George Nagobads' memories of the Miracle On Ice are few.
It's not that the 95-year-old former U.S. Olympic hockey team doctor doesn't remember the most famous hockey game in United States history.
Nagobads still is sharp as a tack, his memories crystal clear, and he conveys them with humor and humility.
But his memories are of the role U.S. head coach Herb Brooks asked him to play during a 4-3 victory against the powerful Soviet Union team in an Olympic semifinal game on Feb. 22, 1980, in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Brooks, after countless hours of film study and watching the Soviets play throughout the 1980 Olympics, determined that his U.S. team had to stay fresh, using short shifts, if it was indeed to upset the Soviets.
"Herbie gave me a stopwatch," said Nagobads, who, despite having come to Minnesota from Germany more than 65 years ago, still has every bit of the accent that actor Kenneth Welsh delivered while portraying the doctor in the 2004 movie "Miracle."
"Herbie said 'take it, stay next to me and clock our shifts.' After the game I said 'I didn't see any of the game. I had to watch stopwatch for 35-40 seconds.'"
Nagobads, who is still active in the sports medicine community in Minnesota and internationally, resides in Edina. He is in Rochester this week for Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine's Ice Hockey Summit III: Action on Concussion, a two-day meeting of some of the top minds in hockey-related sports medicine.
A natural storyteller, Nagobads talks with great respect about Brooks, whom he worked with not only on the Olympic team, but also throughout Brooks' tenure as head coach at the University of Minnesota. He said, to this day, he considers Brooks more than a close friend.
"I really appreciated the way Herbie always treated the players," Nagobads said, "and for me, he was just like my son. We were very, very close. Very close."
A LOVE FOR MINNESOTA
Nagobads arrived in Minnesota by chance.
He remained in Minnesota because he fell in love with the state.
He came here in 1951, seven years after his family moved from Latvia to Germany, to do his surgical residency at the University of Minnesota — "it's a very, very good institution," he said.
Five years later, in 1956, Nagobads was working for student health services at the university, when he was asked to help out with the Gophers hockey team. Having played hockey, he jumped at the chance to work with a college program. He spent the next 34 years with the Gophers, as well as stints with the Minnesota North Stars and the Fighting Saints.
He said he appreciated all the Gophers' coaches he worked with, including Glen Sonmor, Brad Buetow, Doug Woog and, of course, Brooks.
"It will be a long time before we see another Herb Brooks," Nagobads said.
Nagobads — who was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame with the Miracle On Ice team in 2003, and also as an individual in 2010 — saw sides of Brooks that the public rarely saw.
"He was always a reader, always had a good book," he said of Brooks. "He would always want me to come to practice. When I was through with my hours at student services, he wanted me over at the arena.
"He would say 'come down; I want to talk to you.' Sure, we'd talk about injuries, players, statistics, then he'd say 'doc, did you read this book?'
"I'd say 'Herbie, I don't have any time to read even my medical journals! How am I going to read these books?' But he was really a scholar."
In 2004, Disney brought the 1980 Olympic team's story back to the forefront when it released the movie "Miracle." Nagobads, played by Welsh, had a prominent role in the film.
He said only two portions of the movie upset him — one, at the beginning, that showed players from the eastern U.S. fighting with players from the western U.S. during Olympic tryouts; and, two, perhaps the film's most famous scene, which showed Brooks skating his team to the point of exhaustion after a lackluster effort during a game in Norway.
"He never skated them to complete exhaustion," Dr. Nagobads said. "And, you know, Herb is dead now. He cannot protect himself. People who don't know Herb so well, they see that movie and say 'Ohhhh, he's an animal.' Not true.
"Not many coaches treated their players as nice and as good as Herbie did. I have been around other coaches, saw how they treat their players. The way Herbie treated the players, it was always so different. It touched me to watch the way he treated his players."