This current pause in the NHL got me thinking that while Pensburgh has been around since 2006, there are several pre-blog era stories that I wish it was around for. One such incident that would have lit social media and the internet on fire was in January 2000.
The Penguins were being coached by the legendary Herb Brooks at the time. Brooks is of course most known for leading the scrappy group of young Americans to the Miracle on Ice in the Olympics in 1980. But he still had that same fire and intensity 20 years later in a game on January 13th, 2000 when the Penguins visited the Colorado Avalanche. Brooks had a heated moment berating and having to be restrained from the Colorado TV announcer once the game was over.
Here’s an account of what happened, straight from the Denver Post in 2000:
After each game, the visiting team receives a tape of the Avs’ television broadcast for review and scouting purposes. In this instance, there was a long delay before Brooks emerged to talk with reporters. Brooks and his staff viewed the final minute of regulation, when the Penguins’ Matthew Barnaby was cross-checked from behind by Gusarov.
Barnaby stayed down on the ice for several minutes. From all indications, Barnaby truly was injured. Gusarov deserved at least a cross-checking minor, and probably a five-minute major. Either would have given the Penguins a power play. Brooks had a right to be mad that no penalty was called, and that would have been true even if Barnaby were doing an Olivier imitation after he went to the ice.
While Barnaby was down, Kelly mused that Barnaby does have a reputation for “embellishing” in such situations.
Only Barnaby wasn’t faking, he was pretty viciously cross-checked and would miss the next two games due to injury suffered on the play. Gusarov was suspended for two games as a result.
Brooks was absolutely incensed by this inaccurate commentator attacking his player and lost his mind. The AP report called it a “profanity-filled tirade” and that Herbie “had to be restrained by security from going after Avalanche television play-by-play announcer John Kelly.”
“Did you make that call on Barnaby?” Brooks shouted. “You say he has a tendency to embellish? What the hell kind of call was that? You aren’t half the person your dad was.”
Kelly’s father, Dan, is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame who was the voice of the St. Louis Blues for 21 years.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Barnaby said at the time. “Gusarov gets two games for what he did, intent to injure, and Herbie gets suspended indefinitely for standing up for one of his players.”
With his nerves cooled, Brooks released a statement expressing some regret, though if you look closely he doesn’t really apologize for the action he took or guy he was furious at.
“Look at the tape,” Brooks said. “He tore his head off. We have two referees and they can’t find that? Barnaby is just coming off a concussion. He was flat out — knocked out — and the referees didn’t see it.”
“I’m disappointed. I have a responsibility to the organization. I feel bad I can’t be included in the game tonight,” Brooks said Saturday in a statement released by the team.
“What happened was an emotional moment in response to something that happened. I don’t want to rationalize my actions, because I believe I realize one has to take responsibility for one’s actions.
“I took exception to the disparaging remark made about one of our players. I guess I stood up for the players and our team in the wrong manner. I fully realize two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Herb would be suspended for two games by the league.
Pittsburgh lost 4-3 in Colorado that night to drop their record to 18-16-3-5 on the season. Brooks had only been on the job about a month, taking over mid-season for the fired Kevin Constantine, and Herb needed to find a way to inject some emotion in his team. A master of motivational tactics and techniques, it seemed to have the desired effect.
After Brooks’ death in 2003, this incident still reverberated for Barnaby.
“It was amazing. Gives me chills just thinking about it,” Barnaby said. “For Herbie to do that for me, to show that kind of respect for me ... I would do anything for him after that. And I’m sure that was true of a lot of guys who played for him over the years. For all of us, it’s such a shock, such a loss that he’s gone.”
From that point on the Pens went 19-15-5-1 to finish the season as the seventh in the Eastern Conference in 2000. That’s not the best record in the world, but the Pens were an imperfect team that fired their coach, brought in Herb Brooks and found a way to make the playoffs. Once there, Pittsburgh would go onto upset the No. 2 seeded Washington Capitals in the first round before bowing out in the second round.
It would end up being the last full season that Brooks coached. It happened in the early days of the internet and is a small piece of franchise lore, but an interesting one from one of the most legendary coaches in the history of our great sport.