Sometimes you just can’t help it. In this stat-obsessed sports world, it’s far too easy to fall victim to a little milestone overkill.
A player moves up to 23rd on the list of career games with the Toronto Raptors? Good for him.
A coach wins his 20th road game against all opponents from the state of Mississippi? How amazing.
A player scores a goal, making him the top-scoring left winger whose last name starts with H of all time? Name a street after him.
It can get pretty ridiculous. In all the hullabaloo of streaks and career bests, it’s hard to know which numbers are actually noteworthy, and which are just public relations fodder.
But there are the milestones that we should stop for a moment and celebrate.
Fans at Yost Ice Arena Friday night got to witness one firsthand, as Michigan coach Red Berenson notched his 600th career victory as an NCAA coach.
Berenson, always classy and never flashy, downplayed the achievement.
He slid off the ice quickly and quietly after the final buzzer, even though the Yost crowd roared his name and the scoreboard flashed a congratulatory message.
At the press conference he walked in and set the game puck on the table.
“What’s that?” a reporter asked, hoping for an answer about what the game meant to the coach, how the win felt or at least something resembling reflection and nostalgia.
“That’s the puck,” Berenson said.
After an awkward silence and then some prodding, Berenson opened up a bit about his achievement – but only for a little more than 30 seconds.
“Anyway, that’s over” he said, and then dove right into game analysis, breaking down the scoring and players’ performances.
But even though the esteemed leader didn’t quite live it up following the game doesn’t mean the rest of us should let it pass by silently.
Reaching the 600-mark helps cement Berenson’s status – he is eighth on the all-time wins list – as an NCAA coaching great. What’s scary about that is that Berenson got into the coaching game late, following a successful NHL playing career. He still describes himself as a hockey player who happens to coach.
Most of the guys sitting near Berenson on the list had been coaching for years by the time Berenson returned to his alma mater for his NCAA coaching debut at age 44.
Now, with Berenson midway through his 23rd season as Michigan’s bench boss, people question how much longer he’ll go.
I get asked all the time if Berenson is ready to join his retired friends in Florida (who call him and ask the same thing, says Berenson). Perhaps even more importantly, I get asked if this guy in his late 60s is still capable of keeping the Wolverines in the upper echelon of college hockey.
To that I reply: Who got the Wolverines back into that top tier?
It was Berenson, filling Yost’s rafters with banners from two NCAA championships, nine Frozen Four appearances, nine CCHA regular-season titles and seven CCHA Tournament championships.
It’s not a fluke that Michigan is the winningest program over the last 15 years, or that a string of former Wolverines like Brendan Morrison and Marty Turco have made names for themselves in the NHL.
Why is Michigan a perennial preseason pick to be one of the top teams in the CCHA? It all starts behind the bench.
Yes, the players that compose the team definitely make up a big part of it. But players come and go, and Berenson is the one that’s always there, drawing them into the program and grooming them from their first practice to their last.
“I’ve been lucky health-wise, and even mentally,” Berenson said last week. “I’m still excited about our team and our players and our games.”
It’s obvious from the way Berenson’s face lights up when he talks about his favorite part of being a college hockey coach: More than anything, he loves helping players develop.
As long as he has that enthusiasm, Berenson belongs at the helm of Michigan hockey. Because when he has that, No. 700 doesn’t seem too far away.
– Colvin hopes she can skate as well as Red Berenson when she turns 67. She can be reached at email@example.com.