The Wolverine

August 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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68 THE WOLVERINE AUGUST 2021 BY JOHN BORTON B ob Gray keeps a pair of framed letters displayed, side by side, in a prominent place in his LaGrange, Ga., home. One letter informs him he's been rejected for attendance at the Univer- sity of Michigan. The other offers him acceptance to that same prestigious school. Those symbolize a world of dif- ference for the goalkeeper on Michi- gan's national championship ice hockey team of 1964. It's a difference he's appreciated more and more as the years passed. He's 82 now, proud enough of the '64 champs to carry the team photo in his briefcase everywhere he goes. The Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament that year turns aside individual praise like he did shots in the championship game. "Eighteen guys won that thing, not me," he insists. Only one came away with the top individual honor. Yet as his wall at- tests, it almost didn't happen. Born in Toronto, Gray moved with his family to Owen Sound, on Cana- da's Georgian Bay, when he was only 2. He played Junior Hockey exten- sively, never giving college hockey a thought. That all changed when Ross Childs, the goalie who directly preceded Gray at Michigan and an Owen Sound na- tive himself, came home one Christ- mas and informed Gray Michigan's goalies were graduating and asked about his interest in Ann Arbor. Gray didn't know about that, and didn't even know what an SAT was. But he found out, and stood ready when Michigan coach Al Renfrew called later and said he'd need to take the test. Despite a strong SAT, Michigan's rejection letter arrived. Gray called Renfrew and thanked him for the op- portunity, expecting that to be their last conversation. Renfrew strongly urged him not to sit tight. "Two weeks later, I got an accep- tance letter," Gray said. "That was a very happy day for me. I took the bus down to Michigan, and I got off with $12 in my pocket." His adjustment to Ann Arbor proved twofold — cultural and sport specific. "My first impression happened before I'd even gotten here," he ex- plained. "Al sent me some stuff, and I said to my mother: 'This place must really be huge. They've got their own fire department.' That's the star- struck state I was in. "Then you read they have a foot- ball stadium that seats 100,000 peo- ple. They've got all this, all that. I said, I'm not sure I really want to go there. Mom said, 'You'll be fine. Rossy will look after you.'" Someone else challenged him, daily. Veteran star Red Berenson de- livered a seemingly incessant initia- tion to the rookie. One day Renfrew told Gray that Berenson desired to practice early, and he wanted the freshman there. "He'd practice the same thing: throw the puck into the corner, go in, come out and shoot it back in," Gray recalled. "Hour after hour — I was getting hit in the head and everything. "Red turned out to be a very dear friend. If you can say a negative thing about Red, then you don't know Red. You really don't." The punishing barrage of shots proved nothing but positive for a freshman goalie. "When you're getting one of the greatest hockey players to ever play college hockey practicing against you every day, there's no question — that was a tremendous learning experience," Gray said. "He cut me no slack. He'd have me stand against the post and then move out. "It was constant — he was con- stantly working on his game. As a re- sult, there's no question it improved my game." Gray still faced major adjustments, like all rookies. Freshmen couldn't play in games then, so Gray's on- ice start came as a sophomore. He proved more than ready, splitting starting duties with veteran goalie Dave Butts. The two also shared the Western Collegiate Hockey Associa- tion trophy for fewest goals allowed. That team surged all the way to the NCAA semifinal, losing in a 5-4 upset to Clarkson. "I've always felt that the '62 team is the forgotten team," Gray said. "The '62 team was a great hockey team. We went to the NCAA semifinals. We completely underestimated Clark- son. Lo and behold, they beat us. "Ross Morrison shot the puck at the net, hit the goaltender's skate and rather than going in, it hit the post. The last two minutes were just noth- ing but those kinds of breaks. It was heart crushing. "That was a great hockey team." The Wolverines beat eventual NCAA champion Michigan Tech three out of four that year. But the semifinal slip-up took away an opportunity. Berenson immediately left for the Montreal Canadians. The rest of the team, Gray noted, "kind of sulked our way back home in embarrassment." Then his family back in Canada ran into financial difficulties, and Gray informed Renfrew he'd have to leave school. Instead, Renfrew introduced him to long-time Michigan fixture How- ard Wikel. "Howard became my dad," Gray re- Gray played goalie for Michigan's national championship team in 1964, earning Most Outstanding Player honors at the NCAA Tournament. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN ATHLETICS WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Bob Gray Helped U-M Net A National Title

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