“This guy has never had any coaching (at the University of Michigan). Jack just did what he wanted.”

Michigan is the worst. For hockey people, if you’ve got a choice between a kid — all things being equal — one’s going to Michigan and one’s going to Boston University, you all want your player (going to Boston University). Michigan’s players — (head coach) Red (Berenson) doesn’t coach. It’s ‘do what you want.’ He gets the best players in the country.”

— Los Angeles Kings President and General Manager Dean Lombardi to blogger Gann Matsuda at Hockeytalk.biz, on Kings defenseman Jack Johnson and what Lombardi considers a lack of coaching at Michigan under Red Berenson.

Red Berenson doesn’t need me to defend him. But I’m going to, regardless.

His 26 years at Michigan have been memorable: 687 wins, 19 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, 10 Frozen Four appearances, two national titles. After a rough four-year stretch with John Giordano at the helm, Berenson has, quite frankly, put the Wolverines back on the map.

He has turned Michigan into a national power.

You know what you’re going to get when you send your kid to play hockey at Michigan for Red Berenson. His impact on the Wolverine hockey team is comparable that of Bo Schembechler on the Michigan football program.

L.A. Kings President and General Manager Dean Lombardi is in his fourth year with the Kings. And, granted, his evaluation of Jack Johnson as an unruly player may be founded. Johnson may not be as refined of a defenseman as Lombardi would have liked out of the third overall pick in the 2005 NHL entry draft. But that doesn’t open the door for him to blame Berenson and Johnson’s two years at Michigan.

The Ann Arbor native has 40 points in 165 games over the past three seasons with the Kings. After finishing second to last and dead last in the West the two previous seasons, Los Angeles has returned to contention in the Western conference and is currently ranked sixth. And despite his supposed lack of discipline, Johnson will be one of two Wolverines playing for the United States hockey team in next month’s Olympic games.

If Johnson were truly as bad as Lombardi suggests, then why did he trade for him in the first place?

And who says Johnson wouldn’t have played with the same attitude if he had gone to another school, like Boston University perhaps?

Even Johnson himself openly disagreed with his G.M.’s comments.

“I’m a Michigan man,” Johnson told the Los Angeles Times after a win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. “I’m very proud of it. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

“Michigan has produced more NHL players than any other school,” he said. “Even the U.S. Development Program, people rip that and they just don’t know anything about it and don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Johnson may be a bit unruly, and his playing style during his time at Michigan may have been cavalier, but that doesn’t make the Michigan hockey program “the worst,” as Lombardi claims.

The Wolverines have produced 16 first-round picks in the history of the NHL Entry Draft, 15 of whom were selected during Berenson’s tenure at Michigan. Sure, five of those 15 were selected before they stepped foot on campus in Ann Arbor. But I would be willing to bet that each one of those prodigies was better for his time at Michigan.

The Phoenix Coyotes, in particular, haven’t been reluctant to pick players from the Berenson tree. The NHL franchise selected Kevin Porter (Rd. 4) and Chad Kolarik (Rd. 7) in the 2004 draft, Chris Summers (Rd. 1) in the 2006 draft and Chris Brown (Rd. 2), in the 2009 draft. Even former Michigan goaltender Al Montoya is currently in the Coyotes’ system.

“It’s a very good program,” Coyotes Assistant General Manager Brad Treliving said. “And the kids at Michigan, I don’t think, are different from any other kids. They all make their adjustment to the pro game. There are always things that can be learned and improved upon. Our experience has been that those are fine young men, and it’s a very good program and they get exposed to top caliber competition.”

Treliving isn’t the only one who thinks Berenson knows what he’s doing. Edmonton Oilers Assistant GM and Director of Hockey Operations and Legal Affairs Rick Olczyk wasn’t involved in the Oilers’ draft process when they last selected a Wolverine in 2005. But he, too, notes Berenson’s impact on the NHL.

“I think coach Berenson has a reputation,” Olczyk said. “He has been here a long time, has been very successful. He gets a lot out of his players and they go off to be very good pro players. So in terms of what he does, he has done a tremendous job with this program. And I think he’s going to continue to do that with all of the student athletes that (are) under his wing.”

That doesn’t sound like a negative assessment of the NHL players that Michigan produces. Lombardi, for some reason, felt it was necessary to make the Michigan hockey program a scapegoat for Johnson’s lack of development. Anyone can see that his unreasonable diatribe against Berenson and his program is way off base.

When asked about Lombardi’s comments, Berenson declined to comment after Michigan’s 2-0 win over Ferris State on Friday.

“No, I don’t think we need to worry about that today,” Berenson said as a smile crept across his face.

“You can write your own story about that,” he said as he walked out of the press conference.

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