Lost amid all the trophies and banners along the concourse at Yost Ice Arena, a Sports Illustrated with Red Berenson on the cover in a St. Louis Blues uniform is inconspicuously displayed. It reminds people of the days when Berenson was not a coach pushing the Wolverines to the top of the CCHA standings, but rather when Berenson was the “Red Baron,” one of the National Hockey League’s first expansion stars as the league’s transcontinental movement began.
The legend of the “Red Baron” grew 34 years ago today when Red Berenson scored six goals for the St. Louis Blues in Philadelphia against the Flyers, their bitter rival. Berenson was the second player to accomplish the feat since the Great Depression and just one player, Darryl Sittler of Toronto in 1976, has done it since.
But despite the rarity of the performance, Berenson’s players know little about it.
“I don’t think they know a lot,” said Michigan associate head coach Mel Pearson, who was 10 when it happened. “I think their parents know a lot and I think they can identify more than our players.”
Berenson had become the first Canadian to enter the NHL straight from college hockey in 1961, but didn’t really become a star until he was traded from the New York Rangers to the expansion Blues in 1967. Berenson scored 22 goals and helped the Blues defeat the Flyers to go to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first year. Berenson played well at the beginning of the 1968 season, but had just scored three goals in the season’s first 11 games.
Then on Nov. 7, the Blues traveled to Philadelphia to play in the hostile Spectrum. Berenson scored first late in the opening period, when he went around Flyer defensemen Ed Van Impe, and circled the net before hitting the top shelf. Afterward, Red said to himself, “Thank God I can still score.”
And score he did. In the second half of the second period he scored four goals, tying the NHL record for most goals in a period. At that point the Philadelphia crowd, which had its hearts broken by this same Blues team just a few months earlier, was on its feet. Then in the game’s final minutes with the score 7-0, Berenson took a shot from the top of the circle into the top corner of the net. The crowd gave Berenson a standing ovation.
“If anyone could do it in that era, it would have been Red,” said Gary Sabourin, who was the team’s second leading scorer behind Berenson that year. “He was one of the premier skaters in the league.”
But while he had earned one of the greatest feats in NHL history, Berenson still acted like the team’s modest captain.
“To him it was just another day in the office,” said Terry Crisp, who scored the sixth Blues goal of that game and was treated to a resounding number of boos. “Red is so quiet, so unassuming in that area.”
Blues coach Scotty Bowman wanted to send Berenson out on the ice for one final shift, but Red declined, as he was more than pleased with his performance and the Blues up 8-0.
“The good thing about the goals, when I looked at them, is that they were all clean cut goals,” Berenson said this week. “There were no rebounds, or deflections, or powerplay goals. They were just good goals.”
To this day, no one has scored more goals in a period or in a game.
“The only thing I’m surprised about is the fact that no one else has done it,” Berenson said.
But except when he tells stories that are applicable to something he wants to get across with the Wolverines, Berenson doesn’t talk about his performance that much or any of his other accolades as a player.
“He doesn’t like to bring up his stats, he’s not that type of person,” Michigan captain Jed Ortmeyer said. “He’s a team guy, and he throws in things here and there that will help the team.”
On that night in 1968, the “Red Baron” certainly helped his team.