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Brooks Laid to Rest; Thousands Fill Cathedral of St. Paul

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Courtesy of

(AP) -- There wasn't anybody Herb Brooks was afraid to speak his mind to, former U.S. Olympic team captain Mike Eruzione told the 2,500 people gathered to mourn the legendary hockey coach.

"Right now, he's saying to God: 'I don't like the style of your team. We should change it," Eruzione said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

About 2,500 people filled the Cathedral of St. Paul on Saturday to pay their final respects to Brooks, the man best known for coaching the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team dubbed "The Miracle on Ice." Brooks was killed Monday in a car accident just north of the Twin Cities.

Pittsburgh Penguins great Mario Lemieux and Toronto Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn were among the attendees, along with former NHL stars Nick Fotiu and Neal Broten.

Penguins GM Craig Patrick and head scout Greg Malone were honorary pallbearers; others included former Minnesota North Stars players and coaches, Minnesota college coaches and even a few media members. They flanked the casket holding hockey sticks above their heads.

One arrangement of flowers on the altar was from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and another was from the Boston Bruins.

A lone bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" as the casket, followed by tearful mourners, made its way to a waiting black hearse before heading to a private burial location. Overhead, a squadron of planes flew the missing man formation. The Mass lasted about an hour and 45 minutes.

It was a fitting goodbye for a man who inspired many.

"I'm sure he was the greatest coach ever," Bill Butters, who played for Brooks at the University of Minnesota, told the crowd. "But to me, he was a father figure."

Most of the sports world knew Brooks for the United State's stunning victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Lake Placid Games. The service was peppered with references to the team, and several team members attended.

But for those who knew and played for him, Brooks' impact was felt far beyond hockey.

He was eulogized as a coach who was extremely hard on his players but also was a compassionate person who was devoted to his family. Ex-players spoke lovingly of a coach they had feared at times.

"He touched a lot of people, both inside and outside the sport of hockey," said Jack O'Callahan, a member of the 1980 team. "He had a broad impact; he had many friends. Everyone's going to miss him dearly."

Eruzione, who scored the game-winning goal against the Soviets, said his wife could always tell when he was talking to Brooks on the phone.

"Because I wouldn't say anything but, 'Yeah, OK, yeah.'"

Even after his playing days were over, Eruzione said he would sometimes wonder whether he had done something wrong when Brooks would call.

But there was another side to Brooks.

"He had a passion to coach, a passion to teach," Eruzione said. "It was hard for him to show his emotions. He's like your dad -- you love your dad, but sometimes you don't like him because he makes you do things you don't want to do."

Born in St. Paul, Brooks played hockey at the University of Minnesota, where he later coached from 1972 to 1979, winning three national titles.

After the Lake Placid Games, Brooks coached the New York Rangers (1981-85), where he reached the 100-victory mark faster than any other coach in franchise history. He coached the Minnesota North Stars (1987-88), the New Jersey Devils (1992-93) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (1999-00). He also led the French Olympic team at the 1998 Nagano Games.

He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.

On Monday, Brooks attended a U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame celebrity golf event in Eveleth in northern Minnesota, leaving around noon to catch a flight from Minneapolis to Chicago. He was killed when his minivan rolled over in the median on Interstate 35 just north of the Twin Cities.

Authorities were still investigating what caused the crash. Witnesses said his car veered to the right and Brooks may have overcorrected, spinning his van counterclockwise across three lanes of traffic in a 70-mph stretch of interstate.

News of his death shocked the hockey world and the state of Minnesota.

"He felt he could convert the whole world to hockey," former Gov. Arne Carlson said before walking into the cathedral.

Carlson admitted he didn't know much about hockey, but he knew Brooks and, like many people, was inspired by that night in 1980 -- one of the greatest upsets in sports history.

"It's like the death of John Kennedy; everyone knows where they were. We were glued to the television set," Carlson said.

Minnesota Wild center Darby Hendrickson was 7 years old when that game was played.

"It put a dream in your head as a kid to motivate you to want to do what they did," said Hendrickson, a Duluth native. "It allowed a kid like myself and many other kids to dream."

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