It was the night of January 13 2000 and Herb Brooks was a little over a month into his tenure as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins had just staged a stirring two-goal comeback in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche only to see the Avalanche get the final tally and win 4-3.
But that's not why Herb Brooks was mad.
Brooks was incensed because late in the game, Colorado's Alexei Gusarov delivered a vicious hit on Penguin forward Matthew Barnaby that wasn't called. But even that might have been tolerable had Brooks not discovered that during the on-air telecast, Avalanche commentator John Kelly had dismissed the hit as mere embellishment by Barnaby, the Penguins' resident agitator.
Maybe it was because Brooks was slowly beginning to realize that no coach could truly control the circus he'd been put in charge of in Pittsburgh. Maybe he was already sick of the travel, the egos, and everything else the Penguins dumped in his lap after they fired Kevin Constantine and gave him the reigns. Or maybe it was exactly as Brooks said at the time, "You stand up for your players when they are busting their tails. I'm not just going to let them be hung out to dry. I'll battle for them."
Whatever it was, Brooks had taken all he was going to take.
True to his word, there was Brooks, deep in the bowels of the Pepsi Center, being forcibly restrained as he went barreling after someone half his age, dead set on teaching that talking-head what it meant to be part of a hockey team.
That was Herb Brooks.
Often the people we miss most in life are our teachers.
Maybe it's our family, who taught us right from wrong, or our friends who taught us that sometimes being wrong is far more fun than being right. Or maybe it's just one of the great underpaid, overlooked masses who's dedicated their life to helping us succeed in ours. Whoever they may be, for excuses that are never quite good enough, we rarely find the time to appreciate these rare souls until they're gone.
Badger Bob Johnson was someone who taught us that every day is a great day for hockey. Roger Neilson taught us that every chance you get to play hockey is another chance you have to be part of something special. And Herb Brooks taught us that anytime you believe in yourself and play with passion, you can achieve things no one ever thought possible.
Brooks is part of that select, storied heritage of teachers who teach more than just the game, they teach life. They do so in the moments they give us, all those occasions we cherish which are simply that, fragments of a time gone by, moments that can never be relived. Yet that's what gives them their luster, their greatness, and their gravity, the fact that they can't be recaptured no matter how hard we try. That you had to be there to see it, to live it.
Herb Brooks' life, which ended tragically on a stretch of Minnesota highway on Monday, was filled to the brim with these moments. He was a man who did as much for the state of hockey as he did for the State of Hockey. But it was more than the trophies (he had three National Championships at the University of Minnesota) and Olympic medals (gold in 1980, silver 2002), for Brooks it was always about the game. It was about those unforgettable moments hockey gives us all and the passion with which we experience them.
That, too, was Herb Brooks.
A man with passion for the sport, a passion for who you could be, and a passion for what you could achieve.
Sometimes that passion would boil over, as it did when he was training the U.S. Olympic team for their run in 1980, or as it did that night in Denver three years ago. But at the bottom of it all was someone who loved the sport and its players as much, if not more, than he loved himself.
At the bottom of it all was simply the coach they called "Herbie."
Back in 1980, before the U.S. Olympic team took the ice in what would prove to be arguably the defining moment of a generation, Coach Brooks looked out a group of young men few people really believed in. He'd taken them to hell and back, but believed in them, he said, and they should believe in themselves.
Then, in a moment that will live in hockey lore forever, a young, vibrant Herb Brooks told his team, "You were born to be hockey players. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours."
Looking back now, it's apparent that Herb Brooks was meant to be here, too, and the moments the world had with Herb Brooks were ours indeed. We were infinitely lucky to have them.
Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com during the season and believes that just as Herb Brooks is survived by his family and the State of Hockey, so too is he survived by the Penguin family who will cherish him forever.