Brooks’ passing leaves hole in Penguins camp
From the day he was hired in June, Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk’s life was one long burst of activity. He was commuting between Pittsburgh and Chicago, looking for a place to live, moving his family, meeting with his staff, working on team travel arrangements, deciding on training camp schedules and systems and still finding time to watch his sons play baseball.
By mid-August, with training camp just a few weeks away, Olczyk had the momentum of a ski jumper about to take flight.
All that changed Aug. 12 with the news of Herb Brooks’ fatal car accident just outside of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Brooks’ passing was hard on many, especially those in the Penguins’ organization who knew him as a coach, mentor, colleague and, above all, a friend.
Olczyk’s first training camp will be the first Penguins camp in nine years that Brooks has not been a part of. The man who made history as coach of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team most recently served as the Penguins’ director of player development, and worked closely with many of the young prospects now in town for “non-veteran” camp.
Olczyk was one of many American-born hockey players whose lives and careers were influenced by Brooks’ gold-medal winning hockey team. He recently talked to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about his relationship with Brooks and what he meant to the Penguins.
Q: Is it getting a little easier now that camp’s starting and the season’s almost here?
A: It’s still tough but that was really a brutal week. We were all riding pretty high around here with everything (general manager) Craig (Patrick) had done with getting the first pick and getting (Marc-Andre) Fleury. Then (Brooks’ death) put everything in perspective and it took us all a while to bounce back and just realize you have to move on and carry the torch. I think my energy level’s really picked up in the last week because you can feel everyone getting excited.
Q: How big a loss is it for some of the prospects who knew him in the player development capacityâ¢
A: It’s a big loss. I was with Herbie quite a bit when the rookies were in town (in July for orientation) and he took those guys everywhere. He was their group leader. He sat in the front of the van with those guys, took them to the baseball game; he was in charge of them.
I just know that for me, it’s unfortunately one supporting block that I’ve lost. There were talks I had with Herbie where he certainly had a lot of things to say. Sometimes he would keep going and going and repeating himself but that was just Herbie. But I learned a lot from him. I didn’t know him as well Craig. I feel for Herbie’s family and I feel for Craig because he was very close to Herbie.
Q: What was some of the best advice he ever gave youâ¢ What will you take from your time knowing him?
A: He was a strong believer in communication, regardless if it was positive reinforcement or being constructive or being hard on guys. He really felt he needed to talk to players and let them know where they stood, and I was one of those players who enjoyed that style.
The way he handled himself and his emotion and his love for the game; we were fortunate enough in this organization to have two of the greatest American-born hockey coaches ever in Badger (Bob Johnson) and Herbie. They were both part of our organization unfortunately for a short time. Their legacy and background certainly speaks for itself – how they treated other individuals and got the most out of their guys.
The confidence level when I talked to Herbie and him supporting the decision to hire me made me feel really good. Herbie could B.S. with the best of them but I really believe he would tell it the way it is, regardless. If he didn’t think I could accomplish this, he would have told me. I think he would have told a lot of people. Just him being real honest is probably something I’ll always remember.
Karen Price is a former freelancer.