Harrington Comes Back, And Gives Back
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Middle-aged men still get giddy when they see him. One gentleman spotted Harrington at the Minnesota Hockey golf fundraiser this summer. He scurried over quickly to ask for the Miracle on Ice forward’s autograph while gleefully recalling his exact location during the Americans’ improbable victory over the Soviet Union at Lake Placid during the 1980 Olympics.
Harrington earned the assist on Mike Eruzione’s game-winning goal in the semifinal as the U.S. marched on to win the Gold Medal under head coach Herb Brooks.
But “Bah” Harrington’s contributions to hockey have gone far beyond providing a memorable moment for every American that witnessed that historic game. He would eventually begin a successful career behind the bench, and now a career working with youth hockey players.
After most recently coaching in Europe the past few years, he’s returned to make a big impact in the State of Hockey, once again by helping, teaching and guiding young players.
That’s what he needed as a young player, and that’s what he wants to give back to the hockey community.
“I think I was a person that needed to learn a lot about hockey to be good at it,” Harrington said. “I certainly want to continue to try to give that back to other young players that have goals and aspirations about where they want to play. I can’t see myself not being in coaching or teaching players in some fashion.”
His current roles are with familiar ties. The Herb Brooks Foundation, in partnership with Flexx Hockey Institute of Training (FHIT) Players, named Harrington the Hockey Director of the Herb Brooks Training Center this past October.
“How do you not bring John Harrington aboard?” Herb Brooks Foundation Executive Director John McClellan said. “This was a no-brainer.”
Harrington oversees all Herb Brooks Foundation hockey operations, including Miracle Gold off-season Triple-A development teams, the inner-city Rink Rat program, Herbie’s Heroes camps for military families and other newer programs in early planning stages. He also assumes the Director of Hockey Development role with FHIT Players, a hockey advancement and development organization for teams and individuals based in the Herb Brooks Training Center at the National Sports Center’s Schwan Super Rink in Blaine.
It’s good to be back in Minnesota, where hockey is a part of life.
“It’s big. It’s popular with the fans and the players and everyone more so than anywhere else,” said Harrington, who is also scouting part-time for the Colorado Avalanche. “I was following it overseas, but it wasn’t hands-on like I would like it to be.”
Learned from the Best
Harrington, a Virginia, Minn. native comes with an impressive resume, including coaching experience collected over the past 27 years with many successful programs. He was an assistant coach at the University of Denver and St. Cloud State before taking on the head job at Saint John’s University in Collegeville. He helped the Johnnies to a 241-142-31 record in 15 seasons, including five Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) titles and five NCAA tournament appearances.
“I’ve been fortunate over my career to have played under great coaches but to also coach with good coaches,” he said.
Harrington played for Dave Hendrickson in high school and then Dave’s brother, Gus, at Minnesota Duluth, where he scored 138 points in 134 games in his four-year college career. There was Brooks, Bob Johnson and Lou Vairo. And when he got into coaching, he worked with Ralph Backstrom at Denver University and Craig Dahl at St. Cloud State.
“I think having that experience, you learn a lot of different ways of doing things,” Harrington said. “You learn from all those coaches and you’re able to gather ideas and even create new ideas by combining theirs, and then putting your stamp on it as a hockey coach.”
In 2008, he became head coach for HC Ambri-Piotta of the Swiss National League. He also coached the Slovenia men’s national team and HC Asiago of the Serie A league in Italy.
He and his wife have also had two grandchildren, which was a factor in his decision to return to Minnesota.
“Looking at them on Skype is OK, but it’s not like being there,” Harrington said of the little ones. “My wife has made some big sacrifices for me and coaching and going overseas was probably the biggest one. It’s good to be back around Minnesota.”
He’s brought the experience back and applied some of the European culture to his teachings, including a stronger emphasis on hockey awareness. With FHIT Players, Harrington oversees the current coaching staff previously in place. Owner and Founder Jason Berg jumped at the chance to hire Harrington.
“The one ingredient FHIT Players missed in the past was a seasoned professional coach who has been around and involved in hockey in almost every aspect possible,” Berg said. “It is safe to say John Harrington brings that to the table.”
Grow the Game
Harrington’s coaching history has long been involved with talented players. His role with the Herb Brooks Foundation is providing him a new perspective on the game by working with the Rink Rat program, run by Janet Marvin. The Rink Rat program provides less-privileged inner-city kids the opportunity to try hockey in a safe environment, all at no cost to the children. The program served more than 750 kids last year – and those numbers are expected to grow.
“I’ve gotten a chance to play with them first hand. Janet Marvin has done such a great job with those kids,” he said. “It’s great. You can make a difference in those kids’ lives. Hopefully it’s something long term, but certainly at that moment where it might be more than just hockey.”
“You can talk to these kids about some hockey things and have fun doing that and seeing that joy, but maybe get a chance to talk to them about something else or to impart some life experiences to them. Something they might take and use as a life lesson. I talk to them about hard work and what they could accomplish if they stick with it. You can make a difference in their life instead of making a difference in your own life, which I think a lot of coaches do.”
Harrington should know about coaches that make a difference in the lives of hockey players. Look at the ones he had.