Retro Rangers: Berenson Hit the Post!

by | Jul 3, 2024

Retro Rangers: Berenson Hit the Post!

by | Jul 3, 2024

Red Berenson was one of the first stars to emerge from the NHL’s initial expansion in 1967, scoring over 100 goals in his first three seasons with the St. Louis Blues and leading them to three consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals.

But for legions pf Ranger fans of a certain age he will always be remembered for hitting the post during overtime in a playoff game against the Montreal Canadiens in 1967

Gordon “Red” Berenson was born on December 8, 1939 in Regina, Saskatchewan. He played junior hockey with  the Regina Pats and Bellville McFarlands before moving on to the University of Michigan where he earned All-American honors and led the NCAA with 43 goals in his final year.

Red then signed with the Montreal Canadiens where he spent the next five seasons as a spare part, trying to crack their powerful line up. In 136 NHL games with the Habs, Red, one of the few players to wear a helmet in those days, scored 14 goals with 23 assists and 43 penalty minutes, but also won a  Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1965.

The  26-year-old, six-foot, 190-pound center \ left wing was then traded to the Rangers in exchange for Ted Taylor and Garry Peters in June 1966. In New York, he was expected to help fill the gap at center while Jean Ratelle was recuperating from back surgery, but appeared in just 30 games that season and recorded only five assists.

Prior to the start of the 1966-67 season the Blueshirts had been picked to finish in last place in the six-team NHL. However, thanks to the superb goaltending of Eddie Giacomin and the work of veterans Phil Goyette, Bob Nevin, Donnie Marshall, Harry Howell and “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, they spent most of the second half of the season in or near first place. A late season slump however dropped them to fourth place but they made the playoffs for the first time in five years and enjoyed their first winning season (30-28-12, 72 points) since 1957-58.

The Rangers first round opponents were the defending Stanley Cup Champion Montreal Canadiens who had finished in second place, only five points ahead of the Blueshirts. The Canadiens had won the season series between the two clubs 7-5-2 and entered the playoffs riding an 11-game unbeaten streak. They also had a hot goaltender, 21-year old rookie Rogie Vachon, who was recalled from Houston of the Central League when Gump Worsley suffered a concussion in March after being hit in the temple by an egg thrown from the balcony of the “Old” Madison Square Garden.

The series opened in Montreal with the Rangers getting off to a great start, leading by a 4-1 score early in the third period. But it was all downhill from there. The Canadiens stormed back with five unanswered goals and won 6-4. Montreal also won the second game 3-1 before the series moved to New York.

The Canadiens came out flying in the third game, scoring two goals in the first three minutes of the contest. The Rangers fought back and kept it close and entered the third period down 3-2. But they could muster only six shots in the period and lost 3-2 and faced elimination two nights later at the Garden.

A Standing Room Only crowd of 15,925 greeted the Blueshirts as they took the ice for the fourth game, on April 13, 1966, which was the 26th anniversary of the Rangers last Stanley Cup victory in 1940. The crowd witnessed a goaltenders duel between Giacomin and Vachon that was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation.

About five minutes into overtime, Red Berenson snared a loose puck at center ice and burst over the Montreal blue line where he unleashed a 50-foot shot towards the Canadiens’ net. Rogie Vachon was slow to react and kicked at the puck at the last second but missed! Berenson began to raise his stick in celebration, but it was not to be as the shot hit the post and bounced harmlessly away.

Less than two minutes later Giacomin gloved a shot by Claude Larose, but dropped the puck in the crease to his left. John Ferguson swooped in and swiped at the puck and missed. But as he was sliding past the net, Fergy swung his stick at the loose puck again, this time knocking it past Giacomin at 6:38 of overtime.

At that moment, the Garden became eerily quiet, so quiet that you could hear the Montreal players celebrating on the ice. But then the crowd rose and gave the Blueshirts a well-deserved standing ovation in appreciation of their impressive season.

Emile Francis: “The reason we lost in four games was that I had to use Harry Howell, Donnie Marshall, Phil Goyette,  Bob Nevin to do everything, power play, kill penalties, we just didn’t have the depth to compete with Montreal. But the only way we could get into the playoffs, I had to play the shit out of those guys and we just ran out of gas. And Montreal had  a powerhouse, they were loaded. But after the overtime loss the fans gave the players a standing ovation. They lost four straight games but still got a standing ovation”  

Berenson was a disappointment in New York, scoring only two goals and six assists in 49 games and was dealt to the expansion St. Louis Blues In November 1967 for 15-year veteran winger Ron Stewart.

However he blossomed in the Gateway City, scoring 22 goals during the remainder of the 1967-68 season and adding 84 tallies over the next three years. He was named team captain in 1970 and helped the Blues get to the Stanley Cup finals three straight times and became the first NHL player to score six goals in a single game on the road when the Blues beat the Flyers 8-0 at the Spectrum in November 1968.

Berenson was eventually traded to the Detroit Red Wings in February 1971 along with Tim Ecclestone for Garry Unger and Wayne Connelly. He scored 73 goals with 123 assists in five seasons with Detroit and was later sent back to the Blues in December 1974 where he stayed until the six-time All-Star retired in 1979.

Overall in 987 games with Montreal, New York, St. Louis and Detroit, spanning 17 seasons, Red scored a total of 261 goals with 397 assists for 658 points and added 23 goals and 14 assists in 85 playoff games. He also appreaed in two games with Team Canada in the summer of 1972, notching one assist.

Red  became the Blues’ head coach mid-way through the 1979-80 season and won the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL Coach of the Year the next season. However despite compiling a 100-72-32 record over three seasons Red was dismissed by Blues GM Emile Francis in 1982 following an 8-1 loss to Minnesota that dropped the Blues record to 28-34-6.

In 1984 Berenson took over as coach of the University of Michigan Wolverines, leading them to 22 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, including 11 Frozen Four appearances and two NCAA Championships over the next 33 seasons.

Berenson retired in 2017 finishing up with a record of 848–426–92  in 1,366 games. He earned  numerous Coach of the Year honors and was inducted into the USA Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018. Red is also    a member of the  Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame and the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor.

Red Berenson probably hit many posts during his illustrious 17-year NHL career, but none as memorable to many Ranger fans, including this one, as the one he hit on April 13, 1967.

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