by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com
As Coach Herb Brooks scouted, recruited and molded the Miracle on Ice team he was faced with one challenge after another. While some coaches may feel they can win despite not having certain players, Herb knew there were some he had to have, especially to beat a team like the Soviets.
The player that would turn out to be one of the best, if not the best on the team, was Mark Johnson. He had just finished a brilliant 4 years at the University of Wisconsin, tormenting Herb’s Minnesota team many times. The challenge was that Mark’s college coach was Badger Bob Johnson, Mark’s dad and Herb’s arch nemesis. The University of Minnesota and Wisconsin were 300 miles apart, so they were regional rivals. Both were national title contenders each year. They were fierce rivals. Herb and Badger Bob were polar opposites. Badger Bob was peppy like Richard Simmons, always optimistic and sunshine filled. Herb was….Herb.
So, as the team is flying to Europe for a stretch of exhibition games Herb lined up for September of 1979, Herb has a ‘situation.’ Badger Bob is back home thinking that the rivalry is so intense that Herb is liable to cut his son Mark to spite Badger Bob. Herb is thinking Badger Bob might have Mark quit so he could spite Herb. Poor Mark Johnson doesn’t know what to think! During the flight, Herb sat down next to Mark and said that he was a virtual lock to make the team, and that they would go as far as he could take them.
Mark was stunned. In an instant Herb had clarified the Badger Bob/Herb drama AND infused a massive jolt of confidence in Mark. Against the Soviets Mark would score 2 of the 4 goals. With :02 to go in the first period and Team USA down 2-1, Mark scored right before the buzzer to tie the game at 2-2, leading the Soviets to bench legendary goalie Vladislav Tretiak. He did it because he was fueled by Herb’s pre game speech, telling the team they were born to be hockey players and they were meant to be there that night. Mark believed what he said, like it had been written in a book centuries ago they were meant to be there that night. He would become their best player. Teammates would nickname him Mark ‘Magic’ Johnson as a certain Laker was having a remarkable 1979-80 stretch as well.
While Herb could play mind games with players with the best of them, he also knew when to clearly communicate where players stood, like he did with Mark. He also did this with Steve Janaszak, the back up goalie. Steve had been 1st team NCAA All American the previous year playing goalie for Herb’s University of Minnesota team. Steve led them to the NCAA championship and was named MVP. Despite his accolades and the fact that experts had at least 5 other college goalies rated above Jim Craig, Herb went with Jim every second of all 7 games at Lake Placid. Before, though, he went to Steve and told him there was a strong chance he was going to ride Jim the whole way. Steve appreciated that, and as I will write in a future story here, was the ultimate team supporter there.
Motivational Speaker Charlie Adams delivers his More Than a Miracle program to college coaches and athletes. He explains how the 1980 Miracle on Ice was not so much a miracle as it was work ethic, remarkable vision and leadership, commitment to change, commitment to team, and perseverance.
Charlie can be reached at StokeTheFireWithin.com and at firstname.lastname@example.org