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U.S. Hall of Fame inductees reflect on Coach Brooks

Tuesday, 12.01.2009 / 6:58 PM / U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- It's become a recurring theme each season when the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame gets together to induct its newest members. At some point, those enshrined will acknowledge the impact legendary coach Herb Brooks had on their careers.

This year was no different when USA Hockey saluted Tony Amonte, John LeClair, Tom Barrasso, the 1998 Olympic women's hockey team and inventor Frank Zamboni during the 37th ceremony and dinner on Tuesday at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel.

In addition to honoring this year's inductees, USA Hockey paid tribute to the 1960 U.S. Olympic Men's Team that garnered gold in Squaw Valley, Calif. This February will mark the 50th Anniversary of that group winning the United States' first Olympic gold in ice hockey. Brooks was the last player cut from that team.

"People don't realize this, but I also cut three of my best players from West Point from that Olympic Team," 1960 Men's Olympic coach Jack Riley told NHL.com. "If I was going to keep someone, I would have kept an extra defenseman and not a forward. If I could have had four lines, I could have kept (Brooks)."

Still, Riley was proud of Brooks and his accomplishment during the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" in Lake Placid.

"I thought it was great what he did," Riley said. "He really utilized the conditioning drills that we did (at West Point) during the run in '80. You can't play that fancy game in the Olympics, it's all about conditioning and outplaying your opponent in the final period -- I think we outscored the opposition 19-4 in third at West Point. As it was, no one had ever out-conditioned the Russians before and we did that."

It was quite a unique setting during media availability for the U.S. Hall of Fame as Riley spoke about Brooks -- the player -- while members of the 2002 men's Olympic Team offered their view of Brooks -- the coach.

"Herb was awesome and really a super guy," Amonte told NHL.com. "I really never had a chance to meet him before the training camp for that Olympic year but what a character he was. He wasn't super crazy like in the movie ("Miracle") because I believe he really mellowed. I don't know if age had taken its toll on him, but he seemed to have a more calm approach by the time the '02 Olympics rolled around."

Brooks' top line that Olympic year was dubbed the "Divine Line" with Mike Modano centering for Brett Hull and LeClair -- the highest-scoring trio (9 goals, 21 points in 6 games) in the tournament.

"He was not only interesting but he motivated people," LeClair said. "He tried to get guys to think and do things a little differently and it usually worked. It was quite an experience and that was part of the excitement; being able to play for Herb Brooks. Playing in the Olympics was exciting in itself and the 'Herbisms' you talk and hear about are all true. To experience that was incredible."

"The whole tournament was magical," Amonte said. "It was a lot of fun and it seemed everything was going our way up to that last game (against Team Canada). We were getting the breaks and we were getting all the bounces on the ice until that last game. But even though we lost, it was a hell of a game."

USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean summed up Brooks best.

"I think you can really define it pretty simply -- Herb Brooks was the architect of the single most significant moment in the history of American hockey," Ogrean told NHL.com. "His role with that team was clearly one of larger-than-life dominance since we were dealing with players younger than we have now. Herb was the leader, the one who molded them, pushed them and challenged them and a guy who always insisted on doing things his way. He was never a compromiser, but, at the end of the day, he put his signature on what is the pinnacle moment for hockey in the United States."

Ogrean was always cognizant of Brooks' successful track record and was confident he'd make USA Hockey proud once again in 2002.

"In the intervening years between 1980 and 2002, Herb spent most of that time in the NHL," Ogrean said. "He had coached, scouted and gotten more experience in Europe. He absorbed a lot of knowledge of international and NHL hockey, so when the NHL guys entered the Olympic Games, it was a logical fit to bring him back in 2002. And we almost did it again but Canada was just better that day (in the gold medal game)."

"He was not only interesting but he motivated people.  He tried to get guys to think and do things a little differently and it usually worked. It was quite an experience and that was part of the excitement; being able to play for Herb Brooks. Playing in the Olympics was exciting in itself and the 'Herbisms' you talk and hear about are all true. To experience that was incredible."
-- John LeClair

Barrasso received his first Olympic shot under Brooks in 2002 and is forever grateful for the opportunity.

"I played a little bit for Herb in Pittsburgh but I think the Olympics ignited something in him that pro hockey didn't," Barrasso said. "I think his passion for the game and his love for teaching came through more in the Olympics than in the pro game. It was an amazing time to be with Team USA."

What many people forget is Brooks coached France at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, where the women's Olympic team earned their moment in the spotlight.

"I knew Herb for 20 years prior to the '98 Olympics and having him there to talk shop on most nights was just fantastic," said '98 women's Olympic coach Ben Smith. "It was funny, while we were waiting for our bus that would take us to the rink, my assistant coach would walk up beside Herb and rub his shoulder against his and say, "Have anything left coach?' Herb would get a big kick out of that. When we won it, we spent quality time with him and I kidding him, 'See Herb, we were able to do it on the road (winning gold in Nagano, Japan) and you could only do it at home (in Lake Placid, N.Y.)."

Contact Mike Morreale at: mmorreale@nhl.com.


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