In 1980, the United States National Hockey Team shocked the world by defeating the Soviet Union Hockey Team in the semi-finals of the Olympic Games. In the years that followed, “the Miracle on Ice” and coach Herb Brooks’ shrewd, tough-as-nails coaching style became a defining moment in the history of American sports which was immortalized in the film “Miracle” starring Kurt Russell. But while the world may know Herb as a college-coach-cum-national-hero, Dan Brooks knew him as dad. The former college hockey player and current investment banker spoke with Fatherly about his father’s career, the pressures of having a hockey-legend as a dad, and the moments on the ice he’ll never forget.
Young kids have trouble grasping a lot of jobs but everyone knows what a coach is. And, as a kid playing hockey, I thought it was great. My dad was the coach of the Minnesota Gophers and the New York Rangers and the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. That was the coolest thing in the world and having my dad do that for a living was awesome.
My favorite times with my dad always revolved around hockey. My fondest memories as a kid were when he would bring me on the road with him to watch high school recruits play. It was usually in the dead of winter and we would head out so he could see high school hockey teams all over the map. It was great getting to be there with him and just spend that time with my dad.
Before I headed off to college to play hockey, my dad gave me some advice from the perspective of a coach. He said, “Be the first one on the ice, the last one to leave, and keep your mouth shut.”
And when he was coach of the New York Rangers, I would go to the team’s home games with him at Madison Square. Our house was about an hour drive from the game so we would get a couple hours to talk before and after. We would talk about hockey, life, or whatever else came up. Those were the best times.
But in truth, he always was very busy so he was gone a lot. Being a coach meant he was on the road all of the time, so I was used to him not being home for dinner. He worked tirelessly for long hours. He once had to turn around Minnesota’s hockey program and whether it was recruiting or studying tape, he always had something going on that would eat up a lot of his time. And when he was home, he was incredibly dedicated to his profession.
To be clear, he wasn’t an absentee father. It was the nature of the job. His profession demanded a nontraditional dedication. And from a young age, I understood that. Unlike a lot of kids with busy parents, I was lucky because it was always clear to me what my father did. He was a hockey coach.
I remember getting to watch him on TV coaching Minnesota as they played North Dakota and Wisconsin. And getting to cheer him on even when he was away was huge for me. A lot of kids have dads who went away on business and they had no clue what that meant. I knew exactly what my dad was doing and it was something I was proud of.
It was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, moments in U.S. sports history and my dad wasn’t simply a minor footnote in the story. He was the coach.
My dad had a reputation as a strict, disciplinarian coach so I think a lot of people assumed he was the same way as a father. But I didn’t get into trouble too much so I didn’t really give him the opportunity to be much of a disciplinarian. I wasn’t asking for a new car or something outlandish every day. I was a quiet, reserved kid who kept to myself. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we definitely butted heads sometimes, but overall we didn’t have too many problems.
I was at the Miracle on Ice game during the 1980 Olympics and that experience was incredible. It really was like getting to be in a movie, as this legendary game played out before our eyes. It was a magical time. Every bit as incredible as you would imagine it would be. I mean, it was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, moment in U.S. sports history and my dad wasn’t simply a minor footnote in the story. He was the coach. It was more than a sporting event. It was an iconic moment in American history. People can remember where they were during the game. There’s nothing like it.
And my dad was prophetic. He knew how big the Miracle on Ice was as soon as it happened. He predicted that the magnitude of the game would only grow with time. He knew just how big that win against the Soviets was. And for the first ten years, it was definitely a big deal but every year since then the legend has only grown. The Miracle on Ice stirs up so much emotion in people all around the country and it’s become a moment of such historical significance.
My dad was gone too much to get too involved in my amateur hockey career but it was always special when he got to watch me play.
Then the movie happened and it helped remind people of this incredible story and also introduced younger people to the Miracle on Ice for the first time. I thought it was a great movie. As a Disney movie, it definitely toned down some things but I would say it was about 85 percent accurate.
Before I headed off to college to play hockey, my dad gave me some advice from the perspective of a coach. He said, “Be the first one on the ice, the last one to leave, and keep your mouth shut.” He was big on peace of mind and always reminded me that no trophy or money could ever be as rewarding as knowing I did my best.
My dad was gone too much to get too involved in my amateur hockey career but it was always special when he got to watch me play. In my junior and senior year of college, he finally had some downtime because he was in between coaching jobs and that was special for both of us. I loved him getting to watch me at an elite level. He went to every game.
As Told To Blake Harper.