Michigan, MSU hockey coaches remember Mike Ilitch contributions – Detroit Free Press
Michigan coach Red Berenson pointed out a few positives after the Wolverines’ shoot-out victory over Michigan State, 5-4, at Joe Louis Arena on Friday. Video by Brandon Folsom/Special to DFP
Joe Louis Arena has been integral to the growth of college hockey in not only Michigan but around the Midwest and even in other parts of the country. Much of that has to do with the support the sport received from Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, who died Friday at 87.
Illitch brought in events such as College Hockey at the Joe and the Great Lakes Invitational and pushed for the arena to host multiple conference and national tournaments.
That also includes the Duel in the D, an annual meeting between rivals Michigan and Michigan State, which played its final rendition Friday at the Joe â just hours after both teams learned of Ilitchâs death â before the series moves to Little Caesars Arena next season.
The Wolverines ultimately edged the Spartans, 5-4, in a shoot-out, but neither coach from both teams could leave the Joe without sharing their favorite memories of Ilitch and what the legendary owner did for hockey in the state.
âI feel terrible about Mike Ilitch,â U-M coach Red Berenson said. âI interviewed for the Red Wings job years ago when I was cut loose in St. Louis (1977-78), and I spent the day with Mike Ilitch and his family. What a first-class group they were.â
Berenson first remembers Ilitch as the owner of a fast-pitch softball team in Detroit.
But the two became close friends after Berensonâs interview with the Red Wings.
âWe always had a friendship after that,â Berenson said. âHe had family that went to Michigan, so he had some ties at Michigan.
âHe would call me from time to time to talk about hockey or talk about Michigan. What a great person. What a great resume (Ilitch had as an owner).â
MSU coach Tom Anastos remembers when he played for the Paddock Pool Saints junior team in Ecorse in 1979-81 and would often face Ilitchâs Little Caesars program.
âThe best team we played against was Little Caesars,â he said. âThey had one team, and we played against them, and it was in my division. They had a terrific team, and over the years, heâs given so much to hockey at every level.
âBefore he got the Red Wings, he was sponsoring teams and has continued to do so, and heâs made a huge commitment to college hockey to help raise the profile of the CCHA and our programs in this state. He hosted national tournaments. I can go on and on and on, and itâs a terrible loss, but, boy, did he make a massive contribution to the game.â