Herbie Mitchell is one of the few members of the UD Ice Hockey Hall of Fame that is considered by many to be a legend. His words and actions were inspirational to many UD ice hockey players and fans that had the privilege to be around him when he served as an assistant coach for the Men’s Ice Hockey team. Herb was an assistant coach for seven years before he died of cancer on May 4th, 1991. While others have been inducted for their on ice accomplishments or outstanding coaching records, Herbie is best remembered for his words of inspiration and encouragement. His positive attitude was contagious, and he wouldn’t allow you to give less than 100 %.
This HOF biography is not a traditional summary of a man’s contributions the UD hockey program but rather a collection of stories from some of the players that were inspired by Herbie.
One great memory was the day Herb was head coach because coach Roux was sick. We were playing Villanova away. He had a chalkboard in the locker room with “S.H.A.F.T.T” written on it. In his pre-game locker room speech, he explained it meant Skate Hard and Fast Together Today. We really wanted to win for Herb that day – and went on to beat Villanova – I think the score was 4-1.
My two favorite memories of Herb:
After hockey practice every Thursday, Herb would stop by the UD Hockey House (1990-1991) on South Chapel Street to watch the Flyers Game with us.
Afterwards, he’d stay back while the guys all went out to the Stone Balloon for Mug Night. We’d come back, and he’d still be there, asleep on our sofa. One of the guys would throw a blanket on him, then he’d be gone in the morning when we woke up.
Two of my favorite inspirational speeches:
1) SOB’s – “There are three types of SOB’s: Sweat-or-Blood, Sit-on-Bench, Shipped-out-Brother
Which one are you?”
2) SHAFT – “Gentlemen, you gotta SHAFT today! – Skate-Hard-And-Fast-Together-Today. SHAFT!!!”
Herb was a very special friend. I met him when I was 14 years old trying out as a freshman for the Dickinson High School hockey team in 1982. He and I became great friends over my years playing high school hockey and that friendship continued during my time at UD. The most memorable story I can share speaks to the kind of a man Herb Mitchell was. I had suffered a knee injury from hockey and needed surgery during my junior year. After the surgery, on my first day at my parents’ house while recovering, Herb came to visit me. We had a bunch of laughs that afternoon and his visit was the best recovery medicine anyone could have asked for. Herb would do anything for anyone. That was the kind of man he was. I was lucky to have Herb as such a great friend. He passed away a couple weeks before I graduated in May 1991. I often think of Herb, he was one in a million.
When he spoke, he could bring everyone to another level emotionally that not many people could do. When he spoke, we didn’t really even know what he was saying half of the time, it didn’t matter, it’s the way he said things. Being around Herb sometimes seemed to be almost a religious experience, he was our preacher and were his disciples and the rink was his church. Herb had a way of bringing people together for a common goal like few can. He was admired for his love of the game, but mostly for his love that he extended to all of us. Very few have left their mark on so many people like Herb did. Think about this…When was the last time we saw Herb? 30 years ago, maybe? Think of the impact he had on us then…It seems that he’s just as impactful today and even maybe more so, especially when we think about what we’ve been able to pass along to our families and friends alike. Now that’s something special.
Herb was dedicated to our youth, besides working as assistant with the Blue Hen’s Men’s team he also coached High School ice hockey. I gained my respect for Herb standing behind the glass watching games. He could always be counted on for sound guidance. It was clear when you talked to Herb, he wasn’t worried about the final score of any game, his wins were all made on the bench with the young people he influenced. He loved the game and loved the people who played it We in turn loved him back.
Although I had nowhere near the talent required to play for Coach at UD, I was fortunate enough to have him as Coach for the Dickinson High School Club team. Although we weren’t very good at all, that didn’t discourage Coach from coaching his butt off, always encouraging, cheering and oftentimes flat out yelling at us. I’ll never forget him yelling at me: “Conaway, STOP skating around like a chicken with your head cut off!” I, in fact heard that quite a few times????
Coach Herb Mitchell had a TRUE LOVE for hockey and it was not out of his way to pick up guys like me who didn’t always have a ride to those 5:00am practices at the now “Gold” arena. Coach was there every week putting up unruly and disrespectful players but that never stopped him from trying to mold us into a team. I loved Coach Mitchell and pray he is resting in peace in that Big Rink in the Sky. He is truly a Delaware hockey legend.
So many Herbie memories. His 5am skates (I used to sleep in the locker room after watching the late Friday UD games and then lace em up first thing. Herbie would also occasionally go with all of the UD players to the Scrounge after practice. He would tell stories and then nod off. We would wake him up when we were ready to leave. He loved being with his team!
Herb Mitchell was one of the most loyal friends I have ever had. When I asked him if he would be interested in helping coach the UD Ice Hockey team, his eyes lit up immediately and the gears in his head started to turn. He rarely missed a practice or game and he always came with a winning attitude that was contagious. One of my favorite moments came when we were losing to University of Pennsylvania 3-0 after two periods and I was very frustrated with how we were playing. I told Herb that I didn’t feel I could get through to the players that night and that maybe it would be better to hear from someone else between periods. Herb gave one of the most inspirational between period pep talks during my seven years as head coach. He said it was SHAFT time and explained what each letter meant. A couple of people shed a tear and more importantly the team proceeded to score 4 unanswered goals in the third period for a 4-3 win!
Herbie was why we love this game, maybe related to Herbie brooks huh, passion and tenacity is what I learned from him, I lived across the field from the UD rink and was a Newark star player, when Herbie invited you to practice he was running a family hockey practice as he knew we would love the game and carry it on, thanks HB
We had the pleasure of going to Lake Placid with Herbie, he got a better applause than Gordie Howe, Gordie and Herbie hit it off, I wish I had a photo.
Six players, Steve Buck, John Levchik, Tony Capozzi, Frank Cerullo, Mike Kurlej and Mike Swift spent a weekend together at the Jersey Shore this summer and the many stories told about Herb that weekend were told with such reverence for a great man and each one ended with a laugh.
Matt Burlew – The 50D
Anyone who spent any time with Herb Mitchell knew how much Herb loved hockey and how much he wanted to share that love for the game with anyone he came across. Herb spent many years following the game at all levels and supporting kids and adults who wanted to get involved. Be it providing equipment to get started or coaching players on the finer points of the game, Herb was always willing to help out.
One particular event that I recall fondly was during a game in which our team was winning halfway through the third period by a goal. I can’t remember who we were playing but I do remember they had more talent than us so holding this lead was going to be difficult. During a time out Herb rolled out the 50-D. I think all of us were like what is Herb talking about. We had no idea. Then he said that given the situation our best course was to own the neutral zone by basically having all 5 players lined up across center ice keeping our opponent from entering our defensive zone. We would not attack and we would not let the opponent easily make it into our zone. To his credit we won that game. I am not sure if we had really pulled off the 50-D as he wanted but his out of the box thinking for the time won the day.
I had forgotten about that game until I happen to be in the movie theater watching the movie “Miracle”. With 10 minutes to go the US Hockey team took the lead which they would hold on to win the game against the Russians. Once again here was a team that had less talent trying to hold on for the win. A couple minutes later in the film there it was all 5 US players lined up across center ice. The 50-D. While I am not sure that the US team actually ever did this, I could not help but smile and think back to that one game where Herb rolled it out. I am sure Herb was looking down and smiling.