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Penguins Thousands pay respects to Herb Brooks

Saturday, August 16, 2003

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It had been suggested to Herb Brooks' widow, Patti, that the family conduct her husband's funeral at a large facility such as a hockey arena rather than the Cathedral of Saint Paul, which has a seating capacity of 3,000.

The line of mourners waiting to pay their respects to Herb Brooks extends out of the Cathedral of Saint Paul and down the street in St. Paul, Minn. (Ann Heisenfelt, Associated Press)

Visit a special online guest book where you can read some of the public's tributes to Herb Brooks and add your own remembrances.

She balked, saying, "He's been in a hockey arena his whole life. Let's send him out from a church."

As it turned out, an enormous outpouring of emotion yesterday gave merit to the initial idea.

Thousands of mourners jammed the landmark Cathedral for the public viewing of Brooks, the legendary coach and eight-year Penguins employee who was killed Monday in a car wreck. Lines extended from both entrances to the building, mourners weathering temperatures in the mid-90s -- hottest day of the year in the state -- to get inside for the five-hour visitation period.

The gathering could not have been more diverse.

Dignitaries in suits stood side by side with fans wearing University of Minnesota hockey sweaters. Grandmothers shed tears, as did former NHL tough guys such as Paul Holmgren and Nick Fotiu. Famed figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi showed up, as did Sue Nelson, former organist for the old Minnesota North Stars. They came from "just up the street," as one elderly woman with a cane described her trip, and all the way from Slovakia, which is where Mark Kelley, the Penguins' European scout, was when he heard about Brooks' death.

"I think Herbie would be astonished at this. I really do," said Glen Sonmor, a former coach at the collegiate, minor professional and NHL levels who worked frequently with Brooks and coached him as a freshman at Minnesota. "He was so focused on the hockey all the time that I don't think he knew the impact he had on the game. I was hoping that maybe he would realize that later in life, but I honestly don't think he did."

"What Herbie did goes beyond what happened in the 1980 Olympics," said Jack Carlson, another Minnesotan who played one of the Hansen brothers in the film "Slap Shot" and had a brief NHL career. "He was a great coach, an innovator of this game, someone who changed the way it was played. Most of all, I think, he was a great ambassador and a great human being. Look around here, and you see that."

Others who had little or no connection to Brooks paid respects, too.

Mike Graham, a season-ticket holder at the University of Minnesota since 1972, Brooks' first season as head coach there, said Brooks still recognized him three decades later when he scouted the Golden Gophers' games for the Penguins.

"We talked at a game last year, and it was just like old times," Graham said. "He even asked how my kids were doing."

Mary Brogge, a resident of Brooks' native St. Paul, came simply because of his reputation off the ice.

"This was a good man," she said. "A family man."

Some of the Penguins' employees made the trip from Pittsburgh yesterday, but the highest-ranking management -- owner Mario Lemieux, general manager Craig Patrick and team president Ken Sawyer -- are due today for the memorial service scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. After that, there will be a private burial. Patrick and Greg Malone, the Penguins' head scout, are honorary pall bearers.

Brooks' son, Dan, expressed appreciation for the support and thoughts the family has received from the Pittsburgh area.

"I can't say enough about how my dad felt about that city," Dan Brooks said. "He spoke very highly of the people there, like it was his second home. He always felt like he fit in there."

Herb Brooks will be eulogized today by two players he once coached: Mike Eruzione, who scored the winning goal against the Soviet Union in the 1980 Miracle on Ice game, and Bill Butters, a former University of Minnesota standout.

Yesterday, Brooks' family -- with Patti, Dan, daughter Kelly and stepson Mark Paradise, son of former Penguins defenseman Bob Paradise, in the forefront -- stood tirelessly throughout the visitation in the steamy Cathedral to greet visitors.

Inside the top of the open casket was emblazoned a black-and-white image of Brooks coming to a skate-stop in his playing days. On the table to the left were pictures of Brooks' five grandchildren, including one image imprinted on a Wheaties box that featured one of the Paradises' children wearing a Penguins sweater, another a U.S. Olympic sweater.

Many who attended had a Brooks story or two to share, allowing the mood to remain generally upbeat given the circumstance.

But not everyone shared that frame of mind.

"Normally, I can tell a whole bunch of Herbie stories. Just not today," said Warren Strelow, the goaltending coach for the San Jose Sharks who held that duty under Brooks with several teams. "He's my best friend. I've known him 45 years, followed him wherever he's coached, even Switzerland. But I'm not thinking of him as a coach today. We lost a compassionate man, a caring man who had time for everybody. That's what's hurting me now."

The Brooks family is accepting donations in the name of the Home of the Good Shepherd in Minnesota and Hockey Ministries International.

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

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