‘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