Berenson talks Big Chill @ Big House

U-M hockey coach Red Berenson talks about the Big Chill at the Big House versus MSU at 3 pm Saturday.

Q. Just generally talk about this week.
COACH BERENSON: Well, this is something that was, I guess, finalized back in January of a year ago when the administration made the commitment to put this game on. And when I say commitment, if you ask the people that have been involved in all the things that have to happen for this event to go off as well as it will, there's a lot more than we can talk about today. But I'm really impressed with our athletic department's commitment, the follow-through. It's been literally seamless from my perspective, so a good job, and now the rest is up to our team. We've been waiting for this, looking forward to it, and now we can say it's our next game, so we don't have to try and keep it off in the distance and worry about current games. We can start worrying about it now. But it's a reality.

Q. How difficult has that been just too kind of keep your players from thinking ahead to this game?
COACH BERENSON: Well, it's been -- I think it's been -- we just let it hang out there. You can't pretend it's not going to happen. I mean, let's face it, it's on the internet, it's all over, even Sam brought it up on the radio this morning, so it might be in the limelight. But you know, it's been something that -- we're used to playing in big games, and this is a big game coming up. I don't think it's been a problem.

Q. What do you remember about the game ten years ago and the atmosphere, the way it was?
COACH BERENSON: Well, we had some concerns going over there. You probably heard me tell the stories. We had ice scheduled for Friday evening over at Spartan Stadium, and Michigan state was just finishing up. It was pouring rain, and they were skating out there in the rain with the lights, and we decided not to have maybe a questionable experience first experience on the ice, so we stayed off and skated indoors over there at Munn, and then we skated in the morning. In our morning skate it was sunny and cold and perfect, and our players were just beaming. You could see it. It was as if they -- I was the one that grew up on outdoor ice, not them, but we had a big freshman class of Nystrom and Gajic and Ryzner and all those guys, and I remember Cammalleri who was our leading scorer was hurt that week and was not scheduled to play, and he insisted he had to play in this game, and we went ahead with it and he ended up being the MVP of our team for that game. But the excitement was unbelievable, and the event went off as good as you could have imagined.

Q. Could you share some memories you have of playing outdoors, and how much do you think your players actually have played?
COACH BERENSON: Well, I don't think they've played in serious games outdoors. I've been really lucky. Growing up in western Canada on the prairies, we played 90 percent of our hockey outdoors on outdoor rinks, so the wind was a factor, the snow was a factor, the temperature was a factor, and it was -- but it was great. And I remember calling my friends saying, come on, get over to the rink, we've got to shovel it off, and there would be three feet of snow on the rink and we'd shovel the whole thing off and then we'd play hockey all day until it was dark and go home and do it again the next day on the weekends. So it was a great way to grow up. So I remember playing in that environment. Our kids, our players haven't had to play outdoors in a serious game except last year. These guys, most of them obviously played in -- and they got a taste of cold, outdoor hockey, which it was, in Wisconsin. So I've been lucky. And then I played in Europe for the Canadian National Team on our way to the World Championships in 1959, and so we played in Oslo, Norway, and I was 19. I dropped out of school for a semester to play and to be picked up for Canada. And there we were playing in an outdoor building that was like a soccer stadium, and it had to be maybe 15,000, 20,000 people, and they all stood the whole game, and the snow was coming down through the lights and it was magical. And then we did the same thing in Helsinki and Stockholm in these huge outdoor stadium rinks at the time. They didn't have indoor rinks. And then we played in Garmisch, Germany, and Cortina, Italy, and so on, all these magical places where they'd had the Winter Olympics and had great venues. So as a 19 year old I played in some of them, and these were still big games. Now we get a chance to play in what are the biggest games for my recent tenure, and again, it's going to be magical. I've been there, I've enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to this one.

Q. From that game at Spartan Stadium, from that day did you know you wanted to play a game in the Big House and what was that process like?
COACH BERENSON: Well, we talked about whether that could happen here. You guys are the daily people of the -- the young daily people back then, they asked about it. Everybody asked about it, and we said, well -- it wasn't for me to say we should have a game here. It was for me to say I definitely would support it. If it ever comes to that, with the field conditions and the scheduling and everything falls into place, then I would support it 100 percent. And that decision was made really in the last couple of years. So up until then it wasn't like this was lingering, it really wasn't.

Q. What's the biggest challenge to playing outside?
COACH BERENSON: I think the weather, the temperatures, the fans, I mean, the thrill of playing out there will -- that will go away quick. Once the puck is dropped and the game starts and you realize you're chasing a player, you're trying to skate your fastest and you're skating against the wind. You're not used to that and so on. And your hands are so cold you can hardly feel your stick. And as the game goes on, I think you get into the game, but I think it's the outdoors, the elements and the temperature and the wind and all those things can be a factor.

Q. You're skating today, and are you skating outdoors all week?
COACH BERENSON: The plan is the team will skate on their own today. They'll just have a pickup shinny game, and then tomorrow we'll practice. We're planning on practicing outside Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. And most of that is to get used to the things we're talking about, the elements, get used to the Olympic-sized ice and all the ins and outs of that and have some good workouts outside.

Q. What kind of an advantage does that give you over MSU?
COACH BERENSON: Ask me next week. It should, but you never know.

Q. There's also a lot of games being scheduled for the ice surface. Is that any concern how the ice will handle that, or is that a good thing?
COACH BERENSON: Well, I've pretty much stayed out of the ice quality business. The only question I asked was how good was the water they were putting on it, and of course the rainwater is good. And then the city water if it's not filtered how that will be affected by the temperatures and so on. But these guys are pros. They know the ice, and I'm fine with that. In the Inuit language there are I don't know how many, but there are something like 75 to 100 different words for ice, the quality of the ice, whether it's soft or hard or thin or breakable or mushy or all the different -- because they live on the ice. I just skate on it, so I'm not worried about it. But I think they're doing the right thing by having these games to get the ice game-ready. There won't be any game Saturday morning. Ice can get tired. You ask Craig Wotta, our rink manager, and he'll tell you that ice can get tired if it's overused, indoor ice. This is outdoor indoor ice. It means it's artificial ice because it's being frozen by freon and generators just like you would artificial ice inside, and we can play that game at 70 degrees. But we're playing with an indoor rink outside.

Q. How do you think the players will react to the 110,000 or whatever, that whole atmosphere?
COACH BERENSON: I don't think they'll overreact to it, but I think they'll really -- they'll sense it. They'll feel it. I mean, if motivation is a problem in this game, then none of us should be in this game, because that's -- it'll be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the guys that are playing. They'll like it. I mean, they played in front of 50,000 last year in Wisconsin, and it wasn't like they were that close. It's not like the fans are on top of you like they are at Yost. You might ask the players afterwards did they even sense there were that many people. Once you quit looking up, you don't really feel the fans as much. We hope we give them something to cheer about.

Q. Can you believe just the reaction to this game, how quickly it sold out?
COACH BERENSON: I was so impressed with the whole Michigan family, the sports supporters for Michigan, whether they're hockey fans, football fans, basketball, you name it, alumni, outsiders, out-of-towners, out-of-staters. I've got a friend coming from in North Carolina. There are people coming in from all over. They want to be at this game. But the Michigan people are the ones that snapped up the tickets.

Q. What percentage of the fans do you think will be Michigan fans versus Michigan state?
COACH BERENSON: 90 to 95 percent. If you ask the ticket office they can tell you that -- I think they had to send tickets back. Michigan State sent tickets back. Maybe some of their fans bought tickets through our website, but I'm just -- I'm impressed the way people bought -- I was surprised the way they bought them for the Spartan Stadium game. They bought them in July. People were excited about an outdoor hockey game in July. We've got some good fans.

Q. What was your reaction when they first talked about having outdoor games in football stadiums before you had done that? Did you think you would have the popularity to grow like it has?
COACH BERENSON: Well, you're asking the right guy because I was lucky enough to play in some big venues like that, and I know it works, and it can be really neat. And the good thing is the NFL jumped on it. When they played that game in Edmonton when it was about 30 below zero, and they played two games, an alumni game of older NHL players and the current teams, Montreal played Edmonton, and that game went off pretty well considering it was the worst possible winter conditions outdoors. So then they had another one, and it just got better every year. And then with our game at Spartan Stadium and the Wisconsin game, Fenway Park, Wrigley field, so on, these have been great events. I'm not surprised.

Q. Do you take pride in the fact that Michigan State and you guys kind of started that whole thing?
COACH BERENSON: Well, a little bit, yeah. I mean, it's the college hockey and the college sports spirit that really got this going, and they can -- we can talk about throwback hockey players like me that say, oh, this is good for the game, but it's the people that bought the tickets that have really made this work. And they're the people that have supported it, and it's just another tribute to college hockey and college sports.

Q. How much do you think an event like this can boost the popularity of college hockey?
COACH BERENSON: Good question. We'll see down the road, but it certainly is going to be an event that'll be talked about, and for the people that see it, the people that watch it at home, they'll remember it. It won't be as effective if you're sitting at home and you're not in the weather. You don't quite get the magic. But I watched the game at Wrigley Field when the Wings played, and you could still sense the specialness of that game and the event, and people that were at the game and I talked to them, they said it was unbelievable. What is unbelievable? Was it the hockey game? Was it just the venue for hockey? Was it the environment? I can't tell you. But this will be a great event. It'll be a memorable event. Now, I've got to focus on the game and our team, but I can -- I'm just speculating this will be a terrific event.

Q. What are some of the things that are going to factor into your decision on the goalie?
COACH BERENSON: That's a good question, our goalie decision. We've been alternating goalies all year. Hunwick has played on Friday, and Hogan played on Saturday, and we'll definitely sit down this week. We'll look at the wins and losses and where they played and how they played and experience and so on and so forth and we'll see where we are. You can only play one goalie.

Q. You can only play one?
COACH BERENSON: Yeah, if the game is in a situation where you get a chance to put the other one in, then you might do that. But we're playing to win the game. This is a conference game. This is a big game. We're going to put our best foot forward. We're putting our best team on the ice, and we're going to do everything we can to have a good game and have a chance to win.

Q. You wouldn't split them, one play one half and the other...?
COACH BERENSON: It would really depend how the game went. You'd do that more in an exhibition game. This is not an exhibition game.

Q. Is that one of the biggest differences about this game, conference opponent, big rival?
COACH BERENSON: Well, in that game last year, that was an important game. We didn't split the goalies last year. We played to win that game. That goals against your RPI, your winning percentage, your chance of getting in the NCAA tournament. These games are important. So we can't take it lightly, and we won't.


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