‘Miracle man’ John Harrington retires after 33 years

Minnesota lives and breathes hockey, and if there’s anyone who represents that it is Minnesota State’s women hockey coach John Harrington. 

From growing up playing hockey as a little kid in Virginia, Minnesota to winning a gold medal with the “Miracle on Ice” hockey team in 1980 to joining the Mavericks nine years ago, Harrington has done it all in the world of hockey. He has embodied the state of hockey’s culture and is now retiring after 33 years of doing what he loved. 

Harrington spent the majority of his life on the rink. As soon as he was able he laced up his skates and started playing. 

“That’s all there was to do,” he said. 

Before his time as a Maverick, Harrington’s career spanned various facets of the sport, including coaching at high school, Division I and III collegiate levels and coaching international teams in Italy, Switzerland and the Slovenia olympic team. He also scouted professionally for the Colorado Avalanche. 

All his experience was only with men’s teams and he only had one area left to mark off his list — coaching women’s hockey. That’s what brought him to Mankato in his finale with the sport. 

“I never coached a women’s team and at that point it intrigued me,” Harrington said. “Once I got the job, I had a tremendous time coaching the girls.” 

As the fourth head coach in MSU women’s hockey history, Harrington finished with an 85-198-25 overall record, second in all-time wins. Harrington said that some of his favorite memories were playing against the top teams in the world.

In his 2015 inaugural year the Mavs took down No. 3 Minnesota Duluth and in 2018 they defeated the South Korean National Team. 

In 2019, they had a 3-0 shutout win versus No.6 Ohio State. Harrington captured his first win against the No. 1 ranked Wisconsin Badgers. He also beat the Minnesota Gophers in Mariucci Arena in 2022 and at Ridder Arena this year. 

He also cherishes his memories off the ice. 

“For me it’s been fun to just get to know the girls and be able to not only coach them in hockey but also in life,” Harrington said. “I tell them to become a champion you have to be champions in other areas of your life.”

He helped them approach academics like a champion, he helped them to behave socially as champions and he wanted them to leave Mankato with a champion mindset whether they were on the ice or not.

“If you do that you’re going to be a success wherever you choose to go when you leave Mankato,” Harrington said.

As he steps away from his coaching duties he will remain in Mankato as he takes on the role of Special Assistant to the Athletic Director before his full retirement from the University June 30.

“We are profoundly indebted to Coach Harrington for his many years of outstanding and dedicated service to Maverick women’s hockey,” said Athletics Director Kevin Buisman in a press release on the Maverick Athletics site. “John is an iconic figure in the game of hockey and will long be remembered for his role as a member of the 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympic gold medal team. We will miss having him on the bench in the years ahead, but we wish John, Mary and his family nothing but the best in his retirement years.”

In college Harrington joined the University of Minnesota Duluth’s hockey program as a walk-on. After four years on the team he was selected as one of 12 Minnesota hockey players to play for the 1980 olympic hockey team coached by Herb Brooks. Harrington made every cut and was placed on the olympic roster for the 1980’s game at Lake Placid, New York. 

The team went on to defeat the highly favored Soviet Union team 4-3 in the heat of the Cold War. Harrington assisted on Mike Eruzione’s game winning goal in the third period. Two days later, the team took home gold in a 4-2 victory against Finland. 

The game was coined the “Miracle on Ice.” 

“When we joined we were just trying to impress Herb Brooks,” Harrington said. “We had no idea the impression our game against the Soviet Union was having on the country and even around the world of hockey.” 

“When we got home so many people were talking about us and so many were anxious to see our team and tell us how much we meant to them and to our country after winning the Olympic Games.”

The game cemented itself in sports history so much that Disney wanted to capture the underdog story. In 2004, the blockbuster film “Miracle” hit theaters to tell the story of how a group of college kids took down one of the best hockey teams to date. 

“I think it was good,” Harrington said. “There were a few things that were Hollywood-ized or dramatized but it showed a good story. I’ve had players from all levels that tell me they watch that movie before big games and that’s exciting to me knowing our story meant that much to them.” 

As Harrington approaches retirement he is not fully done with hockey. He says that he and his wife are excited to go watch his six grandkids play the sport and look forward to cheering them on and buying them whatever they want from the concessions. 

He will also hit the golf course more and play pickleball with his wife. 

“I look forward to staying connected and being a fan of Minnesota State University athletics,” Harrington said. “I will continue to be supportive of Maverick Women’s Hockey and cheering on the team’s accomplishments. After 33 years of college coaching along with seven years of professional coaching and scouting, it is time to experience other things in life with my wife Mary, and enjoy watching our grandchildren in their school events and sports. I am certain I will be coaching from the seats and the sidelines.”

Header photo: The Minnesota State’s women hockey team head coach John Harrington is retiring after nine years with the team and 33 years of coaching hockey.

Write to Luke Jackson at Luke.jackson.2@mnsu.edu

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