Herb Brooks became the eight Minnesota coach when he replaced Glen Sonmor for the 1972-1973 season. Brooks, who grew up in the hockey-happy East Side of St. Paul came from a hockey conscious family. His father had been a well known amateur player in the 1920’s and his brother, David, had been a member of the Gophers in the early 1960’s and the 1964 U.S. Olympic team.
In addition to his playing for Minnesota in the late 1950s, he had been a member of five U.S. National sextets and the 1964 and 1968 U.S. Olympic Teams. Prior to his appointment as Gopher mentor, Brooks had coached Minnesota junior teams and had been an assistant to Glen Sonmor.
Having extensive playing experience in European hockey it was only natural that he became interested in the game as played by the Russians and Czechs. He became an advocate of the Russian style of play and the coaching of Anatoli Tarasov. Brooks, who had a degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota, employed some of his learning in this field to motivate his players with the will to win.
In his second season, that of 1973-19 74, with a 22-12-6 overall record, the Gophers captured their first NCAA title at Boston by edging Boston University 5-4 in the first round and outlasting Michigan Tech 4-2 in the finals. Brad Shelstad, who had played at Minneapolis Southwest, was chosen as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, while Les Auge and Hibbing’s Mike Polich were placed on the All-Tournament squad. During the season Minnesota had finished second in the WCHA race to Michigan Tech.
In 1975 the Gophers won the WCHA with a 24-8-0 mark in the NCAA Tournament held in St. Louis they defeated Harvard 6-4 as Warren Miller got the first hat trick of his career. In the finals they lost 6-1 to Michigan Tech, which had finished second to them in the WCHA. Miller and defenseman Reed Larson were picked for the All-Tournament team.
The following spring of 1976 the Maroon and Gold won the NCAA crown for a second time in three seasons. In the tournament held at Denver, Boston University was Minnesota’s first opponent, losing to the Gophers by a 4-2 score in a rough game. In the NCAA final game Minnesota edged arch-rival Michigan Tech 6-4. In the final game Gopher Tom Mohr, a seldom used goalie, replaced a sick Jeff Tscherne in the nets and proved to be the hero of the championship game. Minnesota’s Tom Vannelli, who had amassed two goals and four assists in the two games, was chosen as the tournament's Most Valuable Player. After the win Minnesota's Pat Phippen remarked, “they called us shabby, they called us inconsistent, now they call us NCAA champions.”
The Gophers had finished third in the WCHA race. To get to the NCAA Final Four Minnesota endured plenty of trouble from Michigan State in the leagues final playoffs as the Spartans tied the Gophers in the first contest and lost to them in the second game 7-6 in three overtimes. A partial list of the 1976 team members include: Jim Boo, Joe Micheletti, Russ Anderson, Warren Miller, Phil Verchota, Brad Morrow, Tom Gorence, Reed Larson, Robin Larson, Bill Baker, Joe Baker, Mark Lambert, Tom Vannelli, Joe Bonk and Pat Phippen.
In the 1976-1977 season the Gophers with a 17-22-3 overall season lost to the Wisconsin Badgers in the WCHA playoffs. The following season- with a fourth place league finish- Minnesota lost in the playoffs to Colorado College.
At Detroit in 1979 Brooks led the team to their third NCAA crown in seven years of coaching at Minnesota by edging New Hampshire and North Dakota by identical 4-3 scorers in Detroit. During the 1978-1979 season the Gophers had finished second to North Dakota in the WCHA race. Steve Janaszak, Minnesota's goalie, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, while Mike Ramsey, Eric Strobel and Steve Christoff were placed on the NCAA All-Tournament team. Although the Brooks led teams did not enjoy a winning record against Wisconsin, they did post a respectable 52-34-4 effort against there are three big rivals-North Dakota, UMD and Wisconsin.
After the Badgers joined the WCHA and their teams became a factor in the league races, a big rivalry built up between the two colleges. When the teams met, feelings of the fans ran high and the language employed likewise. In the book “One Goal”, by John Powers and Art Kaminsky, they describe Badger Bob Johnson and Herb Brooks as follows: “They'd both graduated from the ‘U’ and both were driven, compulsive people. But there were important differences, too. Brooks was tightlipped, a blunt, and often critical. Johnson was hyperactive, garrulous, and unabashedly boosterish. Brooks was mysterious and enigmatic, always keeping you off base. With Johnson, no guessing was necessary; if you didn't know what he was doing and why, he would tell you-a dozen times.”
Mike Polich led the Gophers in scoring three years in a row -- in 1973, 1974 and 1975. In 1976 and 1977 Tom Vannelli won the scoring title, while Steve Christoff did likewise in 1978 and 1979. Three Minnesota goalies in succession were selected as the leading goaltenders in the WCHA: Brad Shelstad in 1973-1974, Larry Thayer in 1974-1975 and Jeff Tscherne in 1975-1976. All-WCHA selections during the Brooks era included: Brad Shelstad (1974), Mike Polich (1975), Reed Larson (1976), and Bill Baker (1979), while Les Auge (1975), Mike Polich (1976) and Bill Baker (1979) won All- American honors.
Nine players whom Brooks had coached at Minnesota were selected by Brooks as members of the 1980 Gold Medal US Olympic team. These players were Neal Broten, Bill Baker, Steve Janaszak, Eric Strobel, Phil Verchota, Mike Ramsey, Buzz Schneider, Rob McClanahan and Steve Christoff. Gopher All-American selections whom played during the Brooks reign included: Les Auge, Mike Polich, Tim Harrer, Neal Broten and Steve Ulseth. Mike Polich, Rob Harris, Brad Morrow, Les Auge, Pat Phippen, Tom Vannelli, Tom Younghans and Steve Ulseth are other Gophers who played for various U.S. Olympic/National teams.
Twenty-three former Gophers from the 1970s period have played in the NHL. With the number of years that they have played in the NHL in parenthesis, they are as follows: Russ Anderson (10), Mike Antonovich (5), Les Auge (1), Bob Bergloff (1), Bill Baker (3), Jim Boo (1), Neal Broten (12), Bill Butters (2), Steve Christoff (5), Tom Gorence (6), Tim Harrer (1), Paul Holmgren (10), Steve Janaszak (2), Reed Larson (14), Rob McClanahan (5), Murray McLachlan (1), Pat Micheletti (1), Joe Micheletti (3), Warren Miller (4), Mike Polich (5), Mike Ramsey (13), Craig Sarner (7), and Tom Younghans(6). Holmgren, a graduate of St. Paul's Harding high school, is one of the few Americans to have coached in the NHL. He was Head Coach for the Philadelphia Flyers for the 1988-1991 seasons, and in 1992 became the Head Coach of the Hartford Whalers.