American hockey coach
Herb Brooks is best known for his role as coach of the 1980 U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey Team that won the gold medal at the Winter Olympic games in Lake Placid, New York, in 1980, the so-called "Miracle on Ice." Brooks had previously played for the U.S. team himself, before starting a coaching career in which he coached on the college, national, European professional, and National Hockey League (NHL) levels.
Brooks was born on August 5, 1937, in St. Paul, Minnesota, the oldest of three children. Growing up in St. Paul, hockey was a focus of Brooks' young life. He attended public schools in St. Paul, winning the MSHS hockey championship as a senior at Johnson High School. A great high school player, Brooks later said that this one of the biggest events in his life.
Played College Hockey
Because of high school hockey accomplishments, Brooks was offered a scholarship to play hockey at the University of Michigan. Instead, he chose to stay in his home state and play college hockey at the University of Minnesota. At the time, he was known as the fastest skater in college hockey. Brooks graduated from there in 1959 (some sources say 1962) with a degree in psychology.
In 1960, Brooks tried out for the Olympic team. The 1960 Winter Games were being held in Squaw Valley, California. Brooks was the last player cut from the team. Team USA went on to defeat Russia, Canada, and Czechoslovakia in upset victories and take home a medal.
Played on USA national team
Though Brooks missed out on an Olympic medal, he did make the U.S. national team as a player. He played with the team in 1961, 1962, 1965, 1967, and 1970. He also played on the 1964 and 1968 Olympic squads.
Though Brooks had a limited playing career, he did serve as captain of the 1965, 1967, 1968, and 1970 teams. During this time period, Brooks worked at a St. Paul insurance agency, which allowed him to continue to play hockey as an amateur.
Began Coaching Career
While still playing for Team USA, Brooks began his coaching career. In 1969, he became an assistant coach for his alma mater, the University of Minnesota. In 1970, he coached the Minnesota Junior Stars. Brooks first real success as a coach came in 1972 when he became the head coach at the University of Minnesota. The team won the NCAA Division I championships in 1974, just two years after Brooks took over. It was the first time a team made up completely of players developed in America had won the NCAA championship. They also won the WCHA title in 1975, and two more NCAA championships in 1976 and 1979.
Coached to Olympic Gold
In 1979, Brooks left the University of Minnesota to become coach of the U.S. national team which finished seventh in the world championships. The following year, he was named the coach of the U.S. Olympic team. At the time, players still had to be amateurs, so many of his players were college hockey players. Brooks picked twenty-six players to play the sixty exhibition games in the ten months prior to the Olympic games.
Brooks used this time to develop them into a team, as well as mold them for future professional careers. He also had to figure out which six to drop from the squad as only 20 would play in the Olympics. A demanding coach, he expected much from his players. Brooks also introduced them to a new system of hockey than had previously played in the United States. Brooks was inspired by Europeans to develop "American hockey." It used an aggressive forecheck with a puck possession strategy. While it was good for international play, it was hard to learn.
Though Team USA lost to the U.S.S.R. team in one of the last exhibition games 10-3 in New York City, Brooks' squad beat them when it mattered in tournament play. Team USA won 4-3 in an upset victory dubbed the Miracle on Ice. The Americans went on to defeat Finland 4-2 to win the gold medal. These victories made Brooks and his team heroes in the United States. However, Brooks declined to capitalize on his success right away. Brooks could have coached in the NHL right away, but he chose to go to Switzerland. He coached there for one season, for Daro in the Swiss Elite League, but it did not work out.
|1937||Born August 5 in St. Paul, Minnesota|
|1959||Graduates from the University of Minnesota|
|1960||Is last player cut from U.S. Olympic squad|
|1961||Named to the U.S. national team|
|1962||Member of U.S. national team|
|1964||Plays for Team USA at the Winter Olympics|
|1965||Member of U.S. national team|
|1967||Member of U.S. national team; plays for Team USA at the Winter Olympics|
|1968||Member of U.S. national team|
|1969||Serves as assistant coach at the University of Minnesota|
|1970||Member of U.S. national team; coaches the Minnesota Junior Stars|
|1972-79||Coaches the University of Minnesota team|
|1980||Coaches the U.S. hockey team to the "Miracle on Ice"—winning gold medal at the games in Lake Placid, New York|
|1980-81||Coaches Daro in the Swiss Elite League|
|1981||Hired as coach of the New York Rangers (NHL)|
|1985||Fired in January as coach of the New York Rangers|
|1986-87||Coaches St. Cloud State College, a Division III college hockey team|
|1987-88||Coaches the Minnesota North Stars (NHL)|
|c. 1988-90||Works as commentator for Sports Channel America|
|1991-92||Coaches the Utica Devils (AHL)|
|1992-93||Coaches the New Jersey Devils (NHL)|
|c. 1993-99||Works as scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)|
|1998||Coaches Team France at the Winter Olympics|
|1999-2000||Coaches the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)|
|2002||Coaches Team USA at the Winter Olympics, winning silver medal; awarded the Lester Patrick Award for his contributions to hockey; named director of player development for the Pittsburgh Penguins|
Became NHL Coach
In 1981, Brooks took his first job in the NHL. He was hired by Craig Patrick to apply his innovative coaching methods to the New York Rangers, a mediocre team. The Rangers did well in its first season under Brooks, posting a record of 39-27-14 and making the playoffs. He was named the coach of the year by the Sporting News. The team did not fair as well other years, and Brooks was fired in January 1985. The team's record was 15-28-8, in part because of injuries to many key players and others not playing to their potential. In his three and a half years with the team, Brooks had a record of 131-113-41.
Brooks found employment with Jostens, the ring company, but soon returned to the coaching ranks. He went back to college hockey, coaching St. Cloud State College in the 1986-87 season. The team turned around under him, finishing in third place in NCAA Division III tournament.
Returned to Coach in NHL
In 1987, Brooks returned to coach on the professional level when he was hired as coach of the Minnesota North Stars. Brooks had been offered the job three previous times, but turned it down. He did not have an immediate effect on the team, which was not great. The North Stars only had a record of 19-48-13, and Brooks was forced out, though he had a two-year contract. Brooks then spent two years doing television commentary for Sports Channel America, and working as a salesman for the Turnquist Paper Company, selling industrial paper products.
In July 1991, Brooks was named the head coach of the Utica Devils in the American Hockey League. This was the primary affiliate of the NHL's New Jersey Devils. Brooks used his teaching skills to develop the young pros. In June 1992, Brooks was picked to coach the New Jersey Devils themselves. Again, Brooks only lasted one year. The team posted a record of 40-37-7, and lost in the first round of the playoffs. Brooks resigned because of his dispute with management after his first year, though he had a three-year deal. He did not like the direction of the team.
Brooks connection to professional and international hockey was much less in the 1990s. While he went back to Turnquist Paper Company as a salesman, he also worked as a scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins for much of the 1990s. He submitted two plans to coach Team USA in the 1992 and 1994 Olympic games, but his ideas were rejected as being too costly and/or unacceptable. Brooks did coach on the international stage once in the 1990s, guiding the French hockey team in the 1998 Winter Olympics. They did not make the playoff round in Japan.
Returned to NHL Again
Still a member of the Penguins' staff, Brooks was asked to coach the team by the same Craig Patrick who had hired and fired him from the Rangers in the 1980s. Patrick had fired the Penguins' coach Kevin Constantine, who was rigid, in favor of the more flexible Brooks. The Penguins had many European players who played his style of hockey: with creativity and taking chances, but in a disciplined way. Brooks got the team into the playoffs and nurtured Ivan Hlinka, a Czech national coach, who took over in the 2000-01 season. Brooks left his coaching position after the 1999-2000 season.
Coached USA Team at Olympics
In 2002, Brooks was selected to coach the U.S. Olympic hockey team again. The challenges he faced this time were much different than in 1980. By this time, professionals were allowed to play in the Olympics, so his team was primarily composed of older NHL veterans. Brooks' job focused on getting the Americans to adjust to the wider ice surface and different style of play. He let them play their own game, but got them to play together. However, there was no miracle this time. Team USA won the silver medal, losing to the Canadian team 5-2 in the gold medal game. As Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald wrote, "He commands a certain respect for being able to do the unthinkable. Even Team Canada coach Pat Quinn talked this week about 'Herbie magic'. Brooks is that rare X-Factor."
Awards and Accomplishments
|1974, 1976, 1979||Guided University of Minnesota to NCAA Division I championship|
|1980||Coached the U.S. hockey team to the "Miracle on Ice"—winning gold medal at the games in Lake Placid, New York|
|1982||Named NHL coach of the year by the Sporting News|
|2002||Coached Team USA to silver medal at the Winter Olympics; awarded the Lester Patrick Award for his contributions to hockey|
Where Is He Now?
After the 2002 Olympics, Brooks returned to work as a scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Minnesota and a part-time motivational speaker. He did talk to the New York Rangers about their coaching vacancy during the 2002 off-season, but decided that he did not want the job, though he was the front runner. Instead, in August 2002, Brooks was named the director of player development for the Penguins. Brooks worked with the team's unsigned draft picks who play in junior and college teams, as well as those who play in the North American minor leagues.
Address: c/o Pittsburgh Penguins, Mellon Arena, 66 Mario Lemieux Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.
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Sketch by A. Petruso