Herb Brooks (Aug 5, 1937-11 August 2003) was an American ice hockey coach, best known for coaching the U.S. national team to a gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics in an event known as the “Miracle on Ice”.
As a player, Brooks was a member of the U.S. team in the 1964 and 1968 Olympic Games. As a coach, he coached at the college, national, European professional, and National Hockey League (NHL) levels. Among other coaching achievements, Brooks won three collegiate championships at the University of Minnesota, turning around a program which finished last before his arrival. Later in his career he worked as a motivational speaker, TV analyst and NHL scout.
Brooks was an innovator in American hockey, creating what became known as the “hybrid” style. Mixing a European puck possession style of play with the North American dump-and-chase style of play, he created a fast-paced and creative style which became the cornerstone of his 1980 gold medal team. Part of what made Brooks so successful was his uncanny way of motivating players and getting the most out of them.
Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to Herbert Brooks, Sr. and Pauline Brooks, Brooks played on the Johnson High School hockey team that won the 1955 state hockey championship. He also played baseball during the summer.
The 1958–59 Gopher Hockey Team with dignitaries Lou Nanne and Larry Smith.
Brooks played hockey at the University of Minnesota from 1955-1959. He almost made the 1960 Olympic team, only to be cut the week before the Games started. Three weeks later, Brooks sat at home with his father and watched the team he almost made win gold. That night Herb Sr. told his son, “looks like Coach Riley cut the right guy”; this humbling moment served as motivation for an already self-driven person.
From 1960-1970, Brooks set a record by playing on a total of eight U.S National and Olympic teams, including the 1964 and 1968 Olympic squads. Later, he coached the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team to three NCAA championships (1974, 1976, and 1979). After being approached by Michigan Tech after head coach John MacInnes died in 1983, Brooks turned their offer down to coach St. Cloud State University instead, and led SCSU to become a Division I hockey school. Brooks finished his collegiate coaching with a record of 175 wins, 101 losses and 20 ties. In 1980, he became the first coach of the United States to lead his hand-picked team to victory against the USSR in 20 years. The “miracle” team mostly consisted of University of Minnesota players and their rival Boston University players.
Death and Bequest
At the age of 66, Brooks died in a single car accident on the afternoon of August 11, 2003, near Forest Lake, Minnesota, on Interstate 35. It is believed that he fell asleep behind the wheel before the accident after driving all night, and neither drugs nor alcohol was responsible. Brooks was not wearing his seatbelt at the time of the crash, and according to the Minnesota State Patrol it is likely he would have survived the crash if he had been.
Disney released a film about the 1980 Olympic team in 2004 called Miracle featuring Kurt Russell playing the part of Brooks (Karl Malden had previously played Brooks in a 1981 television film called Miracle on Ice). Brooks served as a consultant during principal photography, which was completed shortly before his death. At the end of the movie there is a dedication to Brooks. It states, “He never saw it. He lived it.”
Upon the 25th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice, the Olympic ice arena in Lake Placid, New York, where the United States won the gold medal, was renamed Herb Brooks Arena. A statue of Brooks depicting his reaction to the victory in the “Miracle” game was erected in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 2003.
An award was created in Brooks’ name, the Herb Brooks Award, which is awarded at the conclusion of the Minnesota State High School League’s state hockey tournament to “the most qualified hockey player in the state tournament who strongly represents the values, characteristics, and traits that defined Herb Brooks.”
In Blaine, Minnesota, there is a training center called Herb Brooks Training Center.
The road that surrounds the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota is called Herb Brooks Way.
In 2006, Brooks was posthumously inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Builders’ category.
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