When it comes to a name, Herb Brooks hit the pipe
Columnist Dan Conradt shared a banquet dinner with legendary Minnesota hockey coach.
We slipped into the back of the banquet room just as they started serving dinner.
The last empty table was in a shadowy corner near the door, and it’s the kind of setting I like; you can eat your meal, don’t have to make small talk with people you don’t know, and can slip out unnoticed before the program begins.
Steven was asleep in his baby carrier, but infants tend to save their fusses for the most inopportune times, and if this is one of those nights, a seat in the back of the room would let us make a graceful exit.
I placed the carrier on the floor in the corner and Carla and I took the seats on either side of it. The salads were already on the table and I was spooning dressing onto mine it when the door opened.
The organizer of the conference stepped into the room with a guy who looked vaguely familiar. Wasn’t he in a movie with Harrison Ford? A meteorologist on The Weather Channel? It’s right on the tip of my tongue, but I just can’t place him.
“Can we join you?” our friend the organizer asked.
“Please do!” I said around a mouthful of salad.
CNN anchor? Member of Pink Floyd?
“Let me introduce you,” our friend said. “Dan and Carla Conradt …” and he gestured to the baby carrier on the floor, “and their son Steven.”
The guy looked down at the floor, and in a gravelly, non-nonsense voice said “Hi, Steve!”
Not Steven. Steve. I was about to correct him when our friend said: “This is Herb Brooks.”
Ahhhh, THAT’S why he’s familiar!
In a state where hockey is treated with religious fervor, not recognizing Herb Brooks is akin to blasphemy. This man IS Minnesota hockey!
We made the obligatory small talk during dinner. I tried to not act starstruck and say something inane like “Remember when you coached the team that won the hockey gold medal at the 1980 Olympics? That was awesome!”
Mostly I passed him the butter.
At the end of the meal Brooks was introduced as the guest speaker. The room erupted with applause and everyone jumped to their feet. Brooks wiped his mouth with a napkin, set it on his plate and, before he got up and strode to the front of the room, leaned into the corner and said “Nice to meet you, Steve.”
A 3-month-old can only handle so much exuberance, and the crowd was well over the limit. We recognized the signs of impending fussing and snuck out the back door before Herb Brooks reached the podium.
You were in the presence of a legend, little one, and you slept through it.
Someday I’ll tell you all about it.
Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.