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Brian Gionta on NHL future, representing USA Hockey again (PHT Q&A)

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The Olympic journey for Brian Gionta begins Monday night when he boards a flight to Germany to meet up with his USA Hockey teammates ahead of next week’s Deutschland Cup.

The Americans will play Slovakia, Russia and Germany in the tournament hosted by the German Ice Hockey Federation. It’s the first step for USA Hockey as they look to identify the players who will make up their roster at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Gionta is one of two players — Ryan Malone being the other — on the 29-man roster for the Deutschland Cup who has played in the Olympics. After the Buffalo Sabres declined to re-sign the veteran of 1,006 NHL games, he spent the summer searching for another NHL gig. While he and his agent had contract talks with a few teams, nothing came to fruition.

Earlier this month, once the Olympic option came on the radar, the 38-year-old Gionta began skating with the AHL’s Rochester Americans to stay in shape. His time is now spent skating during the mornings and hanging out with with his wife and three kids the rest of the day.

We spoke with Gionta on Friday, one day after he was in New York City for the Team USA WinterFest event.

Enjoy.

Q. What do you remember most about your Olympic experience in 2006?

GIONTA: “It was a dream come true. Just the whole enormity of it was so much fun. Obviously, disappointing how we finished [knocked out by Finland in quarterfinals] and that’s a driving force making that a better finish this year.”

Are surprised that you have this opportunity again given the NHL’s decision not to go to PyeongChang?

“Yes, for sure. Considering the past involvement and future sites coming up, I thought for sure they’d still be involved. Clearly, the decision was made on the NHL’s part to not allow those guys to go. How things shook out for myself late summer-ish, I didn’t really have it on the radar until things played out the way they did.”

When did your summer go from pursuing another NHL contract to heading in this direction where you could be part of the Olympic team again?

“Right up in through camp and during camp, still had a couple of teams that called with some interest. But with my three kids, the ages they’re at, it was a tough transition to make for them to be going someplace else. When we made the decision not to move the family or me move away from the family, USA Hockey had called and said they’d be interested if I was not playing in the NHL.”

Have you closed the door on playing again in the NHL?

“You never know. I would definitely not close the door. If the right situation came across, I’d have to think long and hard about it, for sure. But at the same time if nothing changes I’m completely excited about the prospect of playing in the Olympics and having a chance at a medal.”

As one of two guys with Olympic experience on the roster, what kind of advice could you pass along to your teammates who’ve never participated in one?

“The biggest thing is to enjoy it. It goes quick. On the ice, it’s not much you can say, it’s more trying to be a calming force in big games because you’ve been a part of bigger games throughout the career. It’s just trying to be a steady force to settle things at times.”

[VIDEO: Who will be on U.S., Canada Olympic men’s hockey rosters?]

How much of an advantage is it to have these tournament games as opposed to flying from your NHL city and thrown right into competition like in previous Olympics?

“It’s big. It’s an advantage to be together with some of the guys that will be on that team. But it’s also a big advantage because the whole coaching staff’s going to be over there. It’s the first case you get to implement the system that they want and playing within that. In year’s past, you haven’t had that luxury of being able to play for that coach or with those guys until you get over there and you have a couple of practices and you’re right into it.

“It’s definitely a unique situation. It’s a cool situation to have where you’re able to go over next week and get to know the guys, get to play with the guys and also get a feel for the coaches and their styles.”

Having been part of the Players’ Association, do you believe Olympic participation should be worked into the next Collective Bargaining Agreement?

“If the players want it, that’s a way to safeguard themselves away from the NHL being able to come in and out of certain Olympic Games. If it’s built into the CBA it’s a binding thing and you have a little more say in that. If the players and the PA want more control then having it in the CBA allows them to have a little more say when it comes time for those Games.”

From you experience internationally, when you have that many players coming together for a short tournament, what are some important things to do in order to start developing chemistry?

“Some of those little team bonding things you can do. But mostly it’s hanging out together, getting to know each other, getting a feel for where everyone’s come from and their backgrounds and creating that bond in a short period of time. It’s unique because we have that next week to be able to do some of that and even on your practice days before the games you have some time to build in stuff like that and try to build some chemistry and speed up that process a bit.”

Finally, whenever the time comes have you thought about what you want to do after your career is over?

“Over the last couple of year you start thinking about it. Still unsure with what direction that would be but I think in the current situation being able to practice with the Amerks in the AHL you’re kind of in-between. You’re in-between the players, you’re in-between coaches and management. So I can take this year to feel out the development side, feel out the management side, feel out the coaching side that when you’re immersed as a player and playing games and constantly grinding through the season, you don’t have that time to sit back and learn those things. I’m hoping to use this year to learn and maybe give some more direction to where the next few years will lead me.”

MORE: PyeongChang Olympic hockey schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

USA Hockey, Hockey Canada reveal 2018 Olympic jerseys

USA Hockey
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The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea are approaching, and on Wednesday morning both USA Hockey and Hockey Canada revealed the jerseys their hockey teams will be wearing.

First up, the U.S., who will be donning three jerseys for the tournament.

Once again, the USA jerseys will feature “Land of the Free – Home of the Brave” on the inside neckline. According to USA Hockey, these jerseys also feature “injected silicone molds” that “make the trim pop.” Also, the sleeve graphic was “inspired by bald eagle feathers and represents the theme of fluid force.” Finally, the “flicker film (rather than heavy twill) base for the crest and numbers increase vibrancy and sparkles under arena lights.”

[SEE: 2018 Olympic hockey schedule]

They’re certainly…interesting. They do have a very XFL, Pro Beach Hockey vibe to them with the design and color scheme.

Since both jerseys were designed by Nike, you’ll see just how much in common Canada’s has with the Americans’ look.

Canada will also be going with three jerseys: the traditional red and white along with another black one. According to Hockey Canada, the maple leaf logo was “inspired by a skate blade” and also features gold trim.

So what do you think? Would you put down some hard-earned cash for a 2018 Brian Gionta or Ryan Malone USA Hockey jersey or perhaps a 2018 Jarome Iginla or Derek Roy Canada one?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Report: Some NHL in Olympics talk (not much, but some)

AP
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Hey, at least there’s some talk about the NHL participating in the 2018 (and really, 2022) Olympics, even if it’s seemingly preliminary.

League deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun that the NHL, NHLPA and IIHF met “very quietly” a couple weeks ago to dip their toes in the early issues.

With the World Cup of Hockey looming, it’s fair to wonder what might happen with the 2018 games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

As LeBrun explains, the 2018 and 2022 Olympics essentially go hand-in-hand, as the league must mull the logistical challenges vs. the potentially lucrative possibility of increasing the sport’s prominence in Asia.

The prevailing theme is “preliminary,” but LeBrun’s report is still worth a read, especially if you’re a big fan of international hockey.

‘Relive the Miracle’ reunion emotional for 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — The final 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey player arrived at Herb Brooks Arena at 7:23, seven minutes before the “Relive the Miracle” ceremony began.

Jim Craig was escorted into a ready room by New York State Police. “He made it!” one player exclaimed. The show billed as the first time since 1980 that all living Miracle on Ice players gathered in Lake Placid could go on.

“This is mind-boggling,” team captain Mike Eruzione said. “We came here 35 years ago never thinking or dreaming or believing this thing would happen.”

The scoreboard at a rink formerly known as the Olympic Fieldhouse read USA 4, URS 3, just as it did on Feb. 22, 1980.

The 19 men sat below it, wearing replicas of their white Olympic jerseys and sat on a stage, in elevated wooden chairs, to recall the Lake Placid Games with a moderator.

A few thousand fans filled the arena. Often, they broke into “U-S-A” chants. An American flag draped over section 22.

The chronological ceremony was spliced with video of the Miracle on Ice, the 2004 film “Miracle” and the coach Brooks saying before the Olympics that the U.S. was unlikely to win a medal.

It ended with the No. 20 jersey of Bob Suter being raised amid more “U-S-A” chants. The Wisconsin defenseman was the first member of the team to die after he suffered a heart attack on Sept. 9.

In between, the players joked, more about Brooks than anyone else, the team’s two goalies shared a memorable embrace and Suter’s son, the Minnesota Wild’s Ryan Suter, delivered a touching video message about his father.

More about reunion during Hockey Day in America, Sunday at noon on NBC and online

Forward Dave Christian said seeing 18 teammates brought him immediately back to 1980. Craig jetted in after watching his daughter’s final college hockey game, a 5-3 Colgate Raiders loss in Troy, N.Y.

“I’m ready to go out and play the game again,” Christian said.

The players passed microphones on the stage as highlights played on giant raised screens to their left and right, sandwiching an oversized American flag. Nobody spoke more than the captain Eruzione.

The “Miracle” film clips included Brooks’ speech before the Soviet game, of course, but also the scene after a pre-Olympic exhibition against Norway.

The Americans and Norwegians tied, 3-3, a result that disgusted Brooks, who had his players skate from line to line, over and over again, even after the arena’s lights were turned off.

“What was lost in the whole story is we played Norway the next day and beat them 8-0,” Eruzione said (though this website says it was 9-0).

Forward John Harrington regretted leaving at his home a notebook that he bought around Christmas 1979. In that notebook, he jotted Brooks’ sayings that became known as “Brooksisms.”

Craig made it a point to appreciate his backup, Steve Janaszak, who won an NCAA Championship under Brooks at Minnesota in 1979 but was the only member of the U.S. team not to play in the Olympics.

“Steve Janaszak was every bit a part of our team, whether he played one second or not,” Craig said.

Janaszak and Craig, Nos. 1 and 30 sitting on opposite sides of the stage, met at the middle with a hug.

Then, the players began reflecting on the Miracle on Ice. It’s been made to drip with political drama, but, as Al Michaels said on the broadcast, it was manifestly a hockey game.

“I don’t think half of us knew where the Soviet Union was,” Dave Silk joked. “If they asked us about [Mikhail] Gorbachev, we would’ve thought he was a left winger.”

Players said they respected and admired the Soviets rather than hating them.

“It was a matter of keeping the game close as long as we could,” said Mark Johnson, who scored to tie the game at 2-2 and 3-3.

Then, everybody turned to watch Eruzione’s game-deciding goal, assisted by Mark Pavelich, who drove in from Oregon (with a stop in Minnesota) this week, and by Harrington.

“You know, I could probably score this myself,” Harrington joked of the Eruzione goal. “But, as a great teammate of Mike’s, our captain, why don’t I pass it to him and let him make millions in the next 35 years.”

“If the roles were reversed, and you had the shot, it would have been wide and long,” Eruzione retorted.

Then, defenseman Jack O’Callahan spoke up.

“By the way, it’s been way more than millions,” he said.

They joked that a teammate got a piece of Eruzione’s shot and deflected it in. And that Eruzione’s eyes were closed when he shot.

“Open, closed, it didn’t matter,” Eruzione said. “It went right where it was supposed to be.”

The final two minutes of the Miracle on Ice game were played on the giant screens, ending with Al Michaels‘ “Do you believe in Miracles?” call being drowned out by the crowd’s applause.

Finally, Bob Suter’s No. 20 jersey was raised, an honor that son Ryan Suter said gave him goosebumps in a prerecorded video message.

The players filed out after the Star-Spangled Banner played to the backdrop of the video of Eruzione waving his teammates to join him on the podium 35 years ago.

“We still feel like it’s 20 [players],” O’Callahan said, “because Bobby’s up here with us.”

How the Miracle on Ice reunion came together

Mike Eruzione, Miracle teammates remember Bob Suter, recall 1980 memories

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — One by one, 15 members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team walked past a white No. 20 USA jersey, took their seats and then reminisced about 35 years ago.

Mike Eruzione assumed his role of captain in a press conference with more questions from fans than media, drawing laughs with stories he’s told hundreds of times in appearances and speeches across the country since the Miracle on Ice. The U.S. beat the Soviet Union 4-3 on Feb. 22, 1980, en route to gold.

What was different on Saturday, and more so what will be different on Saturday night, was that Eruzione cracked jokes among all of his living teammates at the site of their Olympic triumph. That hasn’t happened since the Lake Placid Winter Games.

The team began to gather here on a crisp, snowy day to pay tribute to Bob Suter, the first member of that team to pass away. Suter, a Wisconsin defenseman, died of a heart attack at age 57 in September.

“He did a lot for hockey,” Eruzione said. “We all realize at some point we’re going to move on. But nobody thought Bobby, at 57, would not be with us.”

More about reunion during Hockey Day in America, Sunday at noon on NBC and online

Eruzione then lit up the room of about 100 people. The 15 players — four were still on their way, including goalie Jim Craig — were asked if any were visiting Lake Placid for the first time since 1980.

Nobody spoke up. Dead silence. Eruzione cut in.

“Ask the bartenders,” he said. More laughter.

“We are the most immature people that you will ever, ever meet,” Eruzione, whose name means “eruption” in Italian, went on. “You think we’re grown men? Not happening.

“Can you imagine that atmosphere in the locker room when we were playing?”

Several players visited that locker room on Saturday morning. For many, they couldn’t remember where they sat 35 years ago. So small, it’s hard to imagine 20 young men, plus coaches and trainers and all their equipment squeezing in there.

The room shown in the 2004 film “Miracle,” with coach Herb Brooks‘ famous speech, looked luxurious in comparison.

The players were asked what they were thinking before Brooks gave that speech, as they waited to play the Soviets.

“It definitely wasn’t let’s go out and try not to embarrass ourselves,” said Eruzione, who ended up scoring the game winner in the third period, after Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak was infamously pulled by coach Viktor Tikhonov.

“The real story shouldn’t be Tretiak,” Eruzione said. “The real story is why they scored three goals and not six or seven.”

Before the press conference, many team members gathered on a stage at what would normally be center ice at Herb Brooks Arena, formerly the Olympic Fieldhouse where the 1980 Olympic games were played.

“We continue to be amazed that it has carried on and lived on in a lot of respects,” forward Dave Christian said. “It gave people a sense of feeling good. When you think about it, you can’t help but smile.”

It touched the nation, Eruzione said. Sports Illustrated dubbed it the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.

“When the Patriots won the Super Bowl, people in New England are happy,” Eruzione said. “People in Seattle are not. People in California couldn’t care less. When it’s Olympic Games, it’s a nation.”

Neal Broten, who would later score 923 NHL points, most among Miracle players, recalled the pre-Olympic game against the Soviets in Madison Square Garden. The U.S. lost 10-3.

“We were setting them up,” Broten said, eliciting more laughter, before coming down to earth. “If you go on a scale from one to 10, we were two and they were 10.”

Longtime NHL defenseman Slava Fetisov was a young star on that Soviet team. Fetisov recently starred in two documentaries chronicling the Soviet perspective of the Miracle on Ice.

Mike Ramsey, a 19-year-old defenseman on the Miracle on Ice team, remembered Fetisov discussing the Miracle on Ice when they were teammates on the Detroit Red Wings in the mid-1990s.

“You were on drugs,” Ramsey said Fetisov joked, flabbergasted the U.S. looked so different from the 10-3 rout two weeks earlier.

The final laughs Saturday afternoon were about Brooks, who died in 2003, led by Eruzione. The players went back and forth about their favorite “Brooksisms,” the coach’s odd lines that were also used in the “Miracle” film.

“Weave, weave, weave, but don’t weave for the sake of weaving.”

Eric Strobel‘s playing with a 10-pound fart on his head.”

Steve Christoff was playing worse and worse every day, and right now you’re playing like next week.”

“[Brooks’] jokes were terrible,” Eruzione said. “He thought they were funny.”

Later Saturday, the players were scheduled for a reunion ceremony called “Relive the Miracle,” which will climax with Suter’s jersey being raised to the rafters in the 1980 arena.

“It’ll be kind of sad when you see his jersey up there,” Eruzione said.

How the Miracle on Ice reunion came together