Just like his dad: Michigan ties come full circle for Lockwood family

Wednesday, October 9, 2019 - 7:19pm

Senior forward Will Lockwood and his dad Joe both played hockey at Michigan.

Senior forward Will Lockwood and his dad Joe both played hockey at Michigan. Buy this photo
Alexis Rankin/Daily

Will Lockwood says his dad never told him much about his history at Michigan.

It’s hard to believe, given the kind of history Joe Lockwood made. As a freshman in January 1985, the first season of the Red Berenson era, Joe scored one of the most unexpected, historic goals ever to find twine at Yost Ice Arena. 

Berenson didn’t have any expectations that his team, his group that had lost 9-0 to Ferris State the previous night, would even be able to play closely with the professional Russian team, Spartak Moscow, let alone beat them.

The fans filling Yost didn’t have any expectations, either. They knew the Michigan hockey team was having a rough start to Berenson’s first season, but they were excited to see the Russians play their team — especially at a time in American history when beating the Russians meant more than almost anything.

Even the players, most of whom had marched down to athletic director Don Canham’s office the previous year to air their grievances about the coaching staff and petition John Giordano’s firing, didn’t have much of a hope that they’d win.

“You’re just hoping you can stay in the game, quite literally,” Joe said. “We were excited for the game. It was a fun game to play in but having come off of a road trip back from Ferris with that — it was a devastating weekend.”

And Spartak, which came over to play a series of exhibition matches against U.S. colleges, was expecting a light, easy win over a historic program that was struggling to find its footing in a new era. Giordano had been the one to agree to the game, so Berenson had no idea what he was getting himself and his team into.

When Berenson learned that Spartak had come to the U.S. to play three schools — Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota — and it had already beaten the other two, he knew his team was in trouble. 

Spartak had a day off in Ann Arbor to wait for the Wolverines, who were across the state in Big Rapids. The three-hour bus ride back home, where the Russians waited was always going to be long — especially after losing by nine goals on Saturday. Then the bus broke down, and a long night got even longer.

“We finally got home sometime in the middle of the night and the next night, we had to play the Russians at home,” Berenson said. “I was really down about how we had played at Ferris last night. Give the players credit, I mean, they bounced back and they were fired up.”

As the game got underway, it became clear Spartak wasn’t going to run away with it, as previously assumed. Michigan came ready to play, and the Wolverines weren’t going down without a fight.

“We stayed in the game and there were some big turning points in the game,” Berenson said. “One of them, I’ll never forget. We had a big hit from Mike Neff, he hit one of the Russians — like really hit him — at center ice. That seemed to jump start our team a little bit and the crowd.”

The crowd — mostly made up of local Ann Arborites because the students were still on winter break — provided a lift of energy to the team. And with it, Michigan provided a lift of energy right back with every save from goaltender Mark Chiamp, every hit and every goal.

“The Russians seemed like they were just playing with us,” Berenson said. “They knew they could beat us. Mark Chiamp was standing on his head. ... If the puck missed him, it hit the post or the crossbar, and it stayed out.”

Added Joe: “They definitely took us very lightly, and that didn’t work out so well for them.”

A game that was expected to be an easy win for Spartak turned into a raucous, back-and-forth affair. 

With 30 seconds left, the game was tied at four goals apiece. Defenseman Doug May blocked a shot at the blueline, and Joe pounced on the rebound. A quick glance up revealed open ice in front of him — the kind of breakaway at a key moment of the game that every hockey player dreams of.

Nearly 35 years later, Berenson and Lockwood still remember almost every detail of the goal that lifted a struggling American college team over an all-star Russian team in the depths of the Cold War.

“(Joe) knew he only had one move, but he knew the Russians wouldn’t know what it was,” Berenson said. “He fired that puck in the top corner like he’d done it a thousand times and the place went nuts.”

Joe Lockwood celebrates his game-winning goal against Spartak.

Joe Lockwood celebrates his game-winning goal against Spartak. Buy this photo
Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

If this were a movie, Joe Lockwood’s story would continue with him becoming a star for the Wolverines and having a long NHL career, all sparked by that one goal to beat the Russians. While this isn’t a movie, as the years go on, the story of the Lockwood family and Michigan hockey comes closer than most do. 

Throughout their time at Michigan, Joe was good friends with Gordie Berenson — Red’s son. After graduation, he stayed in the area, and the relationship with the Berenson family grew.

Joe and Gordie have remained friends for decades, through the transitions of becoming full-fledged adults and starting families. When Joe’s eldest son, Will, was born in 1998, it was only a matter of time before the next generations of the Berenson and Lockwood families forged a bond.

Having grown up in a Michigan family himself — both of Joe’s parents attended the University — Joe wanted to raise his children as fans of the Wolverines. They didn’t go to many hockey games at first, but as Gordie’s son, Blake, and Will got older, they became regulars around the rinks where Michigan was playing. It was there that the seeds were planted in Will.

“We would go to the games together all the time with our dads,” Will said. “We started going around (age) eight or nine, so that’s kind of where it started.”

Throughout Will’s childhood, Joe introduced his son to elements of his own youth — everything from taking the kids to Michigan hockey games to building a rink in the backyard because that’s what Joe’s father always did.

This led to Will first lacing up a pair of skates at only three years old. From the beginning, there were signs that hockey might be in his future.

“My dad used to put out the wood panels and a big sheet of (plastic) and fill it up with water,” Joe said. “There was a kid in our neighborhood whose dad also did that, and we’d have little home and away games. It was really cool, so I thought, ‘For sure I’m building a rink when I have kids.’ I love it. … (Will) was three years old and we had a little rink in the backyard. He just took to it right away. His other siblings would skate too, but he took to it very naturally.”

Will says Joe never pushed him to play and never forced anything, but it’s clear that the younger Lockwood wanted to be just like his dad.

When Will started to play organized hockey, Joe coached him for the first few years. But as soon as things started to get serious, Joe realized that Will would be better off without his dad being the typical overbearing sports parent.

“I didn’t want to get in his way,” Joe said. “I didn’t want to coach him. I didn’t want there to be the friction between (us), being too hard on him. I just felt he would be better off without me coaching him. Just to be a good dad, as opposed to a dad/coach, guy who yells at him on the way home. I wanted to let him play it out, and he did it. He stepped up.”

Joe never played in the NHL, but by age 15, his son caught the attention of the coaches at the U.S. National Team Development Program. Neither Will nor his father expected the invitation, much less the phone call that said Will had made the team. But he did, cementing himself as one of the top juniors in the country.

“He did not want to play on that team if he was going to be one of the kids that was going to be not used as much,” Joe said. “He was reluctant to sign up with them for that reason.”

As it turned out, Will’s two years at the NTDP were spent with players like Clayton Keller, now entering his third NHL season, and Adam Fox, who is now with the New York Rangers. While Keller led the team with 107 points in 62 games and was a headliner on a deep team, Will also made his mark.

His 33 points in 59 games finished sixth on the team, and after his U18 year, the Vancouver Canucks selected him in the third round of the 2016 NHL Draft.

After being unsure if he would have a role at the NTDP and getting a push from his dad to join the team, Will played his way onto the cusp of everything he’d ever wanted.

“My philosophy with him is always just go where you’re wanted,” Joe said. “Go where you’re wanted, because you don’t want to go play with a team just chasing a trophy. If the coach doesn’t like you, you’re not gonna be a large part of it. I think he’s adopted that philosophy and it’s served him pretty well.”

The gamble Will took on joining the NTDP paid off. He went where he was wanted, and it took him to where he always wanted to be.

Senior forward Will Lockwood first started playing hockey when he was three years old.

Senior forward Will Lockwood first started playing hockey when he was three years old. Buy this photo
Courtesy of the Lockwood family

In the sixth grade, Will’s teacher asked him and his classmates to write letters to themselves in 10 years. One of the questions to answer was, if you could have a dream come true, what would it be?

To Will, the answer was simple.

“I want to play hockey at the University of Michigan on a scholarship,” Will wrote. 

A few years later, the first steps toward that dream were set in motion. Berenson always kept a closer eye on Will than he would other players because of the family relationship, and once Will made the NTDP, his recruiting process was set in motion.

“It was gratifying to see Will make the development team,” Berenson said. “I don’t know if Joe thought he would make it, but it really came down to tryouts and measuring players against (each other). These are the best players for their age in the United States, overall, across the country. Will held his own with those players.

“As soon as we saw that — you know, these are the kids we want at Michigan. Kids from Michigan, kids that really understand what Michigan is all about, and in particular, a kid whose dad had played here.”

When the time came for Will to make an official visit to Yost, it was all but a formality. He’d been around campus and Yost his entire life, and he knew that Michigan was home. Berenson met him outside the doors to the rink and took him up to the locker room — the one place Will hadn’t seen yet.

That was all Will needed to make his decision. He committed on the spot.

“Red and I both knew,” Will said. “We were kind of on the same page. I think he wanted me to come to school here and for me, it was what I always wanted to do, so it was a pretty short process.”

And while playing for the Wolverines was always Will’s dream, neither he, nor Joe, nor Berenson ever imagined that he would play under the same man that coached his father more than 30 years prior.

In the 2015-16 season, Michigan went 25-8-5 and lost to North Dakota in the regional final of the NCAA Tournament. It was Berenson’s 32nd year behind the bench for Michigan, and many expected it to be his last. People typically want to go out on top, and finishing one game shy of the Frozen Four is almost as good as it gets.

Will was in his last year at the NTDP when the Wolverines went on that run, and three of his teammates — Nick Pastujov, Luke Martin and Griffin Luce — were committed to Michigan as well. None of them knew what to expect, but they all held onto hope that Berenson would return for one more year so they could play for the legendary coach.

Defying all expectations, as Berenson is known to do, he decided to extend his coaching career just a bit longer.

It was the final piece of the puzzle to make Will’s wildest dreams come true.

“It was pretty special,” Will said. “I think we all cherish the year we had with Red because he’s such a great coach and not just a Michigan hockey legend but a hockey legend in general. To play for him and develop a relationship that my dad and I share was special.”

Once Will got on campus, it was clear that he was going to make an impact right away. He scored his first goal in the first game of the 2016-17 season, and he had two more by the end of October.

Looking back, Berenson thinks Will’s love for Michigan is what made him successful from day one.

“He was an impact player,” Berenson said. “There’s no question. When Will Lockwood put the Michigan jersey on, he was 10 feet tall.”

But it wasn’t always so idyllic.

Will’s physical, verging-on-reckless play left him dealing with recurrent shoulder injuries throughout his freshman year. In his sophomore season, a solid first half was thrown to the side when he suffered an injury to that same shoulder at the World Junior Championships and required season-ending surgery.

Mentally, spending two of his first three years at Michigan dealing with injuries weighed on him, and coming back from surgery took longer than anyone expected. Will was healthy for the beginning of his junior year, but it took half the season before he was back to his old self.

But once he returned to form, he was one of the Wolverines’ most important players, leading the team in goals with 16. Will heavily considered foregoing his senior year and signing with the Canucks after his strong junior campaign, and he consulted Joe about what to do. In the end, as it always has, his heart pulled him back to Michigan.

At the end of March, he informed Vancouver of his decision to return for his final year. Three weeks later, Will was voted the 100th captain in Michigan hockey history.

“It kind of took me a little bit to soak it in and think about the history of Michigan hockey and some of the captains that have come before me and things like that,” Will said. “Once it did, it was absolutely surreal. It’s always a special thing when you’re voted a leader on your team by your teammates. It just is a great honor to hold.”

Now, 35 years after Joe first donned a Michigan hockey sweater, Will, who spent his childhood idolizing his father, will spend one last year with the block ‘M’ across his chest.

Their shared name, Lockwood, will be on his shoulders, and he’ll wear the number 10 on his back.

Just like his dad.