Remembering John Brophy

Legendary hockey coach John Brophy died this morning.

In 2000, I wrote a profile of him for the Trenton Times. He was a fascinating person to talk to and learn about, because he basically had 2 personas. Hopefully you’ll like what I wrote.

 

Brophy: Love him or hate him

Author: MARK SIMON; Times sports writer

NORFOLK, Va. _ At the end of this story, you will either love John Brophy or you will hate him.

 

It is a requirement for anyone in the ECHL _ whether you be a fan, player, coach or media member _ to feel some sort of emotions towards this silver- haired 66-year-old man, a hockey legend.

 

To fully understand Brophy, you must comprehend the fact that there are seemingly two of him. There is the good Brophy, the one who gave us 45 minutes of his time and told us we could learn more from him if we had another five hours to spare. There is also the bad Brophy, the one who hasn’t spoken to one of the team’s beat reporters for nearly a month.

 

The good Brophy has enhanced the careers of hundreds of players that he has worked with in 27 seasons as a professional hockey coach including the past 11 with the Hampton Roads Admirals. Among those he has developed at various levels are former NHLers Rick Vaive, Rob Ramage, Craig Hartsburg, Guy Carbonneau, and current Washington Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig. The good Brophy has won more than 900 games, second in pro hockey to Scotty Bowman, and three ECHL championships, including one with an Admirals team that made the playoffs as the lowest seed in the Northern Conference. He is the winningest coach in ECHL history.

 

”He wants to win hockey games,” said former Admirals owner Blake Cullen, ”not for himself, but for the team and for the city. He has a total one-track focus. It’s good old-fashioned pride in the hockey sweater.”

 

THE GOOD Brophy is a master motivator, as good at getting his team to respond as anyone who has worked in the sport.

 

”He demands the most out of his players,” said current Hampton Roads captain Rich Kowalsky. ”He has changed a lot of players’  careers. He has an association with winning and he wants to win at all costs. He’s never had a player not give 100 percent. No one who has ever come here has coasted.”

 

”I’m interested in finding out how far a player can go,” said Brophy, who came to the Admirals after being fired from his dream job, coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1987 to 1989. ”There is no secret (to motivating). Some players will do more then others. I’ll stay all day with them at the rink if they want. You can’t make a player in an hour-and-a-half (of practice). Most of our players don’t really know what they have to do to get better. You have to stick it down their throat.”

 

The bad Brophy has gone too far many times.

 

Earlier this season when he cut Shaun Peet (now with the South Carolina Stingrays), he made Peet throw his skates in the garbage in front of the entire team. He once took a jersey, dunked it in Gatorade and made a player wear it for a game. When an overweight Al Iafrate was coming up with the Maple Leafs, Brophy made him shed the excess pounds in a sauna _ in full uniform.

 

”The last thing I want to do,” the good Brophy said during our discussion, ”is tell a player he’s not good enough to do his job. I don’t ever try to disrespect a player. ”

 

”WHEN HE snaps, he snaps,” Kowalsky said. ”The guys learn not to get caught up in it. You can’t let him get you down.”

 

”It’s nothing personal,” Brophy said. ”It’s just hockey.”

 

Brophy-snaps are as legendary as the man himself. Those offended easily should not sit behind the Hampton Roads bench when the Admirals come to Trenton on Jan. 22. He can be mad when the Admirals win. He will be mad if the Admirals lose.

 

John Brophy,” said Virginian Pilot sportswriter Tris Wykes, who covers the Admirals and to whom Brophy hasn’t spoken since early December, ”is the most profane man I have ever met.”

 

In more than 20 years of minor league hockey, playing for teams like the Troy Uncle Sam Trojans of the Eastern League, Brophy set the minor league record for career penalty minutes. This was at a time when play resembled the bumble-and-rumble style from the famous hockey movie ”Slapshot.” An article in the Admirals game program describes him as ”an intense, and at times ruthless defenseman.”

 

Cullen heard Brophy once tell a story where he found out that one of the players on an opposing team was a Mormon, who refused to play on Sunday.

 

The player was finally persuaded to play against Brophy’s team that Sunday by his coach. At the opening faceoff for that game, Brophy took his stick and smashed it against the player’s leg. ”You,” he said to the player, who was writhing in pain on the ice, ”picked the wrong Sunday.”

 

IF YOU detest him at this point, you’re not the only one.

 

Around the league, particularly in Roanoke and Richmond (which played its 100th game against the Brophy-coached Admirals last Sunday), fans and even opposing coaches have gone at it with Brophy, both verbally and physically.

 

”Those opinions,” the good Brophy said of his detractors, ”have nothing to do with how I am. I don’t mean to come off as a stupid guy.”

 

Taunting the bad Brophy is a big mistake. He has attempted to go after fans in the stands many times, one time even tossing a hacksaw blade at a would be heckler (he missed). He has been reprimanded, suspended and even arrested for his actions during games.

 

”Sometimes,” the good Brophy said, ”you do things you wish you could have back.”

Which brings us back to that Brophy, the one whom Wykes said is wonderfully polite around women, little children and animals. The one that Cullen said would lie down in front of a zamboni for his players. This is a man who loves his wife, former LPGA golfer Nancy White and who treat his three dogs Novie, Scotia (whom were named after Brophy’s birthplace, Nova Scotia) and Mud Duck like royalty. He used to let those dogs go out on the ice after practice and shovel up dog poop himself after they had relieved themselves.

 

The fans of Hampton Roads revere him like a god. He could have left many times but never did. When Brophy was hired, he requested that a clause enabling him to leave for a higher-level position be removed from his contract so that he could totally focus on this team. The people here will miss him dearly should he not end up coaching the Admirals when they move up to the American Hockey League next season.

 

”John,” Cullen said of a man he considers to be a lifelong friend, ”has had more to do with the growth and the success of the ECHL then any other individual. There is nobody like him.”

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