U.S. team still has connections to Brooks

February, 28, 2010

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- We don't believe much in ghosts, but if you hang around hockey players enough, you'll understand that the game is filled with karma and superstition and omens, both good and bad.

On the eve of the gold-medal game between Canada and the United States, if there was ever a U.S. team able to channel the late Herb Brooks, it's this one.

U.S. forward Ryan Malone was mentored by Brooks for many years.

"He just always expected more," Malone said of the coach of the last U.S. gold-medal team, the "Miracle on Ice" squad from 1980. "If you were in there working out for half an hour after a game, he was always asking, 'Why weren't you in there for an hour?'"

Malone recalled one night Brooks saw him score a hat trick in a college game. Brooks, a longtime Pittsburgh Penguins scout who was also involved with player development for the team, told him the hat trick was bad news for Malone because now he was going to have to work that hard every night.

"He always told me the legs feed the wolf," Malone said. "To make sure the legs were always going and training for hockey players is probably the most important part to get where you want to go."

Malone attended the University of Minnesota, where Brooks first coached NCAA hockey.

"The hockey camp I've been going to since I was 15, he started, so it's weird how it all kind of shakes out like this and you just want to make him proud on Sunday," Malone said.

That's not all.

U.S. defenseman Brooks Orpik, born in San Francisco a few months after the "Miracle on Ice" win in Lake Placid in 1980, was named after Brooks.

"Obviously, my dad's idea," Orpik said. "My mom didn't even know what hockey was up until then."

Orpik was likewise drafted by the Penguins and got to know Brooks before his death in a car accident in the summer of 2003. Orpik recalled how he and former teammate Colby Armstrong would meet with Brooks periodically when Brooks would visit the Penguins' AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre.

"And we got to pick his brain about anything really," Orpik said.

There is a strong Brooks connection in every gold-medal effort the U.S. hockey team has been involved in. In 1960, Brooks was among the last players cut before the U.S. went on to win gold in Squaw Valley. He coached the 1980 team and was the coach in 2002 when the Americans were defeated by Canada in their last gold-medal game appearance.

Heading into Sunday's game, does it seem strange having all of these connections to Brooks?

"I don't know how much more special it can get than this moment, but it's definitely a little weird how everything played out and worked out here in the end," Orpik said.

Scott Burnside

ESPN Senior Writer


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