Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Herb Brooks
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One on One with Herb Brooks

13 March 2012
Herb Brooks was a member of the 1964 and 1968 U.S. Olympic teams
Herb Brooks was a member of the 1964 and 1968
U.S. Olympic teams. (Hockey Hall of Fame)
"I'm looking for players whose name on the front of the sweater is more important than the one on the back."

Those words, delivered by Herb Brooks, embody the motivation he provided for the teams he coached, including Team USA, who will forever be remembered for the 'Miracle on Ice' at that year's Olympic Games.

Herbert Paul Brooks, Jr. was born August 5, 1937 in St. Paul, Minnesota. A hotbed of hockey, Brooks's high school team won the 1955 state hockey championship. The next year, Herb attended the University of Minnesota and joined the college's hockey team, playing for the Gophers from 1955-56 to 1958-59. Invited to try out for the United States Olympic Team in 1960, Brooks was the final cut made before the tournament began. Frustrated, he watched the team go on to earn Olympic gold, but motivated himself to make certain he didn't miss the next opportunities. He didn't, either. Herb was a member of the 1964 and 1968 U.S. Olympic hockey teams.

Herb Brooks was inducted into the United States Hall of Fame in 1990.
Herb Brooks was inducted into the United States Hall of Fame in 1990. (Mecca/Hockey Hall of Fame)
After concluding his playing career, Brooks turned to coaching. He was hired by his alma mater and coached the University of Minnesota Gophers hockey team to three NCAA championships -- 1974, 1976 and 1979. He finished his collegiate coaching career with a record of 175 wins, 101 losses and 20 ties.

In 1980, he was recruited to coach Team USA at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid. Selecting a team of players primarily from the University of Minnesota and Boston University, the squad, motivated by Brooks, upset the powerful Soviet team in a game labelled 'The Miracle on Ice.' Goaltender Jim Craig said the win was akin to a Canadian college football team defeating the NFL Pittsburgh Steelers. But after the unlikely semi-final victory, the Americans still had to defeat Finland for the Olympic gold medal, which they did.

After leading the U.S. to Olympic gold in 1980, Herb Brooks went on to coach HC Davos in Switzerland for a year
After leading the U.S. to Olympic gold in 1980, Herb Brooks went on to coach HC Davos in Switzerland for a year. (USA Hockey)
After the gold medal win, Brooks coached HC Davos in Switzerland for a year.

Prior to the 1981-82 season, Herb was hired to coach the New York Rangers, and led them to a second-place finish in the Patrick Division that year. He remained behind the bench until he was released during the 1984-85 season.

He returned home and coached the St. Cloud State Huskies in 1985-86, but in 1987, he was hired to coach the Minnesota North Stars. The team missed the playoffs and he was fired. Brooks also coached the New Jersey Devils in 1992-93 and the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1999-2000. His NHL coaching record is 219 wins, 222 losses and 66 ties in 507 regular season games. From 2002 until his death, Herb Brooks was the Director of Player Personnel for the Penguins.

Dan Brooks, son of the late Herb Brooks accpets his fathers honoured members plaque from Hockey Hall of Fame Chairman and CEO, Bill Hay after being inducted posthumously into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.
Dan Brooks, son of the late Herb Brooks accpets his fathers honoured members plaque from Hockey Hall of Fame Chairman and CEO, Bill Hay after being inducted posthumously into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.
(Dave Sandford/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Prior to joining the Penguins, Brooks coached Team France in the 1998 Olympics. In 2002, he once again coached Team USA, and took the squad to the gold medal game, although they had to settle for Olympic silver after Canada defeated them 5-2.

On August 11, 2003, Herb died in a single-car accident. He was 66 years of age.

Brooks's legacy has been sealed for all-time. In 1990, he was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame. He entered the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame in 1999. And in 2006, Herb Brooks was inducted posthumously into the Builders' Category of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Ken Morrow, who played under Brooks in those 1980 Olympics, stated that "when it came to hockey, he was ahead of his time. 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."

A man of passion and dedication, Herb Brooks inspired a generation of Americans to pursue any and all dreams.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.