College hockey lost one of its all-time greats yesterday (Nov. 11) with the passing of University of Michigan alum Al Renfrew at the age of 90. Renfrew was a former player, coach and athletics administrator at Michigan and is the only man to win a national championship as both a player and coach in Wolverine hockey history. Renfrew was honored with the 1990 Hobey Baker Legends of College Hockey Award for his outstanding contributions to college hockey.
As one of the Wolverines first elite scorers, Al Renfrew was a key member of Michigan’s first national championship team in 1948 and then coached the Wolverines to a national title in 1964 during a 16-year career behind the Michigan bench from 1957-1973.
"Al was one of the main reasons I came back as a coach," head coach Red Berenson said. "He and Don Canham talked to me about coming back to Michigan in 1984 and part of the reason I came back was the experience he had given me as a player. He was a mentor when I first started here. Al was always a friend and I always felt that any time we needed to talk about hockey or anything else he was there for you. He meant a lot to Michigan hockey as a player and a coach, and he was a big part of the athletic department, along with his wife Marjorie, for years until he retired. He was a great friend of Michigan and a great friend of the Michigan hockey program."
A native of Toronto, Ontario, Renfrew began his hockey career as a standout at De La Salle High School, coming to Michigan with high school teammates John MacInnes and Ross Smith. Renfrew recorded 172 points (91 goals, 81 assists) during his four year career as the left wing on a line with Gordon McMillan and Wally Gacek. He helped kick off a golden era of Michigan Hockey under head coach Vic Heyliger, as the Wolverines went 70-18-6 during Renfrew's four years in Ann Arbor, including the 1948 national championship win over Dartmouth. Renfrew served as captain of the Wolverines during his senior season, graduating from the school of education in 1949.
After working two years as a salesman for Cushing-Malloy, a printing company, Renfrew returned to college hockey, landing the head coaching job at Michigan Tech on the recommendation of Heyliger. In his fifth season, Renfrew coached the Huskies to the national championship game against Michigan in 1956, where Heyliger led the Wolverines to a 7-5 victory over his former pupil. Renfrew took the head coaching position at North Dakota the following year, leading them to an 18-11 record before Heyliger stepped down as the head coach at Michigan in 1957. A few months later, Michigan athletic director Fritz Crisler called and Renfrew, at 32 years old, became the head coach of the Wolverines.
During his time as hockey coach, Renfrew and his wife Marjorie were responsible for one of Michigan's lasting traditions. Looking to boost the morale of the team, they created the first M-Club banner in 1962, giving then football coach Bump Elliot the idea to let football players touch the banner on their way out of the tunnel at Michigan Stadium. Following his coaching career, Renfrew served as an assistant athletic director, managing the Michigan Athletics ticket office until his retirement in 1990.
"I coached at two other fine hockey schools," Renfrew told the Michigan Daily in 1973. "But I always knew there was only one place: Michigan."
One of his first star players was a recruit from Regina, Saskatchewan named Red Berenson, a two-time All-American with the Wolverines. In 16 seasons at Michigan, Renfrew compiled a record of 222-207-11 (.517), winning five Big Ten titles, a WCHA regular season championship, and the 1964 NCAA title, Michigan's seventh national championship in hockey. In the 1964 national championship game against host Denver, the Wolverines avenged a loss in the WCHA Tournament a week earlier, defeating the Pioneers, 6-3 to finish the season 24-4-1. Renfrew called winning the 1964 NCAA championship "the biggest thrill in my life."
During his time an athletic administrator at Michigan, Renfrew was inducted in the University of Michigan Hall of Honor in 1986 and was presented the George Eldridge Distinguished Service Award from the College Athletics Business Management Association at the 1990 NCAA Convention in Dallas, Texas. Renfrew is also a member of the Michigan Dekers Cub Hall of Fame and the Michigan Dekers Legends of Hockey.