One decade ago, the Herb Brooks Foundation, based at the National Sports Center in Blaine, presented its first Herb Brooks Award, which is given out to one boy and girl in each class (A and AA) from a pool of teams participating in the state tournament.
The honor goes to the most qualified player at the state tournament who represents the values, characteristics and traits that defined Herb Brooks.
The award is supported by the Herb Brooks family, the Minnesota State High School League, boys’ and girls’ hockey coaches associations and the Herb Brooks Foundation.
Boys’ honorees this year were Hermantown’s Chris Benson (Class A) and Duluth East’s Ryan Lundgren (AA). On the girls’ side, Eden Prairie’s McKenzie Johnson (AA) and Red Wing’s Cori Fairbanks (A) were presented with the trophy following the championship game in each class at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
In celebration of the 10th anniversary, the first recipient of the award, Greg Flynn, a Centennial High School graduate (Class of 2004) who went on to excel at the Air Force Academy and is currently an Air Force officer living in Ohio, was on hand. After his time in Colorado Springs, Colo., Flynn balanced playing minor league hockey for the Lowell Devils in the AHL with being an Air Force officer. He served one tour of duty in Afghanistan before returning to the U.S. in February 2012 and is now stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
Flynn was named the first Herb Brooks Award winner after helping Centennial win the Class AA state hockey tournament in 2004.
The group that Flynn grew up playing hockey with was the same that won the state title, similar to how Brooks won a state title with St. Paul Johnson in 1955 with a group of guys he grew up learning the game with.
Flynn helped present the Herb Brooks Award to Lundgren.
Being part of the ceremony on the ice was a thrill for Flynn to experience once again. “I didn’t know the emotions would be so strong getting back on the ice, but the magic of the high school hockey tournament is a common bond that all participants will have forever,” he said.
According to Flynn, he had no idea that he had been nominated for the award and therefore didn’t realize he had won it at first. “The award means more to me now than it did when I first received it,” Flynn said. “It is hard to appreciate in that moment how big of a legacy you become a part of when you become an award winner. There are not many awards that are built around character and leadership and that makes the Herb Brooks Award very special.”
Flynn, a defenseman, went on to play four seasons at the Air Force Academy and served as an assistant captain in his senior season. He averaged one point per game and helped the team to three straight NCAA appearances from 2007-09.
As an officer in the Air Force, Flynn said he tries to live up to Brooks’ ideals as a leader. “As an officer,” he said. “It is expected that I lead the men and women in the United States Air Force. It is a privilege to do so and they expect the highest degree of integrity and character in their leaders. To give those men and women anything less would be a travesty.”
Dan Brooks, Herb Brooks’ son, said both he and his sister, Kelly Brooks Paradise, were surprised at how the award has really taken off. “We didn’t know what to expect,” Dan said, expecting the award to last one year. “It’s actually become a very big deal with coaches lobbying for it.”
The honor doesn’t go to the player with the most goals, but broadens the perspective of a more complete person beyond the rink.
Jason Olson is at firstname.lastname@example.org