Berenson Still Learning Too
by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer
ST. PAUL, Minn. Players flock to Michigan to continue their development under coach Red Berenson. In a lifetime of hockey — as both a player and a coach — Berenson assembled a resume rivaled few in North American hockey.
Both before and after Michigan's 3-2 overtime loss to Minnesota-Duluth in Saturday's national championship game, it was clear, though, that the grizzled old vet can still learn a few things. Expectations for seniors Matt Rust, Louie Caporusso and Carl Hagelin soared before the season. People expected goals and dazzling puck movement from the gifted trio, as it attempted to lead the Wolverines to a first NCAA Championship since 1998.
While Hagelin and his classmates guided the Wolverines to within a shift of that championship, their course followed an unexpected path. The 2010-11 Wolverines won not by tormenting goaltenders and running over their opponents, but with keen defense and commitment to each other. A flashy play or two still came through — Hagelin can dangle with the best of them — but it was shot-blocking and the play of goaltender Shawn Hunwick — channeling Marty Turco — that earned Michigan wins over Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota.
Prior to Saturday's championship game, Berenson reflected on the previous year and the knowledge he gained watching his players coalesce into a team in every possible sense of the word.
"It seems like a lot of the younger generation, they feel entitled and not as willing to work," Berenson said prior to Saturday's national championship. "But, I tell you what, the kids sitting at the end of the table here, Luke Glendening, he came to Michigan like Shawn Hunwick with no expectations. I didn't know if he would ever play a game, and when I saw him on the ice, I realized that this kid has something special. He does everything right; he does the right things; he goes through the wall. Off the ice, he is like a machine, and he is just a great kid. Those are the kind of kids that set an example for those entitled kids.
"So we have a pretty good mix now. I think these kids are bringing the most out of each other, and that’s why they are still playing at this point in the year. It is because of the team, not because of the fire power.”
Throughout the year, this concept manifested itself in several ways. The dismissal of senior Tristin Llewellyn midway through the season and the emergence of senior Scooter Vaughan as the team's most versatile player shine as the primary examples. But even the commitment of goaltender Shawn Hunwick, who will return to Ann Arbor for a fifth year next season, to improving while he languished as a reserve underclassman spurred the Wolverines success this season.
"They've all been unbelievable, unbelievable all year," Caporusso said. "Look at a guy like Scooter who stepped up and played an important role all year. And Ben Winnett had a great weekend. If it wasn't for him, I don't know if we would have been in the final game — played unbelievable. Guys go unnoticed. A guy like Matt Rust goes unnoticed. Those guys win championships. They're in the shadows, unsung heroes."
Berenson's ability to attract the premier amateur players to Ann Arbor kept Michigan among college hockey's elite. However, it has become his undoing as well in recent years. Even with 21 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, Michigan routinely falls to inferior opponents. In the East Regional in Brideport, Conn., in 2009, Michigan fell, 2-0, to Air Force, despite firing 43 shots on Falcon goaltender Andrew Volkening. That day, the Wolverines created a number of individual scoring chances and clearly ranked as the better team, but they lacked the grit to score the goals championship teams rely on.
This Michigan team possessed those elements. In Thursday's national semifinal, senior Ben Winnett muscled to the net and slammed a rebound past North Dakota goaltender Aaron Dell. The Wolverines blocked 16 shots and kept Hunwick's eyes clear in advancing past the favored Sioux.
Forty-eight hours later, the Wolverines maintained the trend, forcing overtime against UMD without their best game. Again, Michigan showed us its new-found toughness. Winnett scored his second goal of the tournament with a nifty move off a Matt Rust face-off win.
Trailing 2-1 in the second period, freshman Jeff Rohrkemper battled with a UMD defender in front of goaltender Kenny Reiter, before a blind backhander floated into the net. No doubt a fluky goal, but the effort Rohrkemper showed in getting to crease and maintaining his position propelled the Wolverines to St. Paul in the first place.
"I think the top players just about neutralize each other throughout the game, and it's an unsuspected or unsung hero that ends up scoring a goal. It might be a fluky goal — like Rohrkemper's goal was a fluky goal — but it was a huge goal," Berenson said.
"Nobody is surprised if Louie scores because he's a clutch scorer, but it wasn't to be (Saturday night). It's a one shot game. Comes down to one shot. Doesn't have to be a good shot."
With Hagelin, Caporusso and the other Michigan seniors leaving, the responsibility of maintaining the balance between the highly skilled Michigan and the Wolverine tough team that fell one-goal short of a championship Saturday night shifts to the players returning — namely returning captain Luke Glendening.
In the past, convincing the stars Berenson attracts to Ann Arbor to accept less glamorous roles has proven difficult, and the Wolverines have suffered for it. After this season, though, he can point to Hagelin, Caporusso, Rust and the others as examples of gifted players willingly transforming their game. They almost won a national championship for their efforts — and almost can count for something, sometimes.