Hockey Legend Brooks Dies in Car Crash
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 accident. He was 66.
The Hall of Famer lost control of his minivan, veering onto a grassy area at a highway intersection north of the Twin Cities and rolling over.
Brooks apparently was not wearing a seat belt, and his body was found about 40 yards from the vehicle, state patrol Lt. Chuck Walerius said.
Brooks attended a Hall of Fame celebrity golf event and was on his way to the Minneapolis airport to catch a flight to Chicago, USA Hockey spokesman Chuck Menke 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 biggest upsets ever, 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 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.
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!”
It remains one of the most famous calls in sports broadcasting history.
“He was very single-minded ó a person who looked right down the tunnel and knew exactly what he had to do,” Michaels said Monday night. “He was never caught up in the afterglow. Here’s a guy that helped do something that galvanized the entire country and he wasn’t interested in parades or any attention. Just a few weeks after this, he decides to go and coach in Switzerland.”
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.”
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.”
“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. And like everyone who played for him, I became a better person because I played for Herb Brooks.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said making one of 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,” Bettman said.
Brooks returned to lead the 2002 U.S. Olympic hockey team to a silver medal. Players from the 1980 team, led by Mike Eruzione, lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony in Salt Lake City.
When he decided to coach the U.S. team again, Brooks was asked why he would return after writing the most improbable story in hockey.
“Maybe I’m sort of like the players ó 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.”
After the Lake Placid Games, 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 (news) (1992-93) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (news) (1999-00). He also led the French Olympic team at the 1998 Nagano Games.
Born in St. Paul, Brooks played hockey at the University of Minnesota, where he later coached from 1972-79, winning three national titles.
“My gut reaction is Minnesota lost its head coach today. Herb Brooks was a Minnesota legend, a Minnesota treasure,” said Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a hockey fanatic.
Brooks was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.
“He truly was part of our American hockey heritage,” said Tom Sersha, executive director at the Hall of Fame.
Brooks could always get players motivated for a game, firing them up to overcome huge odds. Before playing the Soviets, he told them: “You’re meant to be here. This moment is yours. You’re meant to be here at this time.”
Right after the victory, the coach headed to the locker room, leaving the ice to his players.
“It was not my spot,” he said years later. “I always say sort of flippantly, ‘I had to go to the bathroom. Or, ‘If I’d have went on the ice when this thing happened, someone would have speared me or something.’ It’s a great feeling of accomplishment and pride. They had to do it; it was their moment.”
Brooks never had his own moment as a player. He was the last one cut from the 1960 U.S. gold-medal team, and he played in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics without winning a medal.
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 didn’t want to be away from his wife and family in Minnesota.
“I knew him for 30 years ó we played together, we coached together, we worked together,” Penguins general manager Craig Patrick said. “Herbie lived the game and he loved the game.”
Brooks is survived by wife Patti, son Dan, and daughter Kelly.
Hockey Legend Brooks Dies in Car Crash