HOPKINS, Minn. — It sounds like one of those perfect “only in Minnesota” scenarios. In the middle of August.
The Blake School lost its boys’ head hockey coach when Greg May stepped down to become the Minnesota Gophers’ director of hockey operations. And within minutes, Blake had a legend from the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team set to take over the job.
At 61, when most of his teammates from Lake Placid are retired or considering it, Rob McClanahan is still hard at work in the investment world, while prepping for his first Minnesota high school head coach job in the fall. After working with the Blake forwards last season, he joked that when May asked if he would be interested in the head coaching position, the immediate reaction was, “No effing way!”
But he came around to the challenge quickly.
“All the assistant coaches are coming back, which is critical, because I’m going to rely on them heavily, as I should. They’re younger, they have a lot of things to offer, and I have a very strong vision of how I want these kids to play,” said McClanahan, who won a NCAA title with the Gophers in 1979 and the gold medal a year later. “I’m just going to try to steer the ship. We have a lot of talent in a very tough section, so we’re going to be challenged without question, but we’re going to have some fun.”
The Bears were 17-8-2 last season, falling to eventual state champion Edina in the semifinals of their section playoffs. They return a solid core of talent including rising junior Tristan Broz, who had 32 goals in 27 games last season and has verbally committed to the Gophers. Blake will be one of the teams featured on Hockey Day Minnesota in Minneapolis, when the Bears face Blaine on Saturday, Jan. 18.
"It was a critical piece that we wanted a smooth transition for this year," said Blake athletic director Nick Rathmann. "Someone who knows the kids and knows our program and keeps our staff together for a year. Because we look at this as a pretty pivotal year for us."
Like seemingly everyone who played under him at the U of M, with the 1980 team, in the NHL and at St. Cloud State, McClanahan’s college, Olympic and New York Rangers coach Herb Brooks had a lasting impact. Brooks, who died in a 2003 car accident, famously kept his distance from players, but consistently produced positive results on the ice.
“He wasn’t an easy guy to play for. He was a pain, and he wasn’t my friend, but I’d play for him tomorrow,” McClanahan said. “And I’m not going to say I’m going to coach like Herbie, because I’m not. You can’t do that anymore. But if I can have the impact on some of these kids that he had on his players, then I will have accomplished some of what I’m trying to do.”
McClanhan played high school hockey in Mounds View, then three seasons with the Gophers. In Lake Placid, he had five goals in the Americans’ seven games, including the game-winner in the gold medal-clinching win over Finland.
After 244 games in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres, Hartford Whalers and Rangers, McClanahan retired in 1984 and has worked in the Twin Cities since then. He has coached youth hockey in Orono and has been a high school assistant coach, but this will be his first head coaching gig.
McClanahan said he welcomes the challenge and is realistic about what may come.
“I’m not really doing it for fun,” he said. “I’m doing this so if I can have an impact with one kid, not just in the hockey, and make them realize that they’re capable of far more than they think they are, then I will have accomplished something. Because that is what Herbie did, not just for me, but for a lot of the players he touched.”