Berenson always could skate, pass and shoot; in fact, he was considered one of the finest prospects in the Montreal chain until he made the apparent mistake of accepting a scholarship to the University of Michigan. "As far as the Canadiens were concerned, Red was going to waste four of the most critical years in his development," says Bowman. "They didn't want him traipsing off to play hockey in the States. When he came back—with just about every record in his league—he was tabbed as just another American who wouldn't stand up to the beating he would get in the pro game."
For the next five years Berenson shuttled between the Canadiens and their farm teams, playing for Bowman at Hull- Ottawa in 1962-63. After the 1966 season he was traded to New York.
"I never got started with the Rangers," he says. "First I broke my foot. Then I broke my cheekbone. By the time I was ready to play, the team was going good and Emile wasn't about to change it around for me. Last fall I asked Emile if he would trade me."
"I remember a plane trip I made with Emile last spring," says Bowman. "He said that someday, somewhere, Berenson was going to make somebody a helluva hockey player. He said he only wished it could be in New York." It has happened instead in St. Louis, to the surprise of neither Bowman, Francis nor Berenson himself—although few others in hockey expected any such miracle.
One day in December, Bowman handed 3-by-5 cards to the players during a team meeting. Bowman asked each man to write how many points he thought the team would score during the rest of the season and how many goals and assists he would personally contribute. "We were in fifth place with 23 points," Bowman says. "I told them we would probably need 68 to make the playoffs. The cards came back with modest predictions. A few had us missing the playoffs altogether. But Berenson! First he thought we'd get 50 points—good enough for first place. Then—even though he had only one St. Louis goal at the time—he predicted he would score 20 goals and 30 assists in the remainder of the season." Berenson, who has 22 goals and 26 assists for the year, has scored 19 goals and 20 assists since the day he filled out the card.
Without Berenson, says Bowman, the Blues would merely be playing out the season for experience. But without Bowman, say the experts, the team would have those blues you can't lose.
Bowman has the ability to handle each man as an individual, from the ultra-sensitive Hall ("If he doesn't throw up before a game, he's not ready") right on to the belligerent Plager brothers, Barclay and Bob. "Scotty just seems to understand us," says Berenson. "It's as simple as that."
Bowman says he understands hockey players because he played hockey himself. The truth of the matter is, he would probably be playing professionally today had not Jean Guy Talbot lost his temper 17 years ago and broken his stick over Bowman's head during a junior game in the Montreal Forum. "I was lucky," Bowman says with a wince. "The doctors said if the stick doesn't break, I'm dead." Bowman never played again, while Talbot, after being suspended for three years for clubbing Bowman, went on to 12 brilliant seasons as a defense-man for the Canadiens.
It was to talk about Talbot that Lynn Patrick walked into Bowman's office one afternoon this winter. "Scotty," he said to his coach, " Detroit has asked waivers on Talbot." Selected third by Minnesota in the expansion draft, Talbot subsequently had been traded to the Red Wings. He was 35 years old and sliding out of the NHL.
"He can still skate, can't he?" asked Bowman.