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Michigan Sports Roundtable: What’s The Future Of Michigan Hockey?

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Today, we’re talking Red Berenson, Warde Manuel, and how quickly Michigan can turn around their losing season.

Photo credit: James Coller, MGoBlog

Nick: Hello! So we’re finally doing a roundtable together. This has been some time in the making.

James: I’m certainly glad to be here and that we have an opportunity to get this project off the ground.

Will: I’ve got a strong cup of coffee and we’re talking Michigan sports, so, yeah, it’s a good day.

Nick: Coffee! I’m jealous.

Okay, so let’s get this started by laying a bit of groundwork, shall we? We know that Red’s been in discussion with Warde Manuel this week, but we don’t know exactly what’s been said or what’s being planned right now. The Michigan Daily reported, and it had long been rumored, that Warde asked Red to stay on for this past season when Red was thinking of retiring.

What are your guys’ thoughts about the, perhaps, indecision in moving forward with something concrete? Do you concur with MGoBlog’s Brian Cook in a piece he wrote that this is a bad sign?

James: I think the indecision reflects two factors that make this situation rather unique. First, Red is Michigan hockey - or at least he has been for the past 30+ years and that means this situation requires a certain approach, a measured and deliberate approach. Second, the athletic department - and Warde Manuel, specifically - have been focused primarily on football and (more recently) basketball and it takes time to shift gears.

Nick: The Warde Manuel dynamic is certainly, I think, really interesting, and in some ways this is ultimately about him. Will?

Will: He certainly seems to be steering, or at least guiding the ship on some level. But I don’t think a program every prospers when it’s mired in uncertainty. The hockey program seems to be in a state of limbo, which Red has outright stated to recruits and the Michigan Daily. One season of uncertainty is understandable, but at some point, Michigan needs to pull the trigger.

James: I agree, a decision needs to be made - and I certainly know what I think that decision should be. But I also don’t subscribe to Brian’s thinking that this delay is a bad sign. I think it just reflects the realities of people’s schedules right now and a decision will be arrived at and announced shortly.

Will: Let’s hope you’re right. Recruiting is foundational to the future of any program, and if UM hockey hopes to emerge as a consistent tournament team then they’ll need to secure strong recruiting classes. Not that Red has failed in that regard, by any means, but the state of limbo could certainly put us in a bad light with a lot of top recruits, especially those who are on the fence about committing to Michigan.

Nick: I think that a lot of Michigan fans are looking at Warde right now and are ready to let out some anger at him if he doesn’t seem to make a gesture or at least acknowledgement in their direction.

But I think what interests me most about this is what his philosophy is about Michigan athletics; is he going to be trying to use the department’s weight to get a big-name coach? Is he going to take a ‘traditional’ approach and support Red? What is his relationship, and therefore the athletic department’s relationship, with the many fans who may or may not be alums all around the country? I think there’s a lot going on between the lines here, whether Warde wants that or not.

Will: I don’t see how Michigan can’t take the supportive position toward Red, at least overtly. Quite frankly, he seems to have his eye on the door, so I think he and Warde can be on the same page and make this a smooth transition, which leads me to ask: Who are Red’s likely successors if he heads out the door sooner rather than later?

James: Well I think the obvious option that will appeal both to Michigan fans and the athletic department is Mel Pearson, who was an assistant on Red’s staff for a long time but moved on to take the HC job at Michigan Tech. a few years ago. Notably, he’s found success there.

If not Pearson, then I think Warde can (should) use the gravitas of Michigan to lure a big name coach. There are a number of highly successful college hockey coaches, and one needs only to look at recent NCAA Tournaments and Frozen Fours to see who has been able to consistently achieve. I think Michigan is a destination job (thanks to Red), and Manuel could go out and get someone should he want to.

Nick: Yeah, I think Michigan has the money and the infrastructure to contend with anybody in the country, that’s definitely not in doubt. I think the fans are quick to point that out, and want Warde to sort of flex his muscle and make something happen.

Will: But are there rumors floating about outside of Mel, or has the uncertainty surrounding Red kept that in check, also? I mean, when the football program was in flux, there was plenty of subtle interest from coaches at other programs (e.g. Les Miles, again and again). Are we sensing that, here, you think?

Nick: That’s the thing, I think fans have noticed, and Brian touched on this, a lack of movement or planning that may or may not be accurate but which exacerbates some long-standing concerns that fans have had as they’ve seen Red’s program steadily decline.

Photo credit: James Coller, MGoBlog

James: There does seem to be a lack of perceptible movement, but I don’t know if that necessarily portrays the situation as it is. Hockey doesn’t get near the coverage that football does, not from Michigan media nor from the national media, and that makes it easier for things that happen behind closed doors to stay behind closed doors. I don’t think anyone is firing up the flight tracking software when a top-flight hockey job opens up. I think that the fans should have a little bit of faith, until events occur (or don’t) to warrant a lack of faith.

Nick: That is true about the difference in coverage, but I’m not convinced one way or the other about Warde, and I think again this goes back to him and the fans. He came to Michigan with a sterling reputation for hiring good coaches, balancing his budgets and emphasizing education among student-athletes, and I was certainly glad to have him ‘return home,’ so to speak, at Michigan.

But while it might be folly to assume the worst, I’m not sure I’m ready to assume the best. The Michigan Daily did paint Warde in a slightly unglamorous light - “He didn’t wanna go through hiring a coach,” was the quote in the Daily, “(because) he hadn’t even moved into his house yet,” is what Berenson said.

Now, he did also say, “And our team played well and I thought they were responding well,” which certainly would make sense as a conclusion if you had just watched the CCM line in 2015 and didn’t pay close attention to the steady decline that’s been happening for a long time now.

But that still leaves the fans in a slightly different position, from both perspective and trust, than would befit an amount of “faith.”

Cooper Marody
Photo credit: J.D. Scott, MGoBlog

Will: I think Warde might be suffering from bad PR, a self-inflicted wound, perhaps. In other words, he might be all the things we thought we were getting when he came on board, but unless he can communicate his vision and keep his audiences informed - including the fans - it stirs discontent. Perception is reality for most folks, so he might need to do a better job of staying in tune and in communication with his public.

Nick: Yeah, I think perception is perhaps too important, but it’s almost all we have to go on at the moment.

Will: Exactly, which speaks to why Warde needs to do a better job of shaping perception if he hopes to keep negativity and uncertainty in check, right?

Nick: Yeah, I agree.

Okay, so what do you guys think about the health of the program right now, knowing that we’re juggling a lot of unknowns regarding Red Berenson’s future? Is this a team that could rebound right away under a new coach, or is the climb up from 13-19-3 a more difficult one to handle?

James: I think the program is in the woods right now, largely due to the uncertainty surrounding Red’s job. In a Michigan Daily piece he stated that he’s been informing recruits for a few years now (because hockey recruiting is done a little further in advance than football or basketball) that he probably won’t be their coach when they come to Michigan.

Has that negatively impacted recruiting? Sure, I imagine it hasn’t helped - but it’s also not like the classes being brought in are bad, either. There’s talent on this roster, but the team would need to get used to a new system, new philosophy, etc. if a new coach were to be brought in and that would likely take a couple years.

Will: That’s where Mel Pearson could be a godsend, given his experience with the team. Not that he wouldn’t have his own approach that would differ from Red’s, but it wouldn’t be a seismic shift for the program, either. Another coach, it’s a crap shoot, really, on how long it might take them to get the team where we’d all like to see them - the Frozen Four.

Photo credit: J.D. Scott, MGoBlog

James: While Pearson wouldn’t be a seismic shift, I wonder if he would be different enough. These past ten years under Red has seen steady declines in wins, avg. goals for, and avg. goals against.

James Lesinski, Maize n Brew

As you can see, the trends - particularly for goals against - have really deteriorated. Fortunately, goals against deteriorated after Pearson left and so it may be reasonable to assume he would bring an improvement in defense. However goals for is more difficult to pigeon hole, and consistent offense was a significant struggle for the team this past year.

James Lesinski, Maize n Brew

Nick: Yeah, the overall talent level has been good under Red. There’ve been ups and downs based on guys going to the pros, but the main concern - for a while - has been defense, or, slightly more broadly, playing together as a unit.

I’ve been a little unhappy with how the offense tends to rely on ‘heroball’ sometimes and guys trying to hustle and work hard when they feel like they might get a goal out of it, but not really playing often enough like a many-headed, cohesive attack.

Will: Your point, Nick, about the lack of team play, comes out in the fact they were one of the worst teams in the nation in shots against; bottom 10, in fact. That speaks to a lack of defensive cohesion.

Nick: That also speaks to the number of turnovers we had in our own goal area - part of playing as a team means each guy has their own role and does it well, even if it’s not glamorous, and we haven’t had good leadership or smart play by the forwards to get the puck into the hands of our play-makers.

Way too often we’ve had shots on goal, gotten the rebound and then given the puck right back for another shot on goal. It’s really hard to live life that way when you’re giving the opponent so many opportunities.

Photo credit: James Coller, MGoBlog

Will: Yeah, it’s like giving up a bunch of offensive rebounds in basketball. Not only does it give the opponents too many chances to score, but it sucks the soul out of a team. Incredibly frustrating to play great defense for a full minute, only to have it fall apart moments later.

Nick: Yeah, and sometimes they do play great D, and I feel bad watching them give effort for stretches and then watching it fall apart for them.

Another concern, and this ties back to what I said above, is about controlling the puck for long stretches. We’ve got scorers, but I think these guys need time possessing the puck and probing for more ‘team goals.’ The problem, or one of the problems, is that when guys get good enough under Red they bolt immediately for the NHL.

Will: I hate to keep turning to basketball analogies, but that factor could play into their coaching choices, also. “One and dones” are common in NCAA hoops, and the better coaches have learned how to squeeze production out of their best players knowing they might leave after one solid season. Same applies here, then?

Nick: That’s one part, but I think I’d be more comfortable with a coach who could still find a way to win if all the draft prospects skipped town. (Coincidentally, Mel Pearson has been stellar at taking the Harbaugh equivalent of walk-ons and forgotten three-stars and turning them into a great team.) I think Red can still churn out draft prospects, but he’s proven that it has its limits for team success.

Will: Nick, I think you just called Mel Pearson the Mark Dantonio of college hockey.

Nick: Aaagh! I did!

James: Minus the #disrepekt, I’m sure.

Nick: Well, gents - what are you hoping to see this week?

James: With respect for all his contributions to Michigan Hockey, I hope that Red and Warde come to the conclusion that it’s time for Red to retire. And that plans for a statue are begun the next day.

Will: Agree with James. It’s time for Red to go, but he needs to go in a way that honors his legacy. I think Warde and Red both want that, so let’s hope they flesh that out this week.

Nick: I like the idea of a statue. I think that’d be a great send-off.

***

Alright, thanks a bunch for clicking and supporting our inaugural Michigan Sports Roundtable. Be sure to check in next time as we talk more sports - and Go Blue.

Photo credit: J.D. Scott, MGoBlog

Poll

Do you believe it’s time for Red to go, even if he needs a push?

This poll is closed

  • 90%
    Yes, it’s time.
    (131 votes)
  • 9%
    No, he’s a legend.
    (13 votes)
144 votes total Vote Now