Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Berenson isn't just a U-M treasure

Coach Red Berenson has quietly and methodically built the Michigan hockey program into one of the nation’s elite.
For 27 seasons, the former U-M player and former Red Wing has been behind the Wolverines’ bench, in his signature blue blazer and sweater, turning out entertaining teams that skate with purpose, and send their share of players to the NHL.
Yes, Division I college hockey is a “niche” sport that isn’t as popular as football and basketball.
Don’t let that diminish what Berenson has done at Ann Arbor.
Consider that, in order to make Michigan a national power, and keep the Wolverines a feared program, Berenson also has to maintain U-M as an elite program in this state.
That’s not a simple task with programs like Michigan State, Lake Superior State and Western Michigan on the scene, and with neighbor-state teams like Ohio State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame close enough to have an impact.
Berenson’s Wolverines (28-10-4) skate Thursday night in an NCAA tournament semifinal against North Dakota.
Michigan, which won national championships in 1996 and 1998 under Berenson, is in the NCAA tournament for the 21st consecutive season.
That’s a noteworthy run, no matter how small or large a niche college hockey has carved for itself.
Michigan’s record was under .500 in each of Berenson’s first three seasons as coach.
In 1987-88, the Wolverines were 22-19-0, and they’ve had a winning record every season since, behind such future NHL players as Mike Cammalleri (Montreal), Jack Johnson (Los Angeles) and Mike Knuble (Washington).
Top-seeded North Dakota (32-8-3) figures to be a formidable opponent for U-M at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul.
Whether another  national championship is in Michigan’s immediate future is anyone’s guess.
But this we know: Berenson is 71 years old and, even though he has two years remaining on his U-M contract, the future is guaranteed to no one.
Berenson is not just a University of Michigan treasure. He is a state of Michigan treasure.
His kind doesn’t skate into our lives every day.


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