Have you ever been at a game and found yourself cheering for the other team? The other day, my son’s team was up a handful of goals plus two and were on the powerplay when their center made a beautiful interception had a breakaway. His clever play and puckhandling was so well done, we couldn’t help but cheer.
Cheering for the other team isn’t all that common, especially if the other team is a rival. Despite the rivalry, that’s exactly what happened to the St. Louis Blues when their center Red Berenson (pictured above, middle) went on a goal scoring spree which netted 2-back-to-back natural hat tricks while playing in a regular season road game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Despite both teams’ short history, there was already bad blood between them, so having the Flyers’ fans cheer for the Red Baron meant something spectacular must have happened.
As it did.
The year was 1968 and the although Blues and Flyers had only been in business since the previous year, when they both joined the NHL as expansion teams, they were already rivals. At the end of the first season, the Flyers lead their division and had to play against St. Louis.
The Blues and Flyers were rivals right from the start. Their very first meeting (and the second game ever for both teams) was in St. Louis, and the Flyers went home to their brand, spanking new facility, the Spectrum, with a close-shaved, 2-1, win. Seventy-two games later, the Flyers met the Blues in the 1967-68 divisional playoffs, in a best-of-seven format. The first four teams of each division made the divisional playoffs, with the first place team playing against the third place team and the second place team playing against the fourth. The winners of those games would face each other to determine the divisional winner and then both divisional winners would face off against each other to vie for the Stanley Cup.
With only four points separating the top four teams, the playoffs in the West division delivered unbelievably exciting hockey. The Flyers, in top spot, took on the 3rd place Blues in the City of Brotherly Live for the first two games of the series. That, in itself, was quite the feat since part of the Spectrum’s roof had blown off in a storm the month before and the Flyers spent most of March playing their home games in the Colisée in Quebec City, Quebec. With the roof fixed, on April 4, 1968 the puck dropped. To put this into historical context, as the puck dropped, 875 miles away in Memphis, Tennessee, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
Initially, the Blues got a leg up in the series and were beating the Flyers, 3 games to 1. Then the Flyers fought back, including a 6-1 thrashing — in St. Louis. Game 6 ended in a tie and went to overtime and gave the Flyers the win. Despite a home ice advantage for the Flyers, the Blues won the last game of the series 3-1. The Flyers-Blues rivalry was born.
“Our biggest rival in those days was the Philadelphia Flyers,” said Bob Plager, in an 2010 interview with the St. Louis Blues. “There was war every time we played them. Not only on the ice, but there were some nights where we had to go up in the stands, too.”
Location, Location, Location
Gordon “Red” Berenson, born in 1939, took a route to the NHL that not many players followed back then. Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, the tall prairie boy played Junior “A” hockey for his hometown Regina Pats for two years. Then he spent a season playing for the Belleville McFarlands in the Ontario Hockey Association’s senior division.
The Macs, as they were called, were a senior team, and they’d won the Allan Cup the year before, which gave them the right to go to Czechoslovakia to play in the World Ice Hockey Championships. The Macs won all their games back behind the iron curtain except for their the last one, against the host country. Tied with the Soviets for 1st place, their goal differential was better and the Canadian team won the gold medal on points. On Berenson’s return to Canada, instead of signing with an NHL team, the redhead went back to school, to the University of Michigan, where he played NCAA hockey (very well) and studied business.
After University, he signed with the Montreal Canadiens and played for them for 5 years before they traded him to the New York Rangers. But the NCAA scoring leader (43 points his Senior year) wasn’t racking up the points — and not getting a lot of icetime in his NHL career. Eight weeks into the 1967-68 season, the Rangers traded him and Berenson was now on his way to St. Louis.
What a Night for the Redhead
And that’s when the red-headed puck snapper really began to shine as a NHL player. On a team packed with Canadian talent, including players like 36-year-old goalie Glenn Hall, and all three Plager brothers – Bob, Barclay and Bill, the Blues were hard skating, hard-hitting players who worked together as a team.
Dan Kelly, who was the broadcaster for the Blues, was calling the play-by-play the night that the Philly fans cheered. After Berenson had scored his first hat trick, Kelly noted that something special seemed to be happening. When Berenson scored his 5th goal, Kelly exclaimed, “What a night for the redhead!”
When Berenson put his 6th goal in, on a breakaway, Kelly said, “Red Berenson has tied the record, with 6 goals in one game! He gets a great ovation from this crowd in the Philadelphia Spectrum! Six goals in one hockey game!”
Berenson was traded to the Detroit Red Wings during the 1970-71 season, then came back to St. Louis to play from 1974 to 1978. Then he embarked on a coaching career with the Blues, but in 1984, he returned to his alma mater and has been coaching the Michigan Wolverines Mens Hockey Team and, at 75, is still their head coach today.
Throughout the summer, Berenson runs a hockey camp in Ann Arbor, Michigan and that’s when we first met Coach Berenson. The picture you see (right) is of Max Maharaj, our friend and former neighbour, Red Berenson, and Nic Landry.
Having something spectacular happen is a good reason to put your allegiances aside and cheer, just like the Flyer’s home crowd did when Gordon “Red” Berenson made his double hat trick on November 7, 1968. His six goals were one short of that of the all-time NHL record holder, Quebec Bulldog’s Joe Malone, in 1920, but that 6-goal feat has only been accomplished once since, by the Toronto Maple Leaf’s center, Darryl Sittler, in 1976.