A Hockey Coach to Remember
Herbert Brooks coached the miracle hockey team of the Olympics of 1980. He had skated in two Olympic teams himself, was a long time college hockey coach, and spent 1979 looking for recruits for the team. In 1980, the US did not recruit NHL stars, for the players were still of entirely amateur status. Herbie Brooks went to the National Sports Festival in Colorado Springs, Co in 1979 and found those players who were the most willing to adapt to his style of hockey playing. His style was to skate hard and fast and work together as a team, with no individual standouts. He gave them psychological tests as well as physical ones, and tried to determine which players could not play together due to intense regional rivalry. Hockey was strong in only a few places back in 1980, and the rivalry between the University of Minnesota and Boston University was intense, culminating in a 1976 NCAA semifinal that was one of the nastiest college games played until that point.
Twelve of the young men he was considering for the team were from Minnesota, and Brooks had coached nine of them at the University of Minnesota. Four were from Boston University, and Brooks was not sure if they could forget their regional allegiance to play together for the Olympic team as a true team. The Easterners thought that Brooks was especially hard on them, but the men who had skated under Brooks said that his motto was “I’m here to be your coach; I’m not here to be your friend.” Brooks was given a whip by the team as a gag gift for Christmas.
To get the team to work together, Brooks had six weeks of training camp, and then sixty-one hockey games played all over Europe and America during a five month period. Brooks ran them ragged, criticized them, and left the morale building to his assistant coaches. During this five month period he went over and over the team plans, looking for how to play the perfect game of hockey. When the team was winning, he congratulated them, but kept working over the plans. When the team tied, as they did in Norway, he was disgusted with the lack of effort. After the game was over, he told his players “If you don’t want to skate during the game, then you’ll skate after it.” And the team did just that, skating line sprints: end line to blue line and back, end line to red line and back, end line to end line and back. The crowd left, the janitors turned out the lights, and still the team skated. The next night, the team won, 9 to 0.
Herbert Brooks died in an automobile accident on August 11, 2003. His Lake Placid team came to pay their respects to a hard taskmaster, but a beloved and respected coach. As they said in the eulogy “Herbie had a dream. And his players had a dream.” He pursued that dream to the remarkable gold medal team of Lake Placid in 1980.