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Monday, August 11, 2003

Herb Brooks, rest in peace.

The coach of the 1980 Olympic "Miracle On Ice" team died today in a single vehicle accident. Alcohol was not a factor, and it seems that he simply lost control of his minivan, which rolled over and threw him clear. He was 66.

For previous thoughts on the Miracle team, go here. Hey, I'm still so jacked about the upset of the Soviets I managed to work a reference to it into a rant about bad liturgy.

Brooks' first contribution to the gold medal run was the ferocious conditioning regimen he imposed on the team, which ensured it wouldn't run out of gas in the third period:

U.S. team physician V. George Nagobads, a native of Latvia, talked with Soviet players after the Olympics. Most of them didn't seem mortally wounded by they loss, although Vasili Vasilyev was perplexed that the U.S. had managed to defeat his strong team.

"What did you give your players to eat or drink so in the third period they can skate like that?" Vasilyev asked. "Last period is always ours. In second period, when we were ahead 3-2, we celebrate."

Perhaps more obvious were his motivational techniques. His goal? To demythologize the legendary Soviets:

[He] had told them so many times over the past few months that Soviet captain Boris Mikhailov looks like Stan Laurel that, well, it was impossible for them to treat Mikhailov, or any of his teammates, with reverence. "Every time we watched a film of the Russians," said [forward John] Harrington, "he'd keep saying, 'Stan Laurel, Stan Laurel, look at Stan Laurel.'"

Along the way, he hit the collegians with an arsenal of aphorisms that would have flattened Morrie Schwartz:

[John] Harrington, [Dave] Silk and captain Mike Eruzione have compiled a 16-page booklet entitled Brooksisms—and "Stan Laurel" is an entry. An old-fashioned motivator, Brooks repeats favored aphorisms with enough regularity that they make an impression. Among them:

—You're playing worse every day, and right now you're playing like the middle of the next month.

—Gentlemen, you don't have enough talent to win on talent alone.

—Boys, in front of the net it's bloody-nose alley.

—Don't dump the puck in. That went out with short pants.

—Throw the puck back and weave, weave, weave. But don't just weave for the sake of weaving.

—Let's be idealistic, but let's also be practical.

—You can't be common because the common man goes nowhere. You have to be uncommon.

But perhaps the master motivator's greatest manuever was right before the clash with the Russians:

Before the game against the Soviets, Brooks took out a note card and read a prepared text. "You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here." His players believed him.

His style didn't play as well with NHL professionals, and his career there was mixed at best. Still, he was the ideal pick for the 2002 U.S. team, and his by then-mellowed style meshed well with the NHL veterans that brought back a silver, the first U.S. hockey medal since 1980. Moreover, his penchant for firing zingers was fully intact:

German coach Hans Zach injected a bit of intrigue into his team's game with the Americans when he didn't pull his goaltender in the closing minutes of a 3-2 loss to Canada on Sunday night. Asked for his reasoning, Zach said he preferred to finish last in the pool and meet the United States in the quarterfinals.

''Maybe that's why they lost the Second World War, guys,'' [ ] Brooks said.

Brooks is survived by his wife, Patti, and two children.

He will be greatly, greatly missed.

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