IT IS 1998 and hockey is dying.
Its executioners are its own coaches, who have strangled opposing offenses with a variety of neutral zone traps. Scoring is down almost two and a half goals a game from the firewagon 1980s. Jacques Lemaire wins three Stanley Cups playing the most stultifying brand of hockey imaginable. At Michigan State, Ron Mason seeks to win games –1 to –2, and does with depressing frequency. Your author is mere months away from swearing off the Red Wings forever after attending two games at Joe Louis Arena at which the only reaction from the crowd comes on goals, of which there is about one a period, and when a man named "Mo Cheese" does a jiggle-dance on the jumbotron.
That fall, two people walked into Yost Ice Arena for the first time: Mike Comrie and I. I sat in the student section; Mike Comrie set people on fire and laughed about it. I don't know anything about Mike Comrie's childhood but I know it involved ants and a magnifying glass.
I just missed the Brendan Morrison era but even if I'd seen it, I'd probably still believe Comrie is the closest thing to an on-ice avatar of the Red Berenson era in existence. He was a tiny puck wizard who defied all logical modes of playing hockey with sheer talent. It was not uncommon for Comrie to make a zone entry by himself, then tool around the offensive zone like Spike Albrecht doing donuts in the lane. The opposition allowed this because the alternative was approaching Comrie and risking an explosive moment after which Michigan would have another goal and you would have no pants.
Over the next decade it seemed like Michigan had an infinite supply of these guys. After Comrie came Mike Cammalleri, Jeff Tambellini, Eric Werner (who belongs on this list despite being a defenseman), TJ Hensick, Andrew Ebbett, John Shouneyia, and Andrew Cogliano. They were all different versions of the same assassin. Collectively they are this Cammalleri goal.
Under Red Berenson, Michigan hockey was an electric middle finger to the neutral zone trap. It defied NHL norms of the time, and sometimes basic physics itself. It took no quarter, and gave none. It lived in Yost Ice Arena, which for about 15 years was the most intimidating environment in sports.
YOST WAS BLACK, pitch black. Literally so. The shot at the top of the post is one of the bleachers that I had the good fortune to acquire when Dave Brandon's renovation of Yost was literally throwing them away. It is not the bright and shiny anodyne chrome of the current building. It is not even the respectable deep blue that Michigan has on hand for uniforms, logos, and what-have-you. It is black.
It is unnecessarily black. At one edge the paint has worn down and you can see that underneath there is a layer of blue. Someone erased that blue, probably for no reason at all other than hockey was a non-revenue sport and black paint was cheaper. So they painted it black.
To walk into Yost Ice Arena in 1998 was a mindblowing experience for someone raised on the relatively genteel ways of Michigan Stadium. To be a Michigan fan is to have your nose in the air about the unhinged activities of those people; Yost was the Scarface coke bender kept hidden from public view. It is the only environment in the history of Michigan sports that can be compared in any way to Miami and its general attitude.
I have thought long and hard about why this might have come to be and still have no unifying theory, but by the time you arrived in 1998 at the same time as Mike Comrie it took about three games to fully assimilate into the baying hive mind. Then-Lake Superior State coach Frank Anzalone once told me to "shut the fuck up" between periods, and while I don't remember why he did this I assume he was 100% correct to do so.
And I was just a guy, really, not one of the gentlemen in the section behind the opposing bench. One of the Superfans was there, the guy with the Flintstones water buffalo hat. Next to him was the guy with the megaphone, and around them was a cadre of the dirtiest dudes in town.
The megaphone, I think, is key to understanding the allure here. We have all had the experience of shouting something in anger at a referee at a football game. This is exactly as effective as shouting at your TV. There are one hundred thousand people in the stands and you are some vast distance away from the field even if you're in row 20; you are just a voice in the crowd.
At Yost, amongst six thousand people, in row ten, with the ears just the other side of some plexiglass, you know damn well that everyone can hear your every word. With a megaphone or without. By the time I had arrived there was a culture that understood and sought to exploit this, and it worked. I can't tell you how many times opposing players tried to spray people in the crowd with water bottles. The opposing parents were seated directly behind their bench, and directly in front of the dirtiest dudes in town, and since the dirtiest dudes in town had a tendency to select one player for excessive torment it was a semi-regular occurrence for a hockey parent to respond in kind. Rarely you'd catch a slightly unhinged one who would fume his way up the stairs and try to get in a fight.
The stupidity and the gloriousness of this should be apparent. For a period of several years the opposing parents had to be located across the rink, the ice serving as a demilitarized zone. Yost got people shook.
The creation of this seething cauldron in the context of dead-puck-era hockey, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is one of the great miracles of sports. The none-more-blackness of Yost had something to do with it. So did the basketball team's malaise.
But the primary factor was Red Berenson, who never gave a damn about what you thought he should do. Berenson spent four years in college when college was not a path to the NHL. He was literally the first player to ever go directly from the NCAA to the NHL. He was the NHL coach of the year at one point and could have continued being an NHL head coach indefinitely if he so chose. Instead he came back to Michigan. At a time when the primary way to win hockey games was by murdering the game itself he played balls-to-the-wall.
Yost was a magnet for sadists because it was a place you could go and see someone blown off the ice 8-1. A promotion where attendees got free tacos if Michigan scored ten goals had to be discontinued because it was costing too much. Here is an arena where the residents are chanting for more goals when they are already at nine—nine! They are no longer beating the dead horse, but gleefully spitting on its grave. Yost was a reflection of the product on the ice.
Red Berenson did a lot of great things for his university, his players, his student managers, his coaches, his alumni, and they will all remember him for the things he did for them. The thing Red Berenson did for me is turn Yost Ice Arena into the greatest sports environment I've ever been in. He did that because he is metal. Bite-the-head-off-a-bat metal.
Black fucking metal.
[Ed. A- David Nasternak, our hockey beat writer, did the heavy lifting in compiling this article and also helped author it.]
At some point today, Warde Manuel will sit down in his office overlooking Hoover Avenue and State Street, check his to-do list, and find an item at the top wholly unfamiliar to him as Michigan’s athletic director, a task that was also wholly unfamiliar to the seven men who previously sat behind his desk: hire a new men’s ice hockey head coach.
Most of the buzz on this site and around the local scene has been centered near Mel Pearson, Red Berenson’s longtime assistant turned Michigan Tech head coach. There is probably a good case for him (particularly if based on his teams’ Corsi over the past few seasons), and he might be a fine head coach and quality option, but there are also a couple of reasons to remain skeptical. We’re not saying that they cannot be ironed out or that he would not succeed as Michigan’s next head coach. We do think that there are other options out there to consider as well.
David talked to a handful of people and did a lot of digging. These are the upper-echelon alternatives that we think should at least be investigated. For the record, very established guys at programs that aren’t a step down from Michigan have not been included on this list, so you’re not going to find Don Lucia or Jerry York on here.
SUCCESSFUL COLLEGIATE COACHES
Norm Bazin, UMass Lowell
He’s only 46 years old and already has nine years of head-coaching experience and an additional 11 years experience as an assistant. Eight of his years as an assistant came at Colorado College; those years nearly killed him. Seriously. His incredible survival story is a must-read.
- Three years as an assistant at UML
- Eight years as an assistant at Colorado College
- Three years head coach at Hamilton College
- Six years head coach at UML
Over the course of his six years at UMass Lowell, he has: twice been named Hockey East Coach of the Year, won the Penrose award for Division I coach of the year, finished with a winning percentage >.600 each of the last seven years, won the regular season Hockey East title two of the last five seasons, won the Hockey East conference tournament three of the last six seasons (while making the final five consecutive seasons), made the NCAA tournament five of the last six years, won at least one game in the NCAA tournament each of those five times, and made the Frozen Four in 2012-13.
Unfortunately for Michigan, given all that he has been through and that he is coaching at his alma mater, he may be happy at UML. Regardless, he should be first on the list. He might be the list. And he’s young, too. Give him what he wants.
[After THE JUMP: other current collegiate head coaches, guys with Michigan connections, and a couple wildcards]
Michigan landed its second commitment in a four-day span with today's addition of three-star Atlanta (GA) Buford RB Christian Turner, who announced his commitment on Twitter. Turner visited Michigan last week between two trips to rival schools; the former had him leaning hard towards Notre Dame, while the latter, as is tradition, sealed the deal for Michigan:
Turner is the fifth commit in the 2018 class, joining IN OG Emil Ekiyor, MI DE Aidan Hutchinson, GA OLB Otis Reese, and GA DB Myles Sims. Yes, 60% of Michigan's class is comprised of Georgia recruits.
|3*, #72 RB||3*, #26 RB||
3*, #19 RB,
3*, 87, #29 RB,
4*, #30 RB,
Turner's early rankings peg him in the 20-30 range among 2018 RBs, with Scout as a low outlier. That's likely to change. According to The Mathlete's rank-by-offers method, Turner is the #10 RB and #161 overall prospect in the class. He's also coming off a strong performance in March's The Opening Atlanta regional that had Scout calling him one of the surprises of the camp.
At the Atlanta regional, Turner measured in at 5'11", 187 pounds. While not a huge back, he's got a solid build.
[Hit THE JUMP for scouting, video, class impact, and more.]
Welcome to random newsdump day! Harbaugh's press conference has two bits of information that are front-page worthy. Information #1:
Drake Johnson will not return to the Michigan football team, according to Harbaugh
— Orion Sang (@orion_sang) April 10, 2017
Johnson would have been a rotation piece in the backfield; they still have Evans, Higdon, Isaac, and Kareem Walker along with O'Maury Samuels arriving in the fall. On-field impact should be low. FWIW, this has been likely for a couple months now and Michigan recruited like it.
Before Drake Johnson fades into legend let us remember one of the greatest anecdotes of all time.
"I'm sitting in [Fred Jackson's] office, and there was a fridge right over there, and he's like, 'You hungry?'" Johnson said. "I'm like, 'No man, I'm not hungry.' So he's like, 'OK, I'm going to grab myself a Coke.' So he grabs himself a Coke and he sits down.
"He takes maybe two sips, and he's like, 'Hey Drake, you want something to drink?' And I'm like, 'No, I'm still good.' He's like, 'I think I'm going to get myself an orange juice.' I'm like, 'Dude, you have a Coke in front of you.' He says, 'It's fine.'
"So I'm sitting there, and maybe two minutes later, he's like, 'I think I'm going to get myself a drink,' and I'm like, 'Coach, you already got two drinks in front of you, man! Your thirst can be quenched by what's in front of you.'
"He says, 'I'm just going to grab myself some water. You want some water?' And I'm like, "Nooo, I have Gatorade in my hand, guy. It's fine.'"
Let him take up his place in the Jibreel Black wing of the Michigan Hall of Fame where we put all the folks who didn't have a huge on-field impact but were nonetheless delightful.
Jim Harbaugh says there has been some difficulty in Grant Newsome's recovery - thinks he will be back next year instead of this year
— Orion Sang (@orion_sang) April 10, 2017
Newsome's return was always 50/50 at best, and now it's probably 10/90. He does have a redshirt available, which he'll take, and hope to return as a redshirt junior next year. Michigan's looking at Cole, Bredeson, Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Nolan Ulizio, and incoming freshmen for their two tackle spots.
Redshirt sophomore forward DJ Wilson announced he will enter the NBA Draft without hiring an agent.
— D.J. Wilson (@Lanky_Smoove) April 10, 2017
Mere moments later, sophomore forward Moe Wagner did the same.
— Moe Wagner (@moritz_weasley) April 10, 2017
By not hiring agents, both players have left the window open for a return to Michigan. They can participate in the combine and work out for individual teams. The deadline to withdraw from the draft is May 24th. Wilson has been projected in the mid-to-late first round in some mocks; Wagner's projections have been mostly in the latter half draft. It's quite possible, as occurs quite often with the new rule, that one or both ends up returning.
Michigan currently has one open scholarship for the 2017-18 season; departures from Wagner and Wilson could bring that number to three. They are in continued pursuit of five-star C Mo Bamba, who'd be the ideal replacement but also has Duke, Kentucky, and Texas in hot pursuit. The coaches are also looking into grad transfer options; they're in contact with Wright State guard Mark Alstork, Howard guard James Daniel, and Pitt forward Cameron Johnson.
Per George Sipple:
BREAKING: @umichhockey coach Red Berenson will address team at 3 p.m. Expectation is he will step down.
— George Sipple (@GeorgeSipple) April 10, 2017
Berenson is synonymous with Michigan hockey and at some point they should play in Berenson Ice Arena. But after missing the tourney four times in five years and having a very bad team this year despite a reasonable modicum of talent, it is time for a change.
Assuming this does not take a 180 in the next half hour we'll have a post about candidates to replace Red; a fuller appreciation is going to take longer to put together.