Tuesday, August 12, 2003

'Miracle on Ice' mentor was motivator, innovator

Hockey coach Herb Brooks: 1937-2003

The Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS - Herb Brooks, who coached the U.S. hockey team to the "Miracle on Ice" victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, died Monday in a car wreck.

He was 66.

The Hall of Famer was killed when his minivan rolled over at a highway intersection north of the Twin Cities, and he was ejected, police said.

"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."

Brooks was behind the bench when the Americans pulled off one of the greatest upsets, beating the mighty Soviets with a squad of mostly college players.

That shocking victory, plus beating Finland for the gold medal, assured the team a place in sports immortality and gave the nation 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 cast a pall over the United States. The 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.

On Feb. 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!"

Brooks' leadership helped turn a ragtag team into champions. He had hand-picked 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."

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," 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."

Brooks returned to lead the 2002 U.S. Olympic hockey team to a silver medal.

Brooks coached the New York Rangers (1981-85), where he reached the 100-victory mark faster than any other coach in franchise history. He coached the Minnesota North Stars (1987-88), the New Jersey Devils (1992-93) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (1999-00). He also led the French Olympic team at the 1998 Nagano Games.

Last season, Brooks was the director of player development for the Penguins. He rejected a multimillion-dollar offer to coach the 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."

Brooks at a glance

Honors: Three NCAA championships as head coach of Minnesota, 1974, 1976 and 1979; gold medal as coach of U.S. Olympic Team, 1980; inducted into U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, 1990.

Playing career: University of Minnesota, 1955-59; U.S. Olympic Team, 1964, 1968.

College coaching: Minnesota, 1972-79; St. Cloud State 1986-87.

Olympics coaching: United States, 1980, 2002; France, 1998.

Herb Brooks' NHL Record

Regular Season

81-82 NY Rangers392714-.575
82-83 NY Rangers353510-.500
83-84 NY Rangers42299-.581
84-85 NY Rangers15228-.422
87-88 Minnesota194813-.319
92-93 New Jersey40377-.531
99-00 Pittsburgh292351.570


Yr, TmWLPct.
81-82 NY Rangers55.500
82-83 NY Rangers54.556
83-84 NY Rangers23.400
92-93 New Jersey14.200
99-00 Pittsburgh65.545

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