|Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey
Roughly ten years ago, as I was writing this post, I told Geoff that I did not know what I was going to do when it was time to do the same for Red. I suspected it would come along sooner rather than later, but like so many of my suspicions in 2007, I was very wrong. To put this in perspective for me, in the time between that post and this one, I have met, got engaged to, and married to my wife, and we have a son in kindergarten. And yet that is less than one-third of Red's career behind the bench at Michigan.
Red Berenson did not invent Michigan hockey, that's Vic Heyliger and Al Renfrew. But Red did save Michigan hockey, first with the Regina Regiment, then by coming home to Ann Arbor in 1984. He was hired by Don Canham, and he, slowly but surely, brought Michigan back from the abyss. He won 848 games in the NCAA, fourth most in college hockey, and starting in 1990-91 when Michigan posted a 34-win season and its made first trip to the NCAAs in 14 years, an event they would not miss for the next 22 seasons, Michigan began a streak of 8 straight 30-win seasons, with 6 Frozen Fours and 2 national titles, Michigan's eighth and ninth all time. And in all of this, in the down seasons, after the Hunwick fueled miracle run in 2011, after Mel left, and we wondered when would this moment come. Then came last year, when Michigan hockey was fun again and four NHL-caliber players were lighting the lamp and Michigan won the conference tournament, there was the notion of maybe the old magic had been recaptured, let Red have one more run this year and then hand the reins off after one more season. But, wishing doesn't make it so, and Michigan Hockey Summer took its toll, as it is wont to do.
It's difficult to tell a legend that it's time to move on, which is why legends very rarely end their tenures on the highest notes. Coaches, especially, generally want to believe that they guys they recruited can do it for them one more time, that the lows were not a new normal, but a blip, and when you've had so many great years, you think you can find your fastball again. But it was not meant to be this year. Michigan staggered and stumbled every which was during the 2016-17 campaign, never looking sharp, never looking crisp on the simple things.
Through all of this, I looked for one signal on the moment: My mother. My mother adores Red. My love of hockey is matrilinear, I got it from my mom, who got it from her mother. My grandmother was obsessed with Gordie Howe, my mom adored Red. Even five years ago, when I would talk to my mom about the possibility of Red retiring, she would say something like "No, no, he's a young seventy-something." (I will not dissent, everyone seems to agree on this point. He is still in great shape.) But as I was talking with her this morning, about the final game at Joe Louis Arena, and she said to me "I saw Red at the game last night and he looks old. Red has never looked old." This is true, Red has never looked old, always classic. But I think that moment last night, it allowed my mom to finally conceive that the coach that had always been her reason for loving Michigan hockey, and passing that love on to me, could finally be riding off into the sunset, and it would be OK. When so many things are changing in the world, the desire for constancy is understandable. But time marches on, torches are passed.
Red has given me, on the whole, more joy as a fan than any other coach. Not Bo, not Scotty, not Sparky, not Babs, not Harbaugh, not even Coach Carr. I will always appreciate Red for that simple fact. Michigan hockey has also given me more heartbreak, but that is part of the package. Being at Yost, watching those teams zip up and down the ice, playing good old fashioned firewagon hockey, and filling the faithful with an innate belief that Michigan was in every game they played. For most of my formative years as a Michigan hockey fan, that wasn't just an article of faith, it felt like it was sincerely possible. Red was the architect of that feeling, of those teams, of those moments. We should all be so lucky to have that as fans. #thankyoured