The ’12 Days of Christmas’ is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
November 7, 1968 may not be a particularly memorable day in world history, but it is a unique day in the history of hockey. On that night, the St. Louis Blues played in the City of Brotherly Love against the Philadelphia Flyers early in the second season of both franchises’ existence. The game might not be particularly memorable — an 8-0 drubbing perpetrated by the team that had represented the West Division in the Stanley Cup Final the season before — except that six of those goals were scored by the same person.
Today, Red Berenson might be better known as the man who coached the Michigan Wolverines for over 30 years, but he was once a formidable forward in the NHL. And on that fateful day in November, there was no stopping the Regina, Saskatchewan native.
Berenson’s Six Goals
Berenson, affectionately known as “the Red Baron” by Blues fans, had already established himself as a local hero after leading the team in goals and points in its inaugural season. But he was off to a sluggish start in the second season before this game against the Flyers. “It was early in the year, and I hadn’t scored in the previous couple of games,” Berenson told NHL.com in 2008.
It took him a while to get going on the night, too, scoring his first goal with his second shot at 16:42, a backhander over the shoulder of goaltender Doug Flavell. But that was about when the brake line on Berenson’s scoring touch was cut. In the second period, he put four shots on Flavell, and all four beat him. “None of the goals were bad goals,” Berenson explained. “They were all 5-on-5 goals — a breakaway, a 3-on-2, just good plays and the puck was going in.”
Though a number of players had scored six goals in a game to that point in league history, no one had done it as a visiting player. And with the game so out of hand, the Flyers’ fans in attendance can almost be forgiven for chanting “we want Red, we want Red” in the third period.
“I couldn’t believe that the crowd actually wanted me to score more,” Berenson told the St. Louis Post Dispatch at the time. “But let me tell you. It was one of the greatest thrills of my life” (from ”We want Red!’ Even the Philly fans loved Red Berenson on his record-setting night on Nov. 7, 1968,’ St. Louis Post Dispatch, Nov. 8, 1968 (republished Nov. 7. 2020)).
Before Berenson could fulfill the fans wishes, Terry Crisp and Camille Henry scored a goal apiece to make the total score 7-0. But the main event came to pass with 5:56 remaining in the third, when Berenson finally tallied his sixth goal. He almost went further: “I hit a crossbar on another one,” he told NHL.com. “I had 10 shots on net and then I hit a crossbar.”
Six players had scored six goals in a game before Berenson (with one, Joe Malone in 1920, scoring seven), but since Berenson, only Daryl Sittler has replicated the feat, just eight years later. Still, Berenson remains the only player to accomplish six goals playing on the road.
Jacques Plante and the Generous Salomans
Most would think that a six-goal game would be easily the greatest of a career. But Berenson wouldn’t concur: “I can tell you I probably had better games, but just didn’t have the numbers, the statistics, the goals to show for it.”
With due respect, that’s debatable. What is not debatable is that Berenson wasn’t the only player who made history that night. Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Jacques Plante recorded his 65th career shutout on the quiet end of the ice, en route to a career mark of 82, which ranks fifth all-time.
Berenson might not have thought six goals was the greatest achievement of his career, but his owners certainly disagreed. When he returned home, the Saloman family — considered some of the most generous owners in NHL history — “presented the outdoor enthusiast with a new station wagon, a canoe attached to the top and a Browning 20-gauge shotgun inside” (from ‘Blues’ ownership: A colorful history,’ St. Louis Post Dispatch, May 10, 2012).
That was more than enough reward for Berenson, who finished the season with 35 goals, a sizable chunk of the 261 with which he would retire after the 1977-78 season. He’d take over the Wolverines in 1984, where he’d remain until 2017. now 81, Berenson has seen and done a lot of amazing things in the game. But no one will forget that night over half a century ago and those six goals.