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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Miracle on Ice' Coach Dies in Car Crash

MINNEAPOLIS -- Herb Brooks, who coached the U.S. hockey team to an upset victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, died Monday in a car wreck. He was 66.

The Hall of Famer was killed when his minivan rolled over at a highway intersection north of the Twin Cities and he was ejected, police said. Weather didn't appear to be a factor.

Brooks apparently was not wearing a seat belt, and his body was found about 40 meters from the vehicle, state police patrol Lieutenant Chuck Walerius said.

"It seems like all the great innovators die young," said Ken Morrow, a defenseman on the 1980 team and now a scout for the New York Islanders. "Coach may have been the greatest innovator the sport has ever had."

Brooks was behind the bench when the Americans pulled off one of the greatest upsets ever, beating the mighty Soviets with a squad of mostly college players. That shocking victory, plus beating Finland for the gold medal, assured the team a place in sports immortality and gave the nation a reason to celebrate at a bleak time in its history.

The hostage-taking in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the energy crisis cast a pall over the United States.

The young U.S. team was given no chance against a veteran Soviet squad that had dominated international hockey for years and had routed the Americans 10-3 in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden the week before the Olympics.

On Feb. 22, 1980, the U.S. team scored with 10 minutes to play to take a 4-3 lead against the Soviets and then held on. It became known as the "Miracle on Ice."

Brooks' leadership helped turn a ragtag team into champions. He had hand-picked each player.

"You're looking for players whose name on the front of the sweater is more important than the one on the back," Brooks once said. "I look for these players to play hard, to play smart and to represent their country."

"When it came to hockey, he was ahead of his time," Morrow said. "All of his teams overachieved because Herbie understood how to get the best out of each player and make him part of a team. And like everyone who played for him, I became a better person because I played for Herb Brooks."

Brooks returned to lead the 2002 U.S. Olympic hockey team to a silver medal. Players from the 1980 team, led by Mike Eruzione, lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony in Salt Lake City.

After the Lake Placid Games, Brooks coached the New York Rangers (1981-85), where he reached the 100-victory mark faster than any other coach in franchise history. He coached the Minnesota North Stars (1987-88), the New Jersey Devils (1992-93) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (1999-00). He also led the French Olympic team at the 1998 Nagano Games.

Born in St. Paul, Brooks played hockey at the University of Minnesota, where he later coached from 1972-79, winning three national titles. He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.

On Monday, Brooks attended a Hall of Fame celebrity golf event in northern Minnesota.

When he decided to coach the U.S. team at Salt Lake City, he was asked why he would return after writing the most improbable story in hockey.

"Maybe I'm sort of like the players -- there's still a lot of little boy in me," Brooks said. "And maybe I'm a little smarter now than I was before for all the stupid things I've done."

Brooks was the last player cut on the 1960 U.S. gold medal team, but he played in 1964 and 1968.

Last season, Brooks was the director of player development for the Penguins. He rejected a multimillion-dollar offer to coach the Rangers last summer, saying he didn't want to be away from his wife and family in Minnesota.

"It's a great loss for U.S.A. Hockey," said Bob Allen, who operated the Olympic Center during the 1980 Winter Games. "He was a master motivator, a great thinker."