Dickie Moore Hockey and an NCAA Tournament berth

Sunday, March 13, 2016 - 6:35pm

Red Berenson's team played "Dickie Moore" hockey against Penn State.

Red Berenson's team played "Dickie Moore" hockey against Penn State. Buy this photo
Sam Mousigian/Daily

 

National Hockey League legend Dickie Moore was, by all accounts, a gamer.

The forward played hurt, was happy to scrap and lived for the chance at a big goal. Moore won the Art Ross trophy twice, was named an NHL All-Star six times and won six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens.

This week, Michigan coach Red Berenson was reminded of Dickie, his old teammate.

With his team trending in the wrong direction after a pair of ugly losses at Ohio State, Berenson was tasked with showing his players — none of whom have ever played an NCAA Tournament game — what it means to be a postseason contender.

The message was simple: the Wolverines needed to win games, whether it be by finesse, grit or luck.

Winning games was what Moore did best.

“Dickie Moore was one of my teammates in Montreal,” Berenson said. “I was a rookie and he was a veteran. And he could hardly skate. His legs and his knees were bad — talk about a broken-down player. But when the playoffs started, he became a man amongst men. And he was no bigger than anybody, but could he ever play hockey when it was crunch time.

“He made plays, he was fearless. I don’t know what it was. Ask anyone that played in that era, but Dickie Moore was the guy.

“Then about six years later, I’m in St. Louis and we bring Dickie Moore out of retirement. Scotty Bowman is the coach. And Dickie Moore literally leads our team in the playoffs again, right to the Stanley Cup final — as a more broken-down, older player.

“What a great guy. And the one thing that I told our team that Dickie used to say, ‘You can’t buy the fun.’ ... And he just loved it. And you can’t buy the fun — it’s true. You can’t buy the fun. The camaraderie, the winning and the group and the game — you can’t buy things like that.

“We’re having a little Dickie Moore fun right now.”

At some point this season, nearly every player on Michigan’s roster has stepped up to salvage a win. But against No. 14 Penn State this weekend, the Wolverines were in rare form.

Saturday night, junior forward Tyler Motte had 13 shots on net while his line mate, freshman forward Kyle Connor, added two goals and an assist to his Hobey Baker résumé. Superstar sophomore defender Zach Werenski played his best weekend of the season by far, controlling the puck in the back and recording four points, 10 shots and four blocks in the series.

Senior forwards Boo Nieves and Justin Selman tallied eight points between them in a final send-off from Yost Ice Arena, while senior netminder Steve Racine recorded 56 saves on the weekend.

Berenson finished off what could be his last series at Yost with his team firing on all cylinders, outscoring Penn State 13-2 and locking up an NCAA tournament berth.

“We haven’t played in one NCAA game, and we’ve struggled even in the CCHA our freshman year and then in the Big Ten Tournament,” Nieves said. “(Berenson) is definitely a guy you work hard for. A guy that, whatever happens, you want to make sure that you end it on the right note for him.”

Michigan’s return to the NCAA Tournament after making the trip in 22 consecutive seasons — the longest streak in the history of college hockey — feels like a final hurrah for the senior class, and a triumphant reaffirmation for the Wolverines’ legendary coach.

For a few years, Michigan seemed to be caught up in the narrative of not missing the NCAA Tournament. This weekend, the Wolverines played like postseason contenders — with audacity, a love for winning and a little bit of Dickie Moore fun.

Moore lost a battle to prostate cancer in December of 2015. In his obituary, legendary Montreal sportswriter and close friend Red Fisher tried to capture the essence of the man, writing, “Winning for his team was what he loved; losing was what he hated.”

That was the message Berenson brought to his locker room. The postseason is here, and isn’t that the perfect time for a gamer to become a hero?