Former Gopher Herb Brooks killed in car crash

Herb Brooks was a true legend in Minnesota and United States hockey circles. From winning national championships with the Gophers to Olympic Gold Medal, his contributions to the sport of hockey may never be duplicated again. Monday night Gophers fans, coaches and players remembered Brooks.

The state of Minnesota and hockey fans across the United States mourned the loss of a legend Monday evening.

Herb Brooks, a three-time national championship coach at Minnesota, died Monday in a car accident in Forest Lake, Minn., at the age of 66. Brooks was returning from a golf trip in northern Minnesota when the accident occurred. Throughout Minnesota, hockey fans spent Monday night remembering all the great qualities of Brooks, as a coach, player and as a person.

"He was a great coach, a great hockey mind," said Craig Hulse, 33, of Hastings. "I remember when he led the Olympic team to the upset of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics, and I think from then on it was every Minnesota kid's dream to be an Olympic hockey player, and a Gopher hockey player."

Former Gopher hockey player Tom Vannelli, who played for Brooks on that 1974 national championship team, was still in shock Monday evening. Vannelli, who works in sales for the Senior PGA's 3M Championship, said Brooks was always a big hit at the tournament, and his appearance at last week's tournament was no different.

"He would come out and be a part of the tournament at the drop of a hat," said Vannelli. "I'm blown away, I just can't believe it."

Brooks played on the 1964 and 1968 U.S. Olympic teams before being named head coach of the Golden Gophers in 1972. In his seven-year tenure at Minnesota, Brooks led the Golden Gophers to five WCHA titles and the 1974, '76 and '79 NCAA Championships. He would later lead the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team to the gold medal against Finland after defeating the Soviet Union in the semifinals of the legendary "Miracle on Ice" game in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Incoming Gophers hockey freshman Mike Vannelli, the son of Tom, was Brooks' caddie last week in a celebrity golf outing at the 3M Championship. The news was as equally devastating for the younger Vannelli.

"I just saw him and now he is gone. That's really sad," said Vannelli. "He was a great guy and a great person for the sport of hockey. It's a tragedy."

Brooks, a native of Shoreview, Minn., would go on to coach in the National Hockey League for the New York Rangers (1981-85), Minnesota North Stars (1987-88), New Jersey Devils (1992-93) and Pittsburgh Penguins (1999-2000). In 2002, Brooks led the United States Olympic hockey team to a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. Brooks was elected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990 and the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame in 1999.

"This is a huge loss, not only for the University, but more importantly for the entire state of Minnesota. When you think of hockey in this state, you think of Herb Brooks. He was such a positive influence and touched so many people that we can't truly feel the weight of his loss. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family and all the lives he touched throughout this great state of hockey," said University of Minnesota Director of Athletics Joel Maturi.

"This is tragic loss for the entire Minnesota hockey family," said University of Minnesota hockey coach Don Lucia. "He was a pioneer for Minnesota's ‘Pride on Ice.' When you think of the legends of Golden Gopher hockey, you think of John Mariucci, John Mayasich and Herb Brooks. He was an inspiration to me, and my thoughts are with his family."

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