Despite Brooks's frequent jokes about having a "five-year plan but a two-year contract," he sounds very much like a man aboard for the long haul. He speaks of establishing "a sociological environment similar to the Montreal Canadiens', a solid vehicle to spring from." In the meantime, there is no Herb Brooks radio call-in show, nor is there a slick marketing campaign designed to harness his popularity to sell season tickets. Brooks would not have it.
"All the clich�s—'We're so close we can taste it' and 'We're building a dynasty'—are marketed, sold, ingrained without any basis in reality," he says. "Then, when you don't win the Stanley Cup, people ask, 'What the hell's wrong?' "
The Met Center has seen a Miracle Off Ice, of sorts. Brooks, whom his Olympians nicknamed Khomeini, has vented very little of his renowned spleen. "I think I might have mellowed, become a little more philosophical," he says. "If I have to come here and be a wacko every night, hey, who needs the job?"
But Brooks lost his head on Nov. 21 after the visiting Boston Bruins scored three goals in 9� minutes in the second period. Between periods he threw a chair and damaged a large-screen television set in the team meeting room. And on Dec. 18, Detroit coach Jacques Demers challenged him to a fight on the ice after the new, "mellow" Brooks, angered about something or other, called him a "milk-truck driver" during an 8-3 North Stars loss. (Actually, Demers once drove a Coca-Cola truck.) Recalls Brooks, "I told Jacques, 'Jacques, I'll go, but I don't think you can skate.' " A Detroit player dissolved much of the tension by skating past Brooks and saying out of the corner of his mouth, "I'm taking you in two." The North Stars bench broke up.
Brooks was remarkably upbeat after last Thursday's 4-1 loss at home to the Blackhawks. "We didn't lose because we didn't show up tonight," he said. He gave credit to Bob Mason, the Hawks' goalie. "As long as I see guys leaving their hearts on the ice, I can't be that upset. I will be compassionate but demanding in a reasonable way."
After practice on New Year's Day, Brooks gathered the team around him at center ice for a pep talk, urging it to burn its bridges to the first half of the season, to look ahead, to get things going. As Brooks's oration approached a crescendo, the team cheered, like so many collegians. "I think we've bottomed it out," Brooks said later.
He said it again after Saturday's Ranger victory, bravely adding, "We'll persevere and be determined regardless of the outcome. But we've got to do something about some of these outcomes."