Thomas Wolfe may have been correct in a literal sense. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t go back to the place of one of your greatest moments in life, and have the sights, sounds, and experiences come flooding back in a tidal wave of emotional euphoria.
It has been 10,254 days since I last watched a hockey game in the 1980 Arena, now known as the 1980 Rink Herb Brooks Arena. That happened to be on February 24, 1980 when I saw the Soviet Union pound Sweden, 9-2, in the last game of the Olympic hockey tournament. Earlier that day, I witnessed USA score three goals in the third period, the last shorthanded, to beat Finland, 4-2, and clinch the gold medal, officially completing the “Miracle on Ice.”
After those final games were the awards ceremony and the famous scene when Mike Eruzione invited the entire team onto the small podium to share in the moment together for one last time. I captured those experiences a few years ago when the movie, Miracle came out.
I’ve been back to Lake Placid many times since 1980 for vacations or for my wife to compete in cross country ski events at Mt. Van Hoevenberg for the Empire State Winter Games and the Lake Placid Loppet. A lot has changed in Lake Placid while at the same time nothing has changed.
The venues have been updated, modernized, or in some cases completely rebuilt. The 70 meter (where I watched the Nordic Combined ski jumping portion of the event) and 90 meter ski jumps were torn down, replaced by the now standard 90 and 120 meter jumps. Added to this site is the Freestyle Aerial Center for the new freestyle ski events that have become popular in the X-Games era.
The luge and bobsled tracks, sites where I watched many an event during the Olympics and afterwards, had a complete renovation and now includes skeleton. The bobsled and skeleton track contains classic turns such as Cliffside Curve, Shady Corner Curve, and the famed Zig-Zag Curves.
One of my favorite PA calls in sports is Tom Carnegie during the Indianapolis 500 time trials when he exclaims as a driver begins his run, “Heeeee’s on it!” Another favorite is the Lake Placid bobsled PA announcer when the sledders would go through those two turns: “They’re zigging … they’re zagging.”
Whiteface has continuously upgraded their facilities as has the cross country ski trails. The speed skating oval where I got to see Eric Heiden make history has had its systems updated, and the two hockey arenas have been maintained throughout the years. The Olympic Center, which contains the hockey rinks (which also includes the 1932 Rink Jack Shea Arena and the USA Rink), added the 1932 and 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum.
The town itself has seen some development of new stores, motels, and restaurants. Gone is the small “hut” on the hill in front of the arena where a trumpet player stood on top of the roof playing the national anthem with the crowd singing along after the USA-Finland game.
Yet, in many ways — in the important ways — Lake Placid hasn’t changed a bit. Thankfully.
It is still the same quaint yet busy mountain resort town that never allowed its fame to get to itself. It is a community that knows no matter how many tourists and sporting events come to this world famous village, it must always resist turning itself into a commercialized characterless tourist trap.
The architecture all fits together without any sort of Walmart abomination. You can still walk down the streets enjoying the little shops, many of which still sell 1980 Winter Olympic merchandise, cut off to a side alley and walk along simmering Mirror Lake, or hop into any one of the many eateries, pubs, or fine dining establishments, all with a gorgeous view of the Adirondack mountains.
Everytime I’ve been to Lake Placid, my time lives up to the name — a placid, calming, enjoyable experience. However, of all the times I’ve been back to Lake Placid and even stepped into the 1980 Rink, I never saw another hockey game. Until today.
It is interesting how life so often goes in circles. When I snuck into the USA-Finland game with a pass that was only good for outdoor events, there were no seats to be had. Wondering in the press overflow area of the upper bleacher level, I was invited to sit amongst the folks covering this historic game.
Little did I know at the time that for my next hockey game in this rink, I would be sitting in the press box doing the job of those people I sat amongst 28 years, 27 days earlier.
Little did I know that when those famous words were uttered by Al Michaels (“Do you believe in Miracles? YES!”), I too would one day be in that very same spot helping to broadcast a hockey game.
As I gaze over the rink, watching the game on the ice, I can still hear the “U!S!A! U!S!A!” chants, see the players in red, white and blue haul their sticks and gloves in the air as the final buzzer sounded, and be part of a crowd jumping and hugging in joy.
Thomas Wolfe was only partially correct. You may not be able to go home again. But, you can go back to your most memorable moments.