DETROIT, MI -- Listening to many of the Toronto Maple Leafs players who took part in the first of two Winter Classic alumni games at Comerica Park Tuesday, you'll hear how in awe they were of watching 74-year old Red Berenson participate for the Detroit Red Wings. "He's my new idol" was uttered by several players.
But Berenson wasn't just there to take a leisurely skate for two hours. Even as the Red Wings alumni were clinging to a 5-4 lead late in the game, the head coach in him took over with a face-off in their defensive zone.
“He had a gameplan," said former Red Wing Jiri Fischer, who scored the game's opening goal. "He huddled us all together. Told us what to do. Unfortunately [we] didn’t execute how he mastered the plan, but we kept the puck out of the net."
So what was the play?
“I’m going to tie up the centerman and Jiri’s going to come in and get the puck and then we’re going to wheel it around or chip it up the short side,” Berenson said.
As Fischer mentioned, it didn't work, but the Red Wings hung on for a 5-4 victory.
The legendary University of Michigan head coach played 987 games in the NHL, 355 of them with the Red Wings. Berenson's been behind the Wolverines' bench since 1984 and credits the day-to-day routine with kids his grandchildren's age as his secret for keeping the skates from being hung up for good.
“I think I’m lucky," Berenson said. "I’ve been able to stay in the game and stay around young kids when they’re playing college hockey and I’m on the ice with them. I just feel honored to being to play in this event with guys that are a little younger than me and not hurt the team.”
While he didn't play with or against many of his Maple Leafs opponents, the game brought back plenty of memories.
"I was looking for Ronnie Ellis and Mahovlich and Keon, but they weren't there," joked Berenson.
“I was looking for some guys my own age.”
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