From a legendary American hockey family, Dave Brooks ensures today’s players remember their country

Sep 18, 2023

From a legendary American hockey family, Dave Brooks ensures today’s players remember their country

His tradition of having Team USA members sing “God Bless America” is decades old, but continued at the 2023 NAHL Showcase

Dave Brooks led the crowd in the singing of “God Bless America” prior to a NAHL Showcase game between the USA Hockey NTDP and the New Mexico Ice Wolves at the Super Rink in Blaine, Minn., on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. 

Rob Beer / The Rink Live

BLAINE, Minn. – At age 83, having spent a lifetime in hockey, Dave Brooks admits he rarely gets out on the rink these days. But when he did step on the ice most recently, the former Minnesota Gopher, US Olympian and brother of perhaps the most renowned name in American hockey history brought a packed audience to its feet.

“See these,” Brooks said, with a broad smile, showing off his pearly whites. “That’s $36,000 in new teeth. I’m done playing hockey. No 3-on-2, 2-on-1, hit the net. I don’t care.”

It was almost game time for one of the final matches of the 2023 NAHL Showcase, at the Super Rink in Blaine, and Brooks was preparing to introduce a broader audience to a tradition he started decades ago. When he played for Team USA in the 1964 Winter Olympics, wearing a red, white and blue sweater was more than just a cool look for Brooks, whose late brother Herb would go on to coach the Americans to the 1980 Miracle on Ice. Dave was, and remains, intensely proud of his country, and he wanted his teammates, and anyone else who wore the Team USA sweater, to feel the same way.

So, when the team would gather for a beer or a meal after a game, whether they were in Seattle or Saskatchewan or Stockholm, Brooks would make sure they would lift their voices to let everyone know where they were from.

“Anywhere we would go, when the team was together, Dave would make sure we all sang ‘God Bless America’ at some point,” recalled John Johannson, who played for Team USA at the U20 level and traveled with the Americans while his late brother Jim was in player personnel for USA Hockey for more than a decade.

The song, written in 1938 by legendary composer Irving Berlin, in the run-up to America’s entry in World War II, has a notable connection to the hockey world. In 1974, when the Philadelphia Flyers were making their first run to the Stanley Cup Final, world-renowned singer Kate Smith belted out “God Bless America” to thunderous applause prior to a Flyers win, and a tradition that carries on even today – long after Smith died in 1986 – was born.

For Brooks, their impromptu performances were a way to remind USA Hockey players to be proud of the chance to represent their country, and to remind anyone in earshot where they were from.

“We used to go to dinner after every hockey game, and whether it was a restaurant or a beer joint, we’d sing ‘God Bless America’ so they’d know where they are and to be thankful,” said Brooks, who made a living buying, refurbishing and selling property in downtown St. Paul. “Hockey has been good to them, so show it. And after losing my brother it became more and more important. Life is so precious and hockey does so much for kids. Herbie knew that.”

Dave’s famous brother died in a car accident in the summer of 2003, but that was just a few years after USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program had been launched. And the idea of a training ground where the nation’s best young players could come together was an idea Herb Brooks pushed hard for with anyone who would listen.

Today the nation’s best college, Olympic and NHL players routinely come out of the NTDP, which is based in Plymouth, Mich.

“It is amazing. It’s so spectacular and I can’t believe how far this has come, with USA Hockey,” Brooks said. “The Miracle on Ice helped, and it still has legs. The kids playing now in the United States are unbelievable.”

Nearly 60 years ago, Brooks was one of those American kids representing his country in Innsbruck, Austria in the Olympics. Team USA came home without a medal, scoring wins over the Swiss and the Germans, and falling to rivals like Canada and the USSR. But Brooks points with pride to the American Olympic record of 36 penalty minutes in the games, which still stands today.

Originally from St. Paul’s East Side where he skated for Johnson High School, Dave Brooks played three seasons for the Minnesota Gophers from 1960 to 1963. He skated for Team USA in the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.

Contributed / Gopher Sports

When asked to describe his style of play, Brooks had a one-word answer before the question was even finished.

“Dirty,” he said with a sly smile. “I led the league in penalties from peewees to high school to college to the Olympics. I hated the Russians, I hated the Czechs, I hated the Germans, I hated the Swedes and I hated the Canadians. I’m from the East Side of St. Paul. I didn’t like any of them. I was always looking for a fight.”

There was no fighting to be done prior to the NTDP’s game versus the New Mexico Ice Wolves, as Brooks was introduced to the packed-in crowd. He told a quick story about their tradition of singing his favorite patriotic song, and asked the crowd to stand and join him in doing the same. And for the next minute or so, the fans on a warm night at a rink in Minnesota were all on the same side, no matter what town they called home or which team they wanted to win.

God bless America, land that I love

Stand beside her, and guide her

Through the night with the light from above

From the mountains, to the prairies

To the oceans, white with foam

God bless America, my home sweet home

God bless America, my home sweet home

(Video courtesy of Pulltab Sports/New Mexico Ice Wolves)


Courtesy of