Gordon “Red” Berenson retired as the U-M Ice Hockey head coach in April 2017 after 33 years at the helm. He now serves as an advisor to the athletic director, and in that role, Red is helping to raise funds for scholarships for U-M hockey players. U-M won 848 games while Red was coach, including the 1996 and 1998 NCAA championships. 73 of his players went on to play in the National Hockey League.
Red was born in Saskatchewan, Canada, and said he didn’t really know where Michigan was when he was recruited by Al Renfrew who was U-M coach at the time. He said he hitchhiked 1500 miles to get to Ann Arbor and rode with one nice family that drove him and another player most of the way to Chicago. In 1961 and 1962, he was an All-American. He graduated with a degree in Business Administration and later earned an MBA from U-M, too.
Following graduation, Red played in the NHL for 17 years with the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Rangers, the Detroit Red Wings and the St. Louis Blues. He scored 261 goals and had 397 assists, the most of any U-M alum. He retired in 1978 and coached in St. Louis and Buffalo before coming back to U-M as head coach. On December 12, 2018, Red will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Red was a very engaging speaker and told us many interesting stories. Here is a sample of some of the things he told the packed house:
- This year is the 50th anniversary of a game in which he scored six goals.
- Gordy Howe helped recruit him to U-M and they later played together on the Detroit Red Wings.
- He used his U-M business degree to negotiate a two-year contract with Montreal to start his NHL career for $20,000 – the minimum at the time was $7000 per year.
- Montreal got him a job at Molson’s in the off season, but it required so much beer tasting he decided he better look for a different job.
- He was on a Stanley Cup championship team in 1965.
- He had some interesting stories connected with an eight-game series the Canada National Team played against the U.S.S.R. National Team in 1972. Canada won the series despite some of the things the Russians did along the way. They had a reunion in 2017 and he and five other players had dinner with Vladimir Putin. John Bacon is writing a book about this series if you want to know more.
- Red was one of the first players in the NHL to wear a helmet.
Red has been married for 59 years. He has four children and eight grandchildren. He recently retired and enjoys traveling around the country in his Airstream travel trailer. Red seemed to be very proud of the Airstream and asked if anyone else had one. Canoeing is another one of his interests, and he still skates and plays hockey at Yost Ice Arena (with the appropriate age group).
Red was even gracious enough to sign autographs at the end of his presentation.