried to praise someone too much if they had a game (there was still more they could do). And he made sure to tell me I should have gotten a business degree instead of something else (he was right). When so many coaches aren’t willing to speak with media members or decide to spin something in order to avoid backlash, Red was a refreshing anomaly. There he was in the blue chair at the head of the room, Monday through Thursday ready for questions. Perhaps I was spoiled by that honesty as I continued reporting, but I know that I was better because of it.
Alejandro Zúñiga, 2012-14: His eyes tell stories. That’s what I remember. You would be talking hockey with one of the sport’s legends, and occasionally a question would make his eyes sparkle. And you knew that, for a moment, the man who so often spoke about winning the next game was reminiscing about some other game, weeks or years or even decades before. Sometimes, if you were lucky, you’d hear a piece of history that would haunt you the next day, because you knew your writing could never do it justice.
Red Berenson often thanked the Daily for covering hockey, for caring about his teams. That always struck me as silly, because of course we cared. We cared about the stories he told, the players he coached, the program he revived. And Red, it was an absolute honor.
Liz Vukelich, 2011-13: One September afternoon, I found myself sitting in Red Berenson’s office conducting a preseason interview. Somehow the Daily’s sports editors thought it would be OK to put me on the hockey beat, despite the fact that I had never sat through a hockey game before and in all honesty, had very little understanding of how the game worked.
I’m happy to share I’m not that shaky, hockey illiterate person anymore and that is solely thanks to Red Berenson. Though Red never coached me on the ice, he coached me and every other Daily writer who ever had the pleasure of sharing a post-practice interview with him just as much as any athlete who has ever played under him. He had a patience that I’ve never encountered in any other coach and he cared about turning every single student journalist he crossed paths with into a bona fide hockey pro. No question was too simple — he’d pause interviews to make sure us Daily writers had a firm grasp of the concepts he was talking about. Red cared about us in such an unsuspecting way and is one of the most generous people you’ll ever encounter when it comes to his time. Even when I reached my goal senior year of covering Michigan football, part of me still thought how lovely it would be to just go back to sitting in the hockey media room again and listen to Red chat about hockey and life.
A few weeks before I graduated, myself and a fellow beat mate made an appointment to meet with Red, to see if we could express to him how much of an impact he had had on our time at Michigan. The three of us talked — he asked about our post-graduate plans and we shared some happy memories that we had made covering his team. After a few minutes of conversation, it was time to leave and we asked if we could take a quick picture. And Red, who had shared some incredible stories over the previous years, uttered the seven greatest words I’ve ever heard come out of his mouth:
“Is this going to be a selfie?”
Matt Slovin, 2011-13: Some of my best memories of college came from covering Red’s teams. Rare is the coach that commands the level of respect he did. I remember flying back from the Upper Peninsula on the team charter after a particularly stinging loss, and not a word was spoken the entire way back to Ann Arbor. Those losses were uncharacteristically frequent for Red’s teams during the two years I covered him, but even so I realized that I was in the presence of a coaching legend. Like so many Daily writers before me, I attribute my love of hockey to Red.
Zach Helfand, 2011-12: Everyone in 6th Bush in South Quad my freshman year, or at least everyone with hockey student tickets, knew that the second shot before leaving for Yost was sacred. That one was always reserved for a toast: “To Red Berenson.” A year later, when researching a story, I’d find out that just about all that we loved about Michigan hockey games could be credited to Berenson; without him, there’s a decent chance there’s no more hockey program to speak of.
Which also would’ve meant a lot fewer sportswriters. Berenson showed clear fatherly disapproval of us Daily kids heading full steam into a dying profession, was a big reason we were heading full steam in the first place. We all heard stories about Red. He was terrifying. And we thought if we could win over Berenson we could take on just about anyone. The truth really was, Red was kind of a softy. He wouldn’t say it, but if you showed up every day, worked hard and wrote fairly, you were one of his guys. And he’d take care of you.
Because we cared a lot about our hockey coverage, we needed a way to get a writer up to Green Bay, on short notice, for the skate-around the day before the NCAA tournament started. Red, we found out, cared a lot about our hockey coverage, too — or least cared about us. And so a spot opened up on the team charter. We were riding with Red. We wrote an article that day about a possible line change, a nugget he probably would’ve preferred stay unpublished. But fair was fair, and he took care of us. So from a grateful sportswriter (sorry, Red), a toast to a very deserved retirement: To Red Berenson.
Everett Cook, 2011-12: On the 43rd anniversary of his six-goal game, Red sat in his usual chair and fielded the usual questions. We sat in our regular spots, Zach and I to his right and Liz and Slovin to his left, and talked lines and pairings. We did not discuss one of the greatest scoring outbursts in the history of the NHL, the night Red tallied double hat tricks as a forward for the St. Louis Blues, because we forgot to bring it up.
As he walked out, Red mentioned this to us. Beat writers had always asked him about the Nov. 7 anniversary, and we hadn’t.
This was Red. He could’ve lectured us or said nothing, even let ego cloud the lesson. But he knew we were young and he knew we were learning and so he instead decided to teach us about diligence and research in his own, gracious way. I’ll be hard pressed to ever cover a coach that generous again.
Michael Florek, 2009-11: In two years of covering Red Berenson’s hockey teams (2009-10 and 2010-11), I, like most Daily reporters covering the team, spent almost every day in the lounge outside of the hockey offices talking with Red for 15 minutes or so.
In me and my beatmates’ time with Red, we talked about hockey, but we also talked about the journalism industry, his playing days, and how to find good pucks by smelling them. We learned a lot of lessons there. Some of them we’ve already forgotten, but I’ll never forget the musk ox protective circle because of him.
One day, early in the season, we asked about Michigan’s next opponent, Alaska Fairbanks. Fairbanks was famous for not allowing many goals. When we asked about (this), Berenson initially did the usual coachspeak. Then, he stopped. I’m not sure if he sensed we didn’t understand or had just been watching National Geographic, but he asked us if we knew what musk ox were.
He explained they were long-haired, bison-looking animals that lived in the arctic.
When they sense a threat, they form a circle around their young and forced their attacker to try to break through.
Alaska did that, but around their net.
We left the lounge that day both with more clarity on Alaska Fairbanks’ defensive system and a better understanding of the natural world.
Mark Burns, 2009-11: “Who wrote the Louie column?” Red Berenson casually asked as we began our usually after-practice-interview-sessions upstairs at Yost Ice Arena, with Berenson carrying his customary coffee mug and plopping in the same blue chair.
I had written a column midway through 2009-10 season in January, basically asking where was then-junior forward Louie Caporusso’s production on the ice. It was pretty scathing in hindsight. And yet, Caporusso made me eat my words six weeks later as I wrote an apology column to him. Berenson was referencing the latter column that March.
After a few moments of silence, I slowly raised my hand and without words he knew. “Good…good…good,” I can remember hearing him saying back. “Ok, first question…”
Yes, it was one singular moment in two years of the covering the Michigan hockey team, but you knew how much Berenson cared about his players based on that, albeit brief, exchange. He was sharp as a whit despite being around 70 at the time — and still is, I’m sure of it.
I think he appreciated, more than anything, the Daily hockey beat writers’ commitment to their craft and covering the team at nearly every single game, even if it meant a 48-hour excursion to New Hampshire and back for, yes, one measly game against a non-conference foe. He knew we were dedicated, even giving us the occasional shoutout at press conferences at Joe Louis Arena in front of 20 other media members who only covered the team during big games.
So with that, enjoy retirement, Coach Berenson. Thanks for the memories and being able to sit with you for those interviews after practice. Those were pretty special.
Andy Reid, 2007-08: My first major beat at The Daily was the hockey team. The first time I met Red, he walked into the hockey office after practice in his socks, sipping a coffee. He sat in his cushy recliner and looked expectantly at us. I’ve never been more intimidated in my life.
But Red went out of his way to make the student writers at the Daily feel at home. He understood we were learning to be professionals, just like his players. He saw me walking home from a post-practice press conference once, pulled over and said, “Get in.” Not a question. Not a suggestion. And gave me a ride home and asked about my studies and life. He was stern, but he cared. About Michigan, not just the team.
Red, I’m sorry I wore a green hat into your office that one time. I’ll never do it again. But thank you for allowing me, however briefly and tangentially, to be involved in your career. There will never be another one like you.
Nathan Sandals, 2007-08: It’s hard to pinpoint any particular story, but I will never forget the weekend Bo Schembechler died, the hockey team was at Ferris State. It was all hands on deck at the Daily for a special Saturday edition, so no one from the hockey beat was at the game on Friday night. After the game on Saturday night (during which another Michigan team lost by three points in Columbus) we went to Red’s press conference. “I don’t think I saw any of you guys last night,” Red said to me and my beat mate, with a mischievous smile. He was busting our chops a little bit, but as a beat writer, we knew he appreciated our work and even when he gave us grief (which happened from time to time), he was always generous with his time and cared to see that student writers had every chance to succeed as they learned their trade.
One other point: Red was not my professor, but I spent at least 15 minutes a day in his office hours for two years. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from one of the greatest teachers of hockey and life that the University has ever had.
James Dowd, 2005-07: Having followed Michigan hockey from a young age, it was an intimidating experience to come face to face with Coach Berenson for the first time at the GLI during the 2004-05 season while filling in on the hockey beat. Over the next two seasons with The Daily and the following years with Inside College Hockey, the nervousness subsided and I was lucky enough to learn a vast amount about the game, both on and off the record, from Red. Chatting in his office after practice, press conferences or phone conversations, Red always required you to be prepared and be your best and made all of us who covered Michigan hockey better journalists by coaching us to be students of the game. I’ve always admired the deep relationships he built and maintained with his players, be them Stanley Cup champions, members of the Armed Forces, neurosurgeons or businessmen. I’ll always be grateful for the standard he held myself and my colleagues to and for the legacy he leaves for the University Michigan.
Scott Bell, 2003-04: During my time at the Michigan Daily, I had the opportunity to interview a lot of big names — from Lloyd Carr all the way to Bo Schembechler. But nothing had me worried and downright terrified like the time I was given the assignment to interview Red Berenson after the hockey team’s year-end banquet. None of the normal beat writers were available, and I was a very eager — albeit very green (that’s another word for terrible) — freshman reporter that was very familiar with the Berenson stare. But Red put up with my stumbling and stuttering because he knew I was prepared and he knew I was familiar with his team. And no matter how gruff he may have been on the exterior, all he really wanted was people who respected his team and his sport, and he’d return that respect tenfold.
Brady McCollough, 2001-02: As a 19-year-old sophomore, you could only learn so much from the Daily’s senior sports editors. Red Berenson took it upon himself to teach a very valuable lesson to each writer who was lucky enough to cover his hockey team: The more you put in, the more you get out. Red expected us to be there every practice, and he definitely took note which of us took advantage of the access he offered. I actually decided I wanted to be a journalist within a few months of joining the beat, which was no coincidence. It was a special feeling being taken seriously by such a legend.
Joe Smith, 2000-01: Red Berenson played a role in me having my dream job now. It was the time I spent covering Michigan hockey as a sophomore in 2000 that sparked my interest in wanting to become a sportswriter. I learned a lot from Red in his daily talks with us. He was so gracious with his time, especially if you showed up for practice. Which I almost always did. He was a little intimidating at the time, but I learned how to be a pro. And grew a passion for the sport I still have today. Thank you Red.
Jeff Weinstein, Michigan hockey sports information director 2013-16: There was nothing quite like listening to Red Berenson talk hockey. If ever there was a man to connect hockey and Michigan’s past, present, and future, it was Red, a man who fondly recalled driving a tractor back in Saskatchewan as a boy as easily as a goal scored by Dylan Larkin in a Red Wings game the night before. For any reporter with the opportunity to interview Red in recent years, it was a treat, a chance to hear a story from a man who embodies well over a half century of hockey history. I know because I tried to sit in on every interview he gave, not because I needed to, but because I didn’t want to miss any one of those great hockey stories or nuggets of hockey wisdom. I think the biggest reason Red connected so well with players a quarter his age towards the end of his career was a shared passion for the University and the program he embodied. After a weekend sweep, that passion was never so evident than in the locker room and look of absolute joy on Red’s face in the huddle with the guys, singing The Victors. This is the source of one of my favorite Red Berenson moments. Michigan won the 2015 GLI, and the team had just completed “singing the song,” when a rap song was put on by one of the players in the room (I believe it was Up on a Tuesday). Red with a big smile on his face, turned to Michael Downing and asked him – “What does that mean?” Downing tried to explain but couldn’t come up with the words – he might has well have been speaking a different language to Red.
A hockey legend, and the ultimate Michigan Man, I’ll never forget the three years I had the opportunity to spend around his program.