Herb Brooks, who coached the U.S. hockey team to the "Miracle on Ice" victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, NY, died August 11 in a car wreck. He was 66.
Brooks, who led that team that won the gold medal in Lake Placid, NY, at the height of the Cold War, also lead the 2002 U.S. Olympic hockey team to a silver medal.
"It seems like all the great innovators die young," said Ken Morrow, a defenseman on the 1980 team and now a scout for the New York Islanders. "Coach may have been the greatest innovator the sport has ever had."
Herb Brooks was behind the bench when the Americans pulled off one of the greatest upsets ever, beating the mighty Soviets with a squad made up mainly of college players. That shocking victory, plus beating Finland for the gold medal, assured the team a place in sports immortality and gave the USA a reason to celebrate at a bleak time in its history.
The hostage taking in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the energy crisis had cast a pall over the United States.
The young U.S. team was given no chance against a veteran Soviet squad that had dominated international hockey for years and had routed the Americans 10-3 in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden the week before the Olympics.
However, on February 22, 1980, the U.S. team scored with 10 minutes to play to take a 4-3 lead against the Soviets and then held on. As the final seconds ticked away, announcer Al Michaels exclaimed, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" It remains one of the most famous calls in sports broadcasting history.
Herb Brooks' leadership helped turn a ragtag team into champions, as he had handpicked each player. "You're looking for players whose name on the front of the sweater is more important than the one on the back," Brooks once said. "I look for these players to play hard, to play smart and to represent their country."
Brooks himself was the last man cut off the 1960 Olympic Hockey team, which won a gold medal at the Olmpics in Squaw Vallye, California. Brooks would later play on the 1964 and 1968 Olympic hockey teams, serving as Captain in 68.
Players kept a notebook of "Brooksisms," sayings the coach used for motivation, such as: "You're playing worse and worse every day and right now you're playing like it's next month." Before playing the Soviets, Brooks told his players: "You're meant to be here. This moment is yours. You're meant to be here at this time."
"When it came to hockey, he was ahead of his time," Ken Morrow said. "All of his teams overachieved because Herbie understood how to get the best out of each player and make him part of a team. And like everyone who played for him, I became a better person because I played for Herb Brooks."
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement full of strong compliments. "At all levels of the game, including college hockey, Olympic hockey and the National Hockey League, Herb Brooks was a consummate teacher, an unparalleled motivator and an unquestioned innovator," Bettman said. "The strength of hockey in the United States is a testament to Herb Brooks and the historic Olympic triumph in 1980. However, there was so much more to him than that glorious moment at Lake Placid. Herb was a tireless supporter of USA Hockey players and programs, a relentless advocate of the speed and beauty of our game. "Making one of Herb Brooks' teams was an extraordinary accomplishment. It is devastating to all of us in the hockey world that his passion for the game, his insight, his foresight, have been taken away."
After the Lake Placid Games, Herb Brooks coached the New York Rangers (1981-85), where he reached the 100-victory mark faster than any other coach in franchise history. He later coached the Minnesota North Stars (1987-88), the New Jersey Devils (1992-93) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (1999-00). He had an NHL career coaching record of 219-222-66, including a 29-24-5 record with Pittsburgh.
He also led the French Olympic team at the 1998 Nagano Games.
Herb Brooks returned to lead the 2002 U.S. Olympic hockey team to a silver medal, with a squad of NHL All-Stars, as players from the 1980 Miracle On Ice team, led by Captain Mike Eruzione, lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony in Salt Lake City.
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota on August 5, 1937 Herb Brooks played hockey at the University of Minnesota, where he later coached from 1972 to 1979, winning three national titles (1974, 1976, and 1979). He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990, and the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame in 1999. .
"He truly was part of our American hockey heritage," said Tom Sersha, executive director at the Hall of Fame. "My gut reaction is Minnesota lost its head coach today," said Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a well-known hockey fanatic. "Herb Brooks was a Minnesota legend, a Minnesota treasure."
When Brooks decided to coach the U.S. team at Salt Lake City, he was asked why he would return after writing the most improbable story in hockey. "Maybe I'm sort of like the players -- there's still a lot of little boy in me," Brooks said. "And maybe I'm a little smarter now than I was before for all the stupid things I've done."
Last season, Brooks was the director of player development for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He rejected a multimillion-dollar offer to coach New York Rangers last summer, saying he didn't want to be away from his wife and family in Minnesota.
"It's a great loss for USA Hockey," said Bob Allen, who operated the Olympic Center during the 1980 Winter Games. "He was a master motivator, a great thinker."
In a recent interview at his White Bear Lake home, Herb Brooks described to the Minneapolis Star Tribune about watching one of his favorite movies, ``Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.'' "You know, Willie Wonka said it best: We are the makers of dreams, the dreamers of dreams," Brooks said. "We should be dreaming. We grew up as kids having dreams, but now we're too sophisticated as adults, as a nation. We stopped dreaming. We should always have dreams.
Herb Brooks was a dreamer and is survived by his wife, Patti, and 2 children.
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