A solid all-around performer, Gordon "Red" Berenson enjoyed 17 productive years in the NHL. He was a fine sportsman who could check or score equally well depending on the situation. Along the way he registered seven 20 goal seasons and played on one Stanley Cup championship team in Montreal.
Berenson was a gifted scorer with his hometown Regina Pats of the SJHL from 1956 to 1958. His speed and skill with the puck impressed the officials of the Belleville McFarlands as they prepared to compete in the World Championships, and Canada captured the gold medal thanks in part to Berenson's nine goals.
Following this rewarding experience overseas, Berenson spent three years with the University of Michigan against the advice of the Montreal Canadiens, who held his rights. Berenson continued to draw praise when he scored 79 career goals and was a two-time CCHA First Team All-Star. He also earned a place on the 1962 NCAA champion all-tournament team. After the college season ended, he joined the Habs and became the first Canadian to make the jump from the U.S. collegiate system to the big leagues. He continued to study in the off-season and earned a master's degree in business administration.
Berenson split the 1962-63 season between the Habs and their EPHL farm team in Hull-Ottawa. He played the entire 1963-64 season with the Habs but split the next two between Montreal and the American Hockey League?a reflection of the depth Montreal enjoyed at center during this period. Berenson looked up to the likes of Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard and Ralph Backstrom and knew he was never going to beat those men out of a job.
The Habs traded Berenson to the New York Rangers, where he played parts of two seasons. Late in the first year of expansion, he was traded to St. Louis, where he blossomed. The Blues felt Berenson was worth the cost of parting with top scorer Ron Stewart. Red scored 51 points in the last 55 games of the 1967-68 season and then helped the Blues reach the Stanley Cup finals against his old team, Montreal. Coach Scotty Bowman turned him into a true workhorse, playing him 35 to 40 minutes a game, including plenty of time with both specialty teams.
During his first full season in Missouri, "the Red Baron" scored a personal high of 82 points. A significant chunk of his production came during an 8-0 thrashing of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Spectrum. That night Berenson became the first player since Syd Howe in 1944 to score six goals in a single game, a feat that entered the record books on its own since it represented the only six-goal performance by a player on the road. In fact, he could have notched a seventh had one of the 10 shots he sent toward Doug Favell not struck the crossbar. And none them was scored on power-plays or deflections.
The Blues reached the finals for three straight years, only to be swept each time. Late in 1970-71, they jumped at the chance to acquire Garry Unger from the Red Wings even though it meant giving up one of their most popular players when they traded Berenson. The Detroit team was below average, but Berenson enjoyed a solid career and played two games for Canada during the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union. Four years after trading him, St. Louis reacquired Berenson to anchor their checking line. He filled that role well and recorded two 20-goal seasons. He retired in 1978 with 658 career points.
Following his playing career, Berenson became a coach. He served as assistant for the St. Louis Blues for 18 months and was then named head bench boss on December 8, 1979. The high point in his NHL coaching tenure was a team record of 107 points in 1980-81, which garnered him the Jack Adams Award. His selection was the first unanimous vote in the history of the award as the Blues finished second only to the New York Islanders in the NHL's overall standings. Unfortunately, the New York Rangers in a tough six game series upset the Blues in the quarterfinals. They were never able to build on the promise of that great season. Berenson paid the price when he was fired in 1982 after the club accumulated 27 fewer points and was bounced in the opening round of the playoffs. A few months later, he joined the Buffalo Sabres as an assistant under his old St. Louis coach, Scotty Bowman. This arrangement worked well until Berenson received an irresistible opportunity to coach at his alma mater in Michigan.