APRIL 7, 1969
In the Spring of 1969, Gordon (Red) Berenson was not the most talented player on the St. Louis Blues. That distinction was held by team goalies Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall, who would share the Vezina Trophy at season's end after leading the Blues to a 37-25-14 record and the NHL West Division title. But as Berenson has discovered time and again during his nearly four decades in hockey, talent isn't the only thing that gets you places. That year his timely scoring and catchy nickname—the Red Baron—landed him on the cover of the April 7 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in the midst of a St. Louis hot streak. Last year his coaching skill took Michigan to its first NCAA hockey championship. "I've found that a lot of hockey is about development," says Berenson, 57, his famous red hair now thinning. "You're not always looking for the kid with the most talent as much as the kid who's going to give everything he has to be a better player. He's the type who wins."
That's also a good description of Berenson, whose NHL career spanned 17 seasons and four teams. He won a Stanley Cup (with the 1964-65 Montreal Canadiens), set a league record—he is the only player on a visiting team ever to score six goals in a game—and finished with 658 career points. He turned to coaching in '79 and guided St. Louis to the Stanley Cup quarterfinals in '81, only to be fired the next season. Berenson resurfaced as an assistant coach for the Buffalo Sabres but then, in 1983, his alma mater came calling. Red, who had led Michigan to third place in the '62 NCAAs, took his son Gordie on a college visit to Ann Arbor. Twice before, Wolverines athletic director Don Canham had offered Red the coaching job, but this time Red bit and Michigan ended up snagging both Berensons. "I realized it might never be offered again," says Red. "To me it wasn't just coaching hockey. It was coaching Michigan hockey."
Actually, it was coaching bad hockey. Michigan had gone 28-44-1 in its previous two seasons. "But I knew what I was coming into," says Berenson. "And the rewards." The Wolverines are now enjoying their 10th straight winning season; at week's end Michigan was 25-1-3 and ranked No. 1 in the nation. What most gratifies Berenson is that his team has succeeded through hard work and sacrifice. "There's no comparison between winning the Cup and winning an NCAA title," he says. "The college championship gave me a lot more satisfaction."