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

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    Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

    The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

    The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

    Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

    The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

    Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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    TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

    The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

    “This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

    Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

    Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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    TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

    The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

    “Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

    The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

    Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

    Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

    The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

    “They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

    Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

    Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

    Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

    “I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

    The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

    There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

    “We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

    The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

    COMINGS AND GOINGS

    The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

    MORE POWER

    The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

    “It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

    BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

    Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

    “Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

    UP FRONT

    With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

    ON THE SLATE

    This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.