Ask anyone who has ever played hockey and the term “Herbies” likely sends a chill down their spine.
Made famous by the legendary Herb Brooks, and aptly named in his honor, the hard-core conditioning drill has different variations, none of which are enjoyable for the players.
It went mainstream thanks in large part to a memorable scene in the 2004 movie “Miracle” in which Brooks skates his Team USA players into the ice following a disappointing showing in an exhibition game in Norway.
While the bigwigs in Hollywood used some creative license with the movie — taking viewers on a dramatized version of Team USA miraculously capturing the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. — everyone who experienced that particular moment confirmed that it actually happened.
Here’s a look back at that hour-long bag skate, as told by Team USA assistant coach Craig Patrick and some of the players who lived it.
‘Get back on the ice’
To understand why Brooks was so upset with the effort put forth by his team on Sept. 17, 1979, it’s important to look back to the buildup for that actual game.
It was just a couple of weeks into a grueling 63-game exhibition schedule that Brooks set up to prepare his players for the 1980 Winter Olympics.
As far as Brooks was concerned, every game was to be taken seriously, especially if the team wanted to have any chance of beating the almighty Soviet Union — winner of the previous four Olympic gold medals — and grabbing the first hockey medal for the U.S. since 1960.
Patrick: “We all got together in Lake Placid in August and we had a couple of weeks there getting prepared for our first trip. We were gone for like two and a half weeks, and I remember it was winding down and we are stopping in Norway before going home. The guys really weren’t that interested in the games in Norway by the end of it. I could tell.”
Gary Smith, Team USA trainer: “We played a national team of some sort. I think it was Junior A team, like a bunch of young kids. I don’t even remember the score, whether we lost or tied. We didn’t play well.”
The game finished in a 3-3 tie and featured a few Team USA players — including forward Buzz Schneider and defenseman Mike Ramsey — getting thrown out after a minor altercation.
Schneider: “(In European hockey) they did a lot of picks, like in basketball, and they must have picked one of our guys. And then (defenseman Les Auge) took his stick upside down and (approached) the referee, and Herbie said, ‘Buzz, go out and get Les and figure out what this is all about.’ I went out and asked the referee and he looks at me and says, ‘You’re out of here, too.’”
That’s an important detail because that meant those guys were already in street clothes when the game ended. They were the lucky ones.
A “Herbie” was as follows: Players skate in a sprint from the goal line to the near blue line and back, then to the red line and back, the far blue line and eventually from goal line to goal line. That was one “Herbie.”
Patrick: “We go into the locker room after the game and the first thing the guys do is lean in to take the skates off and Herb walked in and said, ‘Don’t take anything off!’ and leaves the room immediately. They all looked at me and ask, ‘What does that mean?’ I said, ‘Well, I guess don’t take anything off.’ ”
Patrick recalled Brooks waiting for the crowd of 8,000 to 10,000 spectators to leave the arena before starting his “Herbies,” though the movie “Miracle” shows many in the crowd hanging around to watch.
Jack O’Callahan, defenseman: “The crowd stayed for a while and was cheering. They thought we were doing a skating exhibition.”
Rob McClanahan, center: “They started leaving when they realized it was for real.”
While the movie portrays Patrick begrudgingly blowing the whistle after each repetition when Brooks calls through gritted teeth, “Again.” But Patrick confirmed that he wasn’t actually on the ice. He was too busy trying to convince the rink manager to keep the lights on.
Brooks, meanwhile, was just getting started, sending a message to his players, even those lucky enough to be watching from the bench.
O’Callahan: “We had 26 players, so every night there were guys who didn’t dress. I didn’t play that night, so we come down in street clothes to leave and we see Craig, and he’s like, ‘You’ve got to get back to the bench.’ We were like, ‘What’s going on?’ And Craig says, ‘He’s really going to skate the (expletive) out of ’em.’ ”
Smith: “I was in the Zamboni area and the rink manager came over and said, ‘You have to leave.’ That’s usually how it works. You put all the equipment up and turn on the dryers, then the trainers come in the morning and pack it up and go on to the next place. I told Herbie, ‘They want us to leave.’ He said, ‘Tell him to give me the keys and I’ll lock up. We are drying here tonight.’ ”
Patrick: “(The rink manager) left and turned the lights off and Herb kept skating them. That’s the way it happened. It was just Herb and the guys out there. ”
In the movie, players started to skate off the ice once the lights went down, but that didn’t happen.
McClanahan: “No, no, no. We might have moved towards that way, but Herbie basically said, ‘Keep going.’ We adjusted.”
‘It just kept going and going’
To this day, Ramsey still feels guilty about not participating in the hour-long skate.
Ramsey: “I watched through the glass. I felt terrible. And Craig is standing next to some of us and we say to him, ‘We can go get our stuff on. We can skate.’ He goes, ‘Nah. Don’t worry about it. This won’t last long.’ Then 15 minutes into it, we go, ‘We have to get our stuff on.’ He goes, ‘They have to be almost done.’ It just kept going and going.”
It was the same thing for Schneider, who like Ramsey, pretty much begged to go out onto the ice and suffer with his teammates.
Schneider: “I was standing next to Craig, so I asked him, ‘Should I put my stuff back on and go out there? I feel bad about it.’ And he says, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll be done in a couple of minutes.’”
That, of course, wasn’t the case, as Brooks kept his players on the ice for longer than anyone expected.
O’Callahan: “The rink manager kills the lights, and when the lights are off, the players are all saying, ‘Finally!’ And Herbie yells, ‘Get back out there!’ With the lights out, Herbie can’t see anyone, and everybody is slamming their sticks on the ice and screaming.”
McClanahan: “I remember Mark Johnson smacked the boards, or the glass, and Herbie couldn’t see who did it. He said, ‘Whoever did that better knock if off!’ He kept us there an hour. Nobody wants to do ‘Herbies’ for an hour.”
Team physician George Nagobods — a Latvia-born, Germany-educated physician who now lives in Edina — was present for the skate, as well, and at some point implored Brooks to stop.
Smith: “I do remember ‘Noggie’ coming over to Brooks and saying, ‘You’re going to keel them!’ ”
While the movie depicts the punishment ending once captain Mike Eruzione proudly announces that he plays for “the United States of America” as he gasps for air, most everyone agrees that part was played up for the big screen.
Patrick: “He skated them and skated them and skated them. It was definitely over an hour. Then I think he just decided they’d had enough. I wasn’t on the ice, so I don’t know exactly what happened. I’ve talked to Mike and he said he doesn’t remember saying that.”
‘Kind of normal’
None of it was new to the nine players on the team who played under Brooks at the University of Minnesota. It was pretty common.
Schneider: “When I was at Minnesota, my third year there, those skates were kind of normal once every week, every two weeks. At that time, all the college games were played on Friday and Saturday, and that Monday was a tough day. It was a really tough day. Whether you went out and had a few beers or didn’t do anything, you were going to have a tough day. That’s what it was.”
McClanahan: “Let me tell you a story. My freshman year at University of Minnesota, fall of 1976, we went to Lake Superior State, which was a D2 school at the time, and the Gophers were defending national champs — and we lost. I believe it was 4-3. When we got back on Sunday, we went to the arena to put our gear away and Herbie said, ‘No, we’re putting our gear on.’ We skated for thee and half hours. All we did were ‘Herbies.’ We hit the ice at 2:30 and didn’t stop until 6:15. We had one 15-minute break so they could clean the ice. We did it again Monday and did it again on Tuesday. For three days, we did not see a puck.”
Nonetheless, McClanahan and his teammates weren’t exactly breezing through that Norway skate.
McClanahan: “It doesn’t make it easier, but I knew what (Brooks) was capable of.”
Like many of Brooks’ moves, this one had its desired effect: The same teams played each other the next night, and this time Team USA won 9-0.
Read more Miracle on Ice coverage on The Rink Live, a Forum Communications' website dedicated to amateur hockey.