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Penguins Hockey world mourns the loss of Brooks

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Late Monday night, moments after a friend phoned New York Rangers left winger Matthew Barnaby with the news of Herb Brooks' death, Barnaby's mind raced back to Jan. 13, 2000, in Denver.

"Yeah, that was the night Herbie stuck up for me," Barnaby recalled. "I'm sure that sticks out in the minds of a lot of people in Pittsburgh."

Brooks, then the Penguins' coach, was furious after a 4-3 loss to Colorado upon learning that two Denver television announcers had accused one of his players, Barnaby, of faking an injury when he was cross-checked in the back by Avalanche defenseman Alexei Gusarov. Surrounded by cameras and microphones, Brooks shouted at the announcers in a Pepsi Center corridor, threatened to kick their behinds "all over the place" and ultimately needed to be restrained by a security guard.

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To Barnaby, it meant more than any pat on the shoulder pad.

"It was amazing. Gives me chills just thinking about it," Barnaby said. "For Herbie to do that for me, to show that kind of respect for me ... I would do anything for him after that. And I'm sure that was true of a lot of guys who played for him over the years. For all of us, it's such a shock, such a loss that he's gone."

The reverberations of the car wreck in which Brooks was killed Monday afternoon north of Minneapolis still were being felt across the hockey world yesterday.

At Mellon Arena, the Penguins, who employed Brooks as a scout, coach and director of player development the past eight years, were receiving calls and messages of condolence from hockey dignitaries and fans across North America. Employees past and present checked in with their thoughts.

In Brooks' native state, where Gov. Tim Pawlenty declared that "Minnesota lost its head coach," many motorists were attempting to visit the crash site on Interstate 35. Some were pulling over to the right edge of the road, then running across three lanes of 70-mph traffic to get to the grassy median strip. Patrol officers had to take down a roadside memorial and urge motorists to keep moving for safety reasons.

And in St. Paul, the state capital, preparations began for what promises to be a massive funeral in the Cathedral of Saint Paul, the region's most prominent landmark. Public visitation is 2-9:30 p.m. Friday, and the funeral service is 10 a.m. Saturday. There are only 500 seats in the cathedral, but preparations are being made to accommodate hundreds more outside. More information is available from the Cathedral at 651-228-1766.

The family -- Brooks is survived by wife Patti, son Dan, daughter Kelly and five grandchildren -- has not yet completed plans for donations. The Penguins, who are handling announcements for the family with the assistance of General Manager Craig Patrick, will make that information public upon receipt.

The Penguins are planning to send a large contingent to the services, including owner Mario Lemieux, team president Ken Sawyer, all coaches, all scouts and other employees. The one traveling the farthest will be Mark Kelley, the European scout who spent yesterday watching a junior-level game in Slovakia.

Kelley found a bit of poetic justice in that the game featured an underdog United States outfit beating Russia, 3-2.

"Those kids had no business being out there with that Russian team," Kelley told a team employee. "Now, who do you think was responsible for that?"

Brooks was the architect of the greatest American victory in international hockey, the Miracle on Ice of 1980, when a collection of collegians and minor-leaguers upset the mighty Soviet Union at the Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Most of the players on that team are expected to attend the funeral, as are hockey officials representing the NHL, many of the teams within the league, the International Ice Hockey Federation and USA Hockey. Many prominent politicians in Minnesota, including Pawlenty, also are expected.

More details emerged yesterday about the crash.

Minnesota State Patrol said that there was no evidence that alcohol was a factor, that Brooks was not speaking on a cell phone and that there was no obstacle that he was trying to avoid as his minivan swerved off the road.

Rather, they expressed a belief that he "over-corrected" after the car initially strayed onto the road shoulder.

"According to the witnesses, the minivan started to slowly veer to the right," Lt. Chuck Walerius said. "It went off onto the right shoulder and into the right-side ditch area, then started to swerve back across three lanes."

Walerius speculated that Brooks might have been saved by wearing a seatbelt. He was not buckled up, and he was thrown from the vehicle as it rolled over several times in the median.

"All I can say is that, in a lot of these cases in rollover vehicles, there is room to live inside those cars," Walerius said. "If the occupants were to stay inside the vehicles, there is plenty of room to live."

One of the witnesses was an off-duty paramedic, who tried immediately to help Brooks. But he and other rescue workers who arrived later never resuscitated him.

An autopsy was conducted on Brooks yesterday, and the Anoka County coroner ruled the death accidental. Brooks, the coroner said, died from blunt-force chest and abdominal injuries.

Officials said that complete results of their investigation should be expected within two weeks.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at or 412-263-1938.

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