LAS VEGAS — Russell Valvo remembers vividly where he was when the U.S. Olympic hockey team beat the Soviet Union in 1980, and two days later beat Finland for the gold medal.
Just 12 years old, watching with his parents, he’d never tried skating before the 1980 Olympics.
But the day after the Americans stood on the podium in Lake Placid, New York, he insisted his mother take him to buy his first pair of hockey skates.
”I used to play street hockey when I was a kid in New York, but when I watched the Olympics and they beat the Russians,” Valvo said. ”I was here in Vegas, I learned how to skate in Vegas, I learned how to play in Vegas.”
So it was no surprise to see Valvo at the Golden Knights’ practice facility, where Bill Baker and Dave Christian were on hand Friday to meet with media and fans while promoting the upcoming celebration in Las Vegas of the 40th anniversary of the team’s ”Miracle on Ice.”
”That gives you chills, having that kind of an impact,” Christian said. ”It’s stories like that and being able to meet somebody that can relate and tell you that story, that’s just such a fantastic feeling.”
Eighteen of the 20 players from the Miracle on Ice roster – including captain Mike Eruzione and goalie Jim Craig – will share their memories with hockey fans when they gather for the anniversary celebration on Feb. 21 and 22.
The only missing players will be defenseman Bob Suter, who died in 2014, and forward Mark Pavelich, who was jailed last year on assault charges and ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial. Also missing will be coach Herb Brooks, who was killed in a car accident in 2003.
The Golden Knights will host an event for the former players and season ticket holders Feb. 21 at Brooklyn Bowl, an 80,000-square-foot event center that features 32 bowling lanes and a gigantic music venue.
The blockbuster event on Feb. 22 at the Thomas & Mack Center will include video of never-before-seen moments from the team’s improbable run. A celebrity emcee will moderate conversations between the players, celebrities and NHL stars as the team takes spectators through the 13-day tournament with behind-the-scenes information and stories.
Later that day at T-Mobile Arena, the team will be honored during the Golden Knights’ game against the Florida Panthers.
”Our team is no stranger to the unexpected magic that occurs when a group of misfits and underdogs come together at the right time,” Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz said. ”We’re honored to host a group of individuals who experienced that same magic on the ice in 1980.”
Christian agreed there’s something appropriate about the 40th anniversary being celebrated in a town that was helped in its healing after the largest mass shooting in U.S. history by the Golden Knights’ implausible run to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017.
”It was such a tragedy, the shooting here, it just seems so hard to even fathom,” said Baker, who scored the game-tying goal against Sweden in the opening game of the 1980 Olympics. ”If hockey could do anything to ease the pain of those people, everybody would be so proud of that. I just thought (at the time) if there’s anything that could give a lift to that area at that point, I was really excited for the city of Vegas.”
The U.S. team’s 4-3 medal-round victory over the Russians in the semifinals was named by Sports Illustrated in 1999 as the top sports moment of the 20th century. As part of its centennial celebration in 2008, the International Ice Hockey Federation named the game the best international ice hockey story of the past 100 years.
”The resilience of giving people something to rally around, something to feel good about, the team responding to that and people coming together and uniting and feeling good … the world situation and the fear that is associated with all the things, the Cold War and the fear of the Soviet Union as this big, bad bear that is looking to destroy us at any time,” Christian said. ”The significance of just a hockey game, and the significance that played in giving people something to feel good about.”