It has really been 25 years.
Despite my young age of 36, I felt old sitting in CSTV’s studio on Friday night watching Alexei Kasatonov and Dave Silk reminisce about the Olympic Hockey tournament of 1980 in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Memories of that event — oh yes; Bill Baker’s goal to tie Sweden in the last minute. The blowouts of Czechoslovakia, Norway and Rumania. The comeback win against West Germany and obviously the historic wins against the Soviet Union and Finland to complete the “Miracle on Ice”.
However, other stories and ramifications have emerged from Mike Eruzione’s game winner on Feb. 22, 1980.
In 1990, I was fortunate enough to write a chapter in Stan Fischler’s book “Golden Ice,” which chronicled some of hockey’s greatest teams. My conversations with Eruzione, Jack O’Callahan, Jim Craig, Herb Brooks and Ken Morrow were amazing, as those guys still felt as the event was happening as they told the stories of their experience.
I remember O’Callahan worrying about the game against the West Germans, remembering, “The USA hadn’t done very well against West Germany in international competition.”
Eruzione told a story about how he had hit goalie Craig in the throat during warm-ups, and after an early goal by the West Germans, thinking to himself “My gosh, what have I done?” as Craig seemed shaky.
One of the quotes I remember best was from defenseman Morrow. He told me he had returned to his room after the Soviet game and was listening to some talk radio shows from the local area, and ones that were from as far away as Montreal. His best recollection was one guy calling and saying, “If the U.S. team played the (then four-time defending Stanley Cup Champion) Montreal Canadiens, they’d probably beat them too.”
Head coach Brooks spun a tale about preparing to face Czechoslovakia. I remember him telling me that he felt the Czechs had no defense and no goaltending, and that beating them really wasn’t an upset for anyone in the hockey community paying attention.
The little city of Brainerd, Minn., is home to the Minnesota Hockey Schools that Brooks used to co-own with current owner Chuck Grillo. I spent time with Brooks over two separate summers when he was up at the school (he was scouting for the Penguins at the time).
It was there where he passionately recalled his theory in building that team where he wanted small, skilled players who could skate and execute the “weave” system. He always felt that those players were worth their weight in gold over the bigger lumbering players who provided a physical presence and little else.
I enjoyed the twists and turns of Brooks’ career as a coach in the pros, whether it was the NHL or the AHL, where he spent a year at the helm of the Utica Devils. I fondly recall sitting on the stage of the old Baltimore Arena during my time with the Baltimore Skipjacks talking to him before a big game late in the season, a game he referred to as “just another skate on the pond.”
As the years passed, the Soviet Union fell apart, and Soviet players came to the NHL. Kasatonov and defense partner Viacheslav Fetisov played for Brooks with the New Jersey Devils. Russian players were found on NHL rosters, as well as teams in the AHL, IHL, CHL, UHL, WPHL, WL, ECHL, USHL, and almost every other HL.
A lot of us coaches always go back to that event as a motivational thing for our players. I remember as the coach of the Memphis RiverKings I felt a trip down memory lane, and a viewing of an eight-minute piece of video I had on the win over the Soviets would be good to get the blood flowing. However, my roster included two Russians (one whose uncle was on that Soviet team in 1980), two Ukraines, and a Czech. I didn’t use the piece.
Now, Russian players appear in the Canadian Hockey League’s three branches, the Ontario, Quebec, and Western Hockey Leagues. They are on rosters in the top US junior leagues, the United States Hockey League, the North American Hockey League, and the Eastern Junior Hockey League.
So, in looking back, here are some of the things that stand out in my memory, and I’m sure yours as well.
Do you remember?
Jim Craig on the bench with a shot of the clock in the upper part of your screen showing :41 on it against the Swedes in game 1?
Dave Silk getting the Americans off and rolling by scoring the opening goal of the tourney?
Waking up and reading that the U.S. had routed Czechoslovakia 7-3?
The U.S. game against Norway in the old 1932 rink, and them having to come from behind?
Buzz Schneider playing in the 1976 Olympics?
Al Michaels ending one broadcast by saying “This group was mostly unknown 10 days ago, they’ll be very popular tomorrow after the game against the West Germans?”
Some of the great lines, like Eruzione saying, “Us beating the Soviets was like a bunch of Canadian College football players beating the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Michaels’ “This impossible dream comes true” after beating the Finns, or Ken Dryden’s analysis after Eruzione scored the go-ahead goal against the Soviets, when he carefully warned “the Soviets have a way of never allowing you to feel too good about yourselves because they can strike so quickly.”
Perhaps the best line was from Jack O’Callahan. I asked him to rank that team in the context of the great teams we were putting in the book.
He thought for a second as he looked around an empty South Mountain Arena in West Orange, N.J. He was about to speak, and then stopped.
Then he winked, and summed it up perfectly.
“For those two weeks, we were the best team in the world.”
That title has lasted 25 years, and will for many generations.
Dave Starman serves as an analyst on CSTV Friday Night Hockey and contributes weekly to CollegeSports.com. Starman has coached professionally and in the amateur ranks and is currently the head scout in the Northeast for the USHL’s defending champion Waterloo Black Hawks.