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.”
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.
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Wayne Gretzky played a small role in inspiring Saturday’s “Relive the Miracle,” the first time all living 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey players will unite in Lake Placid since they won gold.
About one year ago, Gretzky was asked to appear at an event (not in Lake Placid) but had to decline, said Jeff Holbrook, Gretzky’s representative. So, Holbrook found replacements in 1980 U.S. Olympians Mike Ramsey and Dave Christian.
After the event, Holbrook said Ramsey asked if he could find similar opportunities for appearances. That got Holbrook thinking. Hey, the 35-year anniversary of the Miracle on Ice is coming up.
“I started putting all the pieces together,” Holbrook said Thursday while sitting inside Herb Brooks Arena, where the U.S. stunned the Soviet Union 4-3 at the 1980 Winter Games.
Holbrook, formerly the Arizona Coyotes executive vice president, bounced thoughts off Gretzky and ran ideas up the NHL flagpole to deputy commissioner Bill Daly. Maybe they could get the team together at an NHL event, such as the Winter Classic. Or have a single NHL team take it over, such as when the Coyotes brought several players to a game last February.
Further along, Holbrook realized it would be best to do it in Lake Placid, where the 1980 Winter Olympics still live outside Main Street window displays and inside, on looped highlights around the hockey arena.
“Having them all together here means a lot more than having them all together in Rochester, or some place,” Holbrook said, conjuring one of Brooks’ lines from the 2004 film “Miracle.” “Coming here probably pushes them over the edge [to want to come], where maybe in the past they wouldn’t have.”
When all 19 living players (of 20 total) gather here Saturday, it’s believed to be their first full reunion since Brooks’ death in 2003 (forward Mark Pavelich reportedly attended the wake but not the funeral). The only other full reunion since 1980 was for an NHL All-Star weekend event in Los Angeles in 2002 (pictured).
Arranging reunions proved so difficult that not even the honor of lighting the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic cauldron was a 20-for-20 success.
But starting last January, Holbrook began texting, emailing, calling and even meeting face to face with the 20 members of the 1980 U.S. team.
“It wasn’t as easy as sending out an email saying, ‘Do you want to come?'” he joked. “There’s a reason why it hasn’t been done in 35 years.”
In initial player conversations last spring and summer, the impetus was to do this now, while everybody is still alive.
One of the players whom Holbrook spoke with in person was defenseman Bob Suter, at an NHL playoff game last season. Suter was on board for the reunion, but he died of a heart attack in September. Suter’s jersey will be raised to the rafters to climax Saturday night.
“In a weird way, that’s why everyone is here,” said Todd Walsh, the Arizona Coyotes broadcaster who will moderate Saturday night’s chronological look back with the players before an expected crowd of about 5,000. “I think with Bob going, it’s a reminder of everyone’s mortality. That’s just my sense.”
Then there’s the reclusive Pavelich. In addition to Brooks’ funeral, he was also not present for the 2002 Olympic cauldron lighting, according to reports from Salt Lake City.
Holbrook said teammates including Buzz Schneider and John Harrington reached out to Pavelich and, importantly, stayed on him until he committed.
Pavelich was on his way to Lake Placid as of Thursday night, driving with two dogs from Oregon with a stop in Minnesota.
“I think the fact that he is coming I think pushed other guys over the edge to be here, too,” said Holbrook, managing partner of Potentia Athletic Partners. “If it wasn’t Lake Placid, I don’t know if Mark would have come.”
Holbrook, a 13-year-old playing Space Invaders when the Miracle happened, said he’s dedicated one year of his life to making the reunion happen. He also stressed help from his family, co-workers and the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) that manages the 1980 Olympic facilities.
“I’ve seen presidents of countries cower in Wayne’s presence,” Holbrook said of Gretzky. “I didn’t think I could ever see anything that elicits that sort of response from people. This is the only thing that really does, to me. When you talk about this to people, they always get the same look on their face.”
The biggest challenge of the endeavor is yet to come, Holbrook said. That’s the event Saturday night, the eve of the 35-year anniversary of the Miracle game.
“Knowing how important it is to people,” Holbrook said. “We can’t screw it up.”
Walsh, who has spent nearly two decades as a Coyotes broadcaster, has butterflies, too.
“I can’t even wrap my head around the fact that I’ll be up there,” Walsh said, looking down as workers constructed the stage on what is usually an ice rink, in his first five minutes inside Herb Brooks Arena. “I kid you not. I don’t even know what to say.”
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — The “Relive the Miracle” reunion at Herb Brooks Arena on Saturday night, bringing together all living 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey players to the site of their gold medal for the first time in 35 years, will not be broadcast live.
Perhaps that’s the way it should be. After all, the Miracle on Ice game was first shown on tape delay in the U.S. on Feb. 22, 1980.
Since then, small groups from the 20-man team convened for various appearances, but it’s believed they’ve all been together twice and never in Lake Placid. Some are grandfathers now.
“I guess when I look in the mirror, and I see all the gray hair, I guess time has gone by,” said Mark Johnson, the forward who scored twice in the 4-3 victory over the Soviets.
The most well-known names, such as captain Mike Eruzione and goalie Jim Craig, fill their calendars with speaking engagements and events, even in small towns.
“It’s never been exploited beyond reasonable means,” said Todd Walsh, the longtime Arizona Coyotes broadcaster who will moderate Saturday night’s event. “It still is in the cradle of what happened that night. It’s never been ruined by American culture. It’s almost untouchable.”
“Relive the Miracle” will recreate 1980 with the players and through pictures and video on a large screen inside Herb Brooks Arena, known as the Olympic Fieldhouse when the U.S. hockey team stunned the Soviets and went on to capture gold.
The event will run chronologically through four segments — “The Journey,” “The Steps,” “The Miracle” and “The Gold.”
It will conclude with the raising of defenseman Bob Suter‘s jersey to the rafters. Suter died of a heart attack in September, becoming the first member of the team to pass away, and in a way helping drive the rest of the players to reunite while they still can. Coach Herb Brooks died in 2003.
“I guess every anniversary has a different meaning,” Eruzione said. “It’s a little bittersweet.”
On Sunday, NBC will celebrate Hockey Day in America with studio coverage on site in Lake Placid on the exact 35-year anniversary date of the Miracle on Ice. The broadcast will start at noon ET, include Olympian interviews and a feature on forward Mark Wells.
Al Michaels, who uttered the famous “Do you believe in miracles?” line on the 1980 broadcast, will have a small role in the weekend’s events.
Eruzione said strangers tell him they remember where they were for four events in their lives — when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, 9/11 and the Miracle on Ice.
“To think that a moment can capture a nation,” Eruzione said.
Eruzione wishes the team could get together more often.
“When we’re together, we’re almost like little kids,” he said. “Very, very immature in our behavior.”