Flashback Friday: Beyond Olympic Glory, Brooks Helped Grow Hockey in Minnesota

August 10, 2018 09:38 AM

It's been 15 years since legendary hockey coach Herb Brooks was killed in a single-car accident on Interstate 35 near Forest Lake.

Brooks, who was 66 at the time of his death on Aug. 11, 2003, is best remembered as the coach who led the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team to the gold medal.

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That team, featuring numerous Minnesotans on a youthful roster drawn from the ranks of American college hockey, memorably upset the far-more-experienced Soviet Union before beating Finland to complete what became known as the "Miracle on Ice."

Flashback Friday: Completing the Miracle: US Olympic Team Beat Finland for Men's Hockey Gold 38 Years Ago

Prior to that, though, Brooks helped lead St. Paul Johnson to the 1955 state title as a player and went on to a standout career at the University of Minnesota, and with the 1964 and '68 U.S. Olympic teams. 

Brooks was also the final player cut from the 1960 Olympic team, which also captured a gold medal.

As head coach at Minnesota from 1972-79, he led the Gophers to three national championships. His post-Olympic coaching career included stints with the NHL's New York Rangers, Minnesota North Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins.

He also led the 2002 U.S. Olympic team, this one made up of NHL stars, to a silver medal.

"When you think of Herb, everybody thinks about the Olympics," said Mike Ramsey, who played for Brooks with the Gophers, winning a national championship in 1979, and then went on to be part of that 1980 Olympic team.

He went on to an All-Star career as an NHL player, then entered the coaching ranks - serving as an assistant with the Minnesota Wild from 2000 to 2010.

"That's a huge part of his legacy, but you also have to think about the championships he won at Minnesota. All the things he did as a player, and starting Division I hockey at St. Cloud State. There was a lot more to Herb than just the Olympics."

Indeed, it was during that one-season stop at St. Cloud State in 1986-87 when a young coach named Bob Motzko got to know him.

Brooks had taken the job to shepherd the Huskies' transition to the Division I level, helping answer the wish of his own college coach John Mariucci to develop more Division I hockey programs in the state.

At the time, only Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth competed at that level.

Motzko had been a two-year varsity letter-winner at the school from 1984-86 before joining Brooks' staff as an assistant. 

"He was only a few years removed from winning the gold medal at that point," Motzko recalls. "Herb Brooks was a household name. He was a legend. And to think he was coming to St. Cloud State, it was just a magical time for the university and for hockey in Minnesota."

Motzo continued, "And for me, as a young coach, to get to be on his staff was huge. It set my whole career in motion."

Motzko would eventually return to St. Cloud State, serving as head coach from 2005 to 2018 and guiding the Huskies to eight NCAA tournament berths, including a Frozen Four appearance in 2013.

Last March, he was named the new head coach at the University of Minnesota, taking over a job that once belonged to Brooks.

RELATED: Motzko Named Men's Hockey Coach at U of M

"I'd be lying if I said that hasn't crossed my mind here and there," said Motzko, an assistant coach with the Gophers from 2001 to 2005. "To know I'm following in the footsteps of guys like Herb and John Mariucci, and Doug Woog and Don Lucia. I definitely feel very fortunate to be in this position."

By taking over the St. Cloud State job, Motzko said Brooks helped pave the way for future jumps to the Division I level at Minnesota State-Mankato and Bemidji State.

"He brought John Mariucci up to meet with our program the year he was (at St. Cloud State), and they talked about that vision," Motzko said, "but it was also a vision Herb had. He was committed to growing Division I hockey in Minnesota. He was such a competitor, and I'm sure he looked around and saw how many Division I programs they had in Massachusetts, and in Michigan. And Minnesota only had two. He wanted to change that."

Motzko added, "And look at all that's happened since. It's really a great time for that story to be told. Look at how powerful teams in this state are now at the Division I level. A lot of those dots connect back to Herb Brooks."

Additional programs have created additional Division I opportunities for players and coaches. A fact not lost on those in the state's high school coaching ranks today.

"He had the vision to create more opportunities to develop the American player, specifically Minnesota kids," said Sean Goldsworthy, the head coach at Minnetonka and son of former North Stars great Bill Goldsworthy.

"Today, Minnesota hockey has never been stronger. USA Hockey has never been stronger. That's a great legacy he left," Goldsworthy said. 

"A lot of coaches in the high school and college ranks still fall under his coaching tree," he continued. "I'd even consider myself in that group. I started out as an assistant under (1980 Olympian) John Harrington at St. John's. And a lot of what Herb did was related through John. So his influence continues to be passed down."

Ramsey addd that's part of how Brooks would want to be recalled.

"I think he would have wanted people to remember him as an innovator," Ramsey said. "As somebody who thought outside the box and didn't just follow the old school. He was a guy who liked coming up with new approaches and new ideas."

Credits

Frank Rajkowski

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