Former Olympic coach Herb Brooks dies in car wreck

Monday, August 11th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ While his U.S. Olympic hockey team rushed onto the rink and America began to celebrate, Herb Brooks simply headed to the locker room.

Even later, the magnitude of the ``Miracle on Ice'' at the 1980 Lake Placid Games seemed to escape him.

``In the early years, he thought it was just part of his job _ being a coach,'' recalled announcer Al Michaels.

Brooks, a master motivator who spent a lifetime getting the most out of his hockey teams, died Monday in a car wreck at age 66.

``It seems like all the great innovators die young,'' said Ken Morrow, a defenseman on that team. ``Coach may have been the greatest innovator the sport has ever had.''

And his greatest victory came when Team USA beat the Soviet Union at Lake Placid.

The young Americans were given no chance against a veteran Soviet squad that had dominated international hockey for years and had routed them 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, Michaels exclaimed, ``Do you believe in miracles? Yes!''

That shocking victory, plus the win over Finland for the gold medal, assured the team a place in sports immortality.

Interviewed years later on why he headed to the locker room shortly after the game ended, Brooks said he wanted to leave the ice to his players.

``It was not my spot,'' he said. ``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.''

Said Michaels: ``I never saw him exult in this or brag about it.''

``Here's a guy that helped do something that galvanized the entire country and he wasn't interested in parades or any attention,'' Michaels said Monday night.

Each one of the players on the Olympic team was hand-picked by Brooks.

``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.

Players kept a notebook of ``Brooksisms,'' sayings the coach used for motivation like: ``You're playing worse and worse every day, and right now you're playing like it's next month.''

Before the game against 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.''

Brooks attended a U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame celebrity golf event Monday in northern Minnesota, leaving around noon to catch a flight from Minneapolis to Chicago, USA Hockey spokesman Chuck Menke said.

The Hall of Famer was killed when he lost control of his minivan, which veered onto a grassy area at a highway intersection north of the Twin Cities and rolled 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.

Police weren't aware of any preexisting health problems, and there were no signs to indicate that alcohol was a factor in the crash.

Brooks is survived by his wife, Patti, son Dan, and daughter Kelly.

``My gut reaction is Minnesota lost its head coach today,'' said Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a hockey fanatic. ``Herb Brooks was a Minnesota legend, a Minnesota treasure.''

Brooks also coached the New York Rangers (1981-85), Minnesota North Stars (1987-88), New Jersey Devils (1992-93) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (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 and won three national titles. The last player cut on the 1960 U.S. gold medal team, Brooks played in 1964 and 1968. He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.

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.

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.

He was asked why he wanted to 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.''