Notebook: Berenson vows to return another season, upperclassmen ponder the future

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By Jeremy Summitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 23, 2014

Michigan coach Red Berenson contemplated retirement last season after missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 22 years.

Sunday, after it was confirmed his team would miss the tournament for a second consecutive year, retirement wasn’t so much on his mind. Instead, Berenson confirmed he’d return to the bench for the 2014-15 campaign.

But another rocky season has Berenson contemplating the future. With two years left on his contract and his 75th birthday looming Dec. 8, the longtime coach knows his days at the helm are numbered.

“I’m getting closer,” Berenson said. “I can’t handle losing. I can’t handle a team underachieving. That’s the most disappointing part, and this team definitely underachieved.”

After sustaining numerous heart-wrenching losses during the final third of the year — none more tantalizing than the three to lowly Penn State — anyone familiar with college hockey knows Michigan fell short of expectations. Berenson said that all starts with the coaching staff.

But only so much blame can be placed on himself and his assistants. More so, turnover-laden hockey and an anemic offense shoulder much of the shortcomings throughout the year.

Berenson is unquestionably one of the great minds in college hockey, and he has been for a long time. What matters for the program, and essentially his program is that a brief hiatus from two decades of national prominence isn’t enough to push the legendary coach away from his passion.

LEFTIES LEAVING: Sunday, Berenson hinted at the possibility that junior forwards Phil Di Giuseppe and Alex Guptill could bolt toward the National Hockey League this spring. As two integral parts of the Wolverines’ offense, Di Giuseppe and Guptill combined for 25 of the team’s 107 goals this season, and 49 of 281 points.

The Dallas Stars drafted Guptill in 2010, and the Carolina Hurricanes selected Di Giuseppe in 2012. While nothing is certain, Berenson doesn’t suspect any other non-seniors will be leaving the program before next season.

Developments involving players leaving early for the professional ranks don’t always come to fruition as they probably should. Berenson said some NHL teams are up front about their intentions involving college players, while others might not be.

“It’s not done face to face; it’s not done up front,” Berenson said. “It’s done before the fact, and then I find out that (an NHL team) has already made plans for our players.”

Still, this week should be the time Berenson finds out about the future of Di Giuseppe and Guptill. Last year, the Wolverines lost defensemen Jacob Trouba and Jon Merrill to the Winnipeg Jets and the New Jersey Devils, respectively.

EMPHASIS ON EDUCATION: When Luke Moffatt came into Berenson’s office Sunday morning to discuss his future, he told the senior forward not to screw it up.

That is, don’t screw up his progress toward a degree from the Business school, and follow Berenson’s path from 1962. That spring, the Montreal Canadiens signed Berenson after the organization’s general manager drove him from Ann Arbor to Boston on St. Patrick’s Day. After playing that same day, Berenson told the team he had to go back to Michigan to take his finals. They looked at him like he was crazy.

“I told the NHL team what I was going to do,” Berenson said. “And that’s 50 years ago, when the NHL was the dream of every kid and there were only six teams. You felt like you had died and gone to heaven if you played in the NHL. You’d play for nothing, but still, school was important to me, and it better be important to you.”

He expressed that he disliked that Trouba and Merrill “dropped the ball” on school after last season. However, Berenson says he’s still in contact with those players in hopes to iron out their progress toward a degree.

Berenson said Moffatt is the team’s best student and wanted to remind him hockey shouldn’t be what stands in the way from academic success. Moffatt will head to Cleveland to play for the Colorado Avalanche’s AHL affiliate before returning to Ann Arbor to graduate in May.

Meanwhile, Berenson still emphasizes graduating to the rest of his seniors, including Mac Bennett and Derek DeBlois. Both players said they’d be in contact with their agents this week about their future hockey careers. Bennett is tied to the Canadiens, while DeBlois is still an undrafted free agent.