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Brooks' words key U.S. run

The coach's wisdom has American men in hockey final.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 24, 2002

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- So this is how a great hockey mind works; in fits and starts, twists and turns, using words in combinations that occasionally throw his players for a loop.

Welcome to the world of Herb Brooks, Olympic coach extraordinaire, word-smith unequaled.

"You wouldn't believe it if I told you," said U.S. forward Doug Weight when asked to share a few Herbisms. "A lot of it doesn't make sense. "The legs feed the wolf.' We just looked at each other. We think it means we have to move our feet."

"He makes you think," forward Bill Guerin said. "That's for sure."

Think about this. Twenty-two years to the day after leading a bunch of college kids to the 1980 gold medal in Lake Placid, Brooks is back with a roster full of NHL stars, poised to win again.

Brooks, 64, says there is so much talent on the U.S. team, which faces Canada today at the E Center, all he has to do is "throw the puck out there and let them have fun."

His players disagree.

"He's a huge part of this," Guerin said. "He's the guy who makes this go and makes us think we can be the best we can be. He's the kind who never takes too much credit.

"Even though he won't tell you, he's a big part of the team."

His part, however, is much different.

"They were calling me the Ayatollah at that time," said Brooks, referring to the Ayatollah Khomeni, Iran's iron-fisted religious leader in 1980. "I was more of a teacher."

Now, he said, "With this team, I'm not telling them anything. Just reminders, formulating a game plan. My thing is to ask questions and listen. We have a lot of quality people. I'm just trying to come up with a common denominator and go forward."

"I think that's just the modesty of Herb," Weight said. "He's done an incredible job. He wants input, which means he checked his ego at the door."

The players said Brooks' familiarity with the large international ice was integral to understanding how to attack (with more motion) and defend (positioning is key).

The players take it from there, and even Brooks said he hasn't had enough time to implement a sophisticated system.

"Experience has made him realize that in the short-term, you can't implement exactly what he wants," defenseman Brian Leetch said. "But that's from years of doing certain things and getting to this point."

Brooks, who has coached the old North Stars, Rangers, Penguins and Devils, said he is fine with where he is at this point of his career and has "no desire" to return to the NHL.

Also consistent: Brooks' ability to turn a memorable phrase.

"You're playing worse and worse every day," he once said. "Right now, you're playing like it's the middle of next week."

After the United States defeated Russia 3-2 in Friday's semifinals, he said, "Sometimes, players ask for the time of day, but they can't figure out the time in Switzerland."

On playing Canada after surviving Russia, he said, "It's going from the frying pan into the fireplace a little bit."

He said the right words during a timeout in the third period after Russia scored two goals in the first four minutes to make it 3-2.

"It's a word association type of thing," he said. "Emotions are going, so we have certain key words that we tried to implement last September that would trigger a thought process and reaction. And I just mentioned that one word."

What was the word, he was asked.

"I forgot," he said. "We have to react, react to what's there. I'm not going to tell you the word. I'm just getting around it."

And that's how a great hockey mind works.

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