You’ve probably heard about Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson’s phenomenal six-goal game with the St. Louis Blues in 1968. But what about the record-breaking season of one of his assistants, who averaged over five goals per game en route to a 413-goal campaign?
“They didn’t even keep those stats when I was a kid,” Berenson said.
About nine years after that magical season, when Berenson began to recruit Brian Wiseman to join the Michigan program, he couldn’t avoid hearing the legend of the Canadian center who went from typical adolescent to national prodigy.
Wiseman, now a Michigan assistant coach, was 10 years old at the time. And no, his opponents weren’t half his age. In fact, after Wiseman — then a rising star in the hockey-hungry town of Bothwell, Ontario — rewrote the record books, he joined his older brother’s team, who’s three years older.
“There was no secret about Brian Wiseman when we recruited him,” Berenson said. “He was gifted all the way up. … We knew this kid was prolific.”
The winter of 1981 is one Wiseman won’t ever forget.
The national media probably came calling at about the time Wiseman scored 17 times in a single game. Believe it or not, he wasn’t shooting on an empty net all night.
Local papers took notice first. But it wasn’t long before Don Cherry wanted to meet the youngster. So Wiseman went to Toronto for Hockey Night in Canada — a wide-eyed boy excited to meet some of hockey’s best, and viewers anxious to meet a kid with a knack for scoring goals.
“It was quite the interesting season, to say the least, with some of the production that I was able to achieve,” Wiseman said. “I was a 10-year-old in some different situations that a normal 10-year-old wouldn’t be in.”
Wiseman adjusted to life as a child star. He couldn’t comprehend the novelty of it all, doing his best to look as comfortable and answer as professionally in front of the camera as a kid in fourth grade possibly could. Wiseman’s penmanship also had to adapt to his new lifestyle — autographs were just part of the gig.
But the highlight of the season wasn’t appearing in a national hockey magazine or even meeting the eccentric Cherry. It was when Wiseman met the man whose record he broke. You may have heard of him — Wayne Gretzky. “The Great One” once scored 378 goals in a season. It was a novice-level record never to be broken — or so everyone thought. But Wiseman made it look like child’s play, and Gretzky had to meet the kid that left him in his dust.
While Gretzky was busy winning Stanley Cups and MVP awards, he took time off to meet Wiseman. Wiseman can’t remember any specific words of wisdom Gretzky had to pass along, but said Gretzky didn’t have any hard feelings over having his record snatched away. The meeting is something that Wiseman will remember forever.
“(He) flew to my hometown for a baseball charity event,” Wiseman said. “I was then introduced to him and we had some time together.”
His teammates also reaped the benefits of playing alongside the prodigy. An opposing team, eager to test itself against the scoring prowess of Wiseman, flew his team out to New Brunswick for a series.
“We did a lot of different things because of … ,” Wiseman hesitated, “my goal production, I guess.”
When you’re 10, you don’t understand why the world is the way it is. To Wiseman, he was just another kid — the phone at home just rang a little more with media requests and he went off to press conferences while others were finishing up homework.
“You just … do it,” Wiseman said. “Answer a couple questions — probably not intelligently, obviously, as a 10-year old. It was kind of fun. … But it was obviously not your normal 10-year-old going to the rink to play hockey.”
Obviously. And though players eventually “caught up,” as Wiseman says, he remained a good enough scorer to catch Berenson’s eye. Many undersized scorers go unrecruited, but Wiseman was a special kind of sniper.
Today, he leaves the autograph signing to the athletes he coaches and the press conferences to Berenson. But the childhood he enjoyed, along with the 413 goals he notched that season, remain extraordinary.
“I did some good things when I was younger,” Wiseman said sheepishly.
Yeah, 413 of them.