Brooks' death leaves hole in hockey, beyond

MINNEAPOLIS -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty may be Minnesota's Hockey Fan in Chief. But he had no doubt that Herb Brooks was coach.

"My gut reaction is Minnesota lost its head coach today," Pawlenty said after learning of Brooks' death in a car accident Monday. "Herb Brooks was a Minnesota legend, a Minnesota treasure."

By Tuesday morning, a makeshift memorial had sprung up at the site of the wreck. A hockey jersey and hat were on the side of the road and commuters were slowing down to pay their respects.

Brooks emerged as a hockey ambassador from a state where neighborhood parks have hockey rinks and some kids learn to skate before they learn to ride a bike. Brooks spent most of his career here -- coaching the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, the NHL's North Stars, and the gold medal-winning 1980 Olympic Hockey team -- half of them Minnesotans.

"Throughout his career, we stood on our feet cheering his hockey accomplishments, but I think his legacy will not just be that, it will also be the values and the leadership and the skills that he instilled in countless hockey players and fans and Minnesotans," Pawlenty said.

"Today's a sad day for hockey," said Don Lucia, hockey coach at Minnesota, where Brooks coached from 1972 to 1979. "It's a monumental loss for the University of Minnesota."

Lucia said he was recruited by Brooks when he was in high school. Lucia, who ended up playing for Notre Dame, said he remembered standing on the blue line before a game against Michigan State when they announced that the United States had beaten the Soviet Union in the Olympics -- the so-called "Miracle on Ice."

"That's certainly one of the moments you'll never forget," Lucia said. "It was probably the greatest upset in the history of sports."

"Herb Brooks was a great innovator of the sport of hockey, and it was a great privilege to be able to play for him at the University of Minnesota and for the 1980 Olympic team," said Mike Ramsey, who is now an assistant coach for the Minnesota Wild. "Herb will be greatly missed in the hockey world."

Brooks' admirers weren't limited to the hockey world, though.

U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., said he tried twice to recruit Brooks into politics -- for the Minnesota Senate in the 1980s and for the U.S. House in the 1990s.

Brooks even met with House leaders in Washington in 1995 to discuss his possible candidacy, Ramstad said.

"Both times I tried to recruit Herb," Ramstad said, "he came to the same conclusion: 'I love my state and country, but I'm a hockey guy and not a political guy.' "

Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura said Tuesday on "The Today Show" that he also tried to recruit Brooks.

"Did you know we in the Reform Party had Herb this close at one point for running for Congress a couple years ago?" Ventura said.

Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire heard about Brooks' death shortly before his team played Cleveland at the Metrodome. He recalled shopping at a home improvement store in the Twin Cities this summer when Brooks recognized him and struck up a conversation for about 15 minutes.

"This is a sad day," Gardenhire said.