Looking back at Miracle on Ice, friendship with Herb Brooks

Toronto Maple Leafs announcer Joe Bowen talks about the amazing event that happened 37 years ago today when Team USA defeated the USSR in whats known as the Miracle On Ice.

February 22, 1980. The Miracle on Ice.

Truly a great day for hockey. Not just American hockey. But all hockey.

It was that victory on that Friday night in little Lake Placid that changed so much. We all watched. It was seen live in Canada, and tape delayed in the United States. But we all watched. The whole hockey world watched. I was in Winnipeg, preparing to produce a Jets-Maple Leafs game on Saturday night.

I couldn’t help reflect today on the game, and then the game against Finland on Sunday that gave the Americans the gold medal. I also reflected on the people I met and knew on that team. Two in particular: the captain and the coach. Mike Eruzione and Herb Brooks.

Not long after the Olympics, I was producing NHL games for our American partner, USA Network. A game was to be played in Boston, at the Garden. We hired Eruzione, a Boston boy, as a broadcaster to work on the game, in the booth with Dan Kelly. Checking in to my hotel, and getting to my room, I opened the door, only to be greeted by Eruzione sitting in the corner chair watching TV.

“Mike, what the hell are you doing in my room?”

“John, this is Boston, I scored the goal against the Soviets….and I’m Mike Eruzione!”

We laughed. But he was right. Eruzione is forever etched as the man who scored the biggest goal in U.S. hockey history. America’s answer to Henderson’s goal in the 1972 Summit Series. Mike Eruzione, was, is, and will always be a hockey hero. And he will always have doors opened for him in the United States.

As will Herb Brooks. Or should I say proudly, my friend Herb Brooks. I had met Herb a few times through the 1980s, but we began working working together in ’89. He was the announcer, I was the producer.

In my world, that meant Herb was the player, and I was the coach. He was the student, I was the teacher. The magnitude of the Miracle on Ice came into full scope for me, one night after a Pittsburgh-Los Angeles game at the Great Western Forum.

Following the game, Herb and I had the opportunity to share a beverage with Paul Steigerwald, Mario Lemieux and a friend of No. 66 who had moved from Pittsburgh to L.A.

It was Michael Keaton, fresh off of shooting Batman. Sitting in a lounge, our group was deluged with fans asking for autographs of just one person. Not Magnificent Mario, not Batman, but rather “Coach Brooks”.

“Coach Brooks.” They all came up and called him “Coach Brooks”. He loved it. He was everyone’s coach. America’s coach.

What followed was four years of stormy, frenetic, loving friendship that reflected, I suspect, two personalities so similar there was little chance of success.

Herb never wanted to be an announcer. He thought it would be easy. He wouldn’t take the time to talk to players. It just wasn’t in his makeup. He knew the game as well as anyone. He had a philosophy of the game that wouldn’t change, under any circumstances. He was Herb Brooks. The coach of the Miracle on Ice. And as great as he was a coach, he wasn’t a very good student. It drove me nuts. And I drove him nuts. Plain and simple.

After four years, the divorce was quick and final. On to our own worlds, never to meet again.

Until, one day in September of ’94. I had just started as executive producer of Hockey Night in Canada. My office at the CBC was quiet for a few months, as we fought through a work stoppage. But the hockey world didn’t stop, games at every level were being played except in the NHL.

With this in mind, I opened a letter with the return address of a hotel in Regina. Handwritten address, “John Shannon, CBC, Toronto”. It got to me. Opening the letter was a torn page out of the Regina Leader-Post. It included a brief story of my appointment to my new job. Written in the margin, “Congratulations. This job is perfect for you. You are the best. Regards, Herb.”

I truly could not believe it.

Herb, scouting the WHL games for Pittsburgh, had taken the time to write to me. To wish me the best. What the next few years brought was a renewed friendship of the two of us. Coaching stints in New Jersey and Pittsburgh for Herb, would bring a phone call or two. He’d wonder how my young family was, and what trends I saw in the NHL those days.

Two guys that loved to win, hated to lose and wouldn’t listen enough. In Nagano, Herb coached France at the Winter Games. In Salt Lake, he coached the Americans.

Every day at the rink, we would sit and talk about our fights, the game and friends we knew. Every time he saw me, even it it was from across the rink, he would yell “It’s Hockey Night in Shannada!”

I learned over those last few years of Herb’s life, how much he loved the game. And how he loved to teach the game. I probably should have listened a bit more.

That’s what the Miracle on Ice means to me.

I miss Herb.

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