Exclusive Interviews: The 40th anniversary of The Miracle on Ice players
WASHINGTON: The “Miracle on Ice” was a medal-round game during the men’s ice hockey tournament at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, played between the hosting United States and the four-time defending gold medalists, the Soviet Union.
In an exclusive interview with Communities Digital News (CDN), five of the former 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team (aka: “Miracle on Ice”) reflect on the fortieth (40th) anniversary of what was considered by many to be the greatest upset in competitive sports history.
The team players interviewed by CDN were: Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione, John Harrington, Steve Janaszak, and Jack O’Callahan.
“The “Miracle on Ice” was a medal-round game during the men’s ice hockey tournament at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, played between the hosting United States and the four-time defending gold medalists, the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union had won the gold medal in five of the six previous Winter Olympic Games and were the favorites to win once more in Lake Placid. The team consisted primarily of professional players with significant experience in international play.
By contrast, the United States’ team—led by head coach Herb Brooks— comprised mostly amateur players. With only four players with minimal minor-league experience, the United States was the youngest team in the tournament and in U.S. national team history.
“In the group stage, both the Soviet and U.S. teams were unbeaten; the U.S. achieved several notable results, including a 2–2 draw against Sweden, and a 7–3 upset victory over second-place favorite Czechoslovakia.” (excerpt courtesy of Wikipedia.org)
Q1 – CDN: When Coach Herb Brooks brought in last-minute candidates to join the U.S. Olympic Hockey team, it created angst on the team. Did you think Coach Brooks actually had a strategy behind doing this?
I don’t think that players had animus for Coach Brooks. I think it was more of a level of respect. He was very fair as he treated everyone equally and as the Minnesota guys would say, that meant he treated us all terribly. Herb put a lot of pressure on himself, maybe more on himself than on us. At the end of it all when we won everything it was easy to look back and recognize just how much we had all improved both individually and as a team. Perhaps that is why in the rearview mirror, everyone had some nostalgic feelings for Herb as a person and for his efforts and professional risks he took as a coach. Herbie was way ahead of the curve when it came to changing the way North American hockey players played and prepared to play the game. Herbie was definitely somewhat of a genius in his vision of North American hockey.
Coach Brooks never wanted us to get comfortable and complacent. He knew that he had us for a limited time, and had to push and challenge us to ensure that we were ready for world-class competition. It can be summed up by the expression:
“Never let your memories be bigger than your dreams.”
I think he had both the idea of making some of the players uncomfortable by bringing in other good players, and I believe he also had some doubts that maybe he didn’t have the right players on his team.
We were not happy; we were peed-off! The run-up to the Olympics was a rigorous nine-month period. Herbie figured that he had to push us hard and make us feel that we were all on-the-bubble. In retrospect, it certainly made us put forth 100%.
I honestly do not know if there was a consistent strategy behind that particular move. What I do know for certain is that Herb’s actions were consistent with both how he was treated in 1960 and (referencing Murray Williamson’s book, The Great American Hockey Dilemma) how US National and Olympic teams were constructed throughout the 1970s.
Q2 – CDN: Mark Johnson commented that the 1980 team has had a few reunions over the years after your honorary invitation to the White House in 1980. Outside of Coach Brooks’ funeral, there have been few opportunities to reunite. Despite this, what has helped the bond the team retained over the years (in your opinion)?
He enabled us to commit to something bigger than ourselves. We had respect for what we accomplished collectively. Because of this, we haven’t taken anything for granted. It also had an indirect impact on my dad. He was distraught and saddened by my mom’s death a few years before the Olympics. After we won the gold medal, my dad’s spirits were lifted tremendously. So I’d say that overall we, as a team, established a lifelong bond that continues to this day.
I think that when teams have great success, the bond they create as teammates within a team is a lifetime bond. Also, we became great friends and admirers of each other’s personality, dedication, and abilities that helped us become Olympic Champions.
We developed respect and love for each of the other 20 guys, coaches and trainers. When we’ve had opportunities to get together, we talked about our personal lives (family, careers, golf game, etc.) … not hockey. Our common bond will remain for a lifetime.
No doubt a good part of the camaraderie has to do with the enduring significance of the Gold Medal victory. Beyond that, I would offer that we have, thanks to Coach Brooks, a shared experience of helping each other fight through some fairly difficult physical and emotional challenges.
Mark is correct in saying that during many opportunities whether it was lighting the torch Salt Lake or at the NHL All-Star game or during our 20th reunion in South Carolina, there were always a few guys missing. I believe everyone came for Herb Brooks’ wake and funeral and that was probably the only time we’ve all been together or that we have all been in one place at the same time.
The bond we share from what we accomplished back in 1980 really comes from what we went through for the nine months prior to Feb 1980, and may even go back further to the two or three years when we were competing against one another as college players. For the most part, we all competed against each other very hard.
It may be true that we had little respect for each other when we were competing as college players. However once the team was chosen, and once we all were under Herb’s control, we all came to realize that the only way to survive would be to come together and to trust and even lean on one another.
CDN – Q3: Assistant Coach Craig Patrick assumed the role of “good cop” with the players. Give us your perspective on what Coach Patrick meant to the team.
Craig was certainly someone on our coaching staff that we could go to with questions concerning our play and where we stood in relation tom making the final team. Craig would be honest with us, but would still respect the coach/player relationship. I feel that Craig was able to help us all not get to high with our successes during the year, and also not get to low when things weren’t going particularly well for all of us or each of us.
He was a great asset. We knew that we could go to Craig and talk to him about anything. He was approachable, and not an in-your-face personality.
I played for Coach Brooks for five years (and have the emotional scars to prove it). In every one of those five years Herb had excellent team captains and excellent assistant coaches.
You see, as a player, you never approached “god” directly. You went through an intermediary; the captain or, more likely, the assistant coach.
Coach Patrick had a tough job. One might describe it as a good cop to Herb’s bad cop. I would describe it as something much more challenging – a sounding board for guys confused or disheartened with Herb’s coaching style.
Craig was a critical part of keeping all the juggled player-balls in the air.
The beauty of Craig was many of us had played with him on the World Cup team in 1979 in Moscow. From that experience, many of us had a relationship and a friendship with him and we all understood that he was a very good person and a very honest and straightforward guy. We also understood that he thought like a player not like a coach. He was an easy guy to bounce things off he respected our confidences and you knew you could trust him.
He also was very good at calming guys down when they were getting kind of twitchy, and he helped people stay focused on the task at hand. Craig was also very comfortable being a little harsh and even direct at times when that was necessary. He wasn’t afraid of anyone on the team and he was not afraid of Herbie, and those two things put him in a very unique place in that team dynamic.
Coach Craig Patrick had a huge influence on us. He was very effective at being a liaison between the players and Coach Brooks. Coach Patrick was also an inspiration to us because he actually played in the NHL. He was like an older brother and a good listener.
CDN – Q4: The team seems to have special memories of Coach Brooks in retrospect. What are you most appreciative of Coach Brooks, looking back 40 years?
I was actually appreciative of his honesty; he told us where we stood. I had tremendous respect for him. Overall, we had a great time during the Olympic competition.
I had the honor of giving the eulogy for Herb, and he was someone you’d never forget.
I assume that most know that I saw no ice time during the Olympic games. Therefore, I am going to answer your question with a quote from The Enchiridion by the Greek philosopher Epictetus. This is the lesson I most appreciate Coach Brooks taught me:
“Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the Author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is His pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is Another’s.”
Herbie made us into a very good team. We had excellent players and we were exceptionally well trained on and off the ice and we had spent nine months together coming together as one unit and growing together as a team. People sometimes forget that we had a team full of NCAA champions, leaders of their teams, captains and all-stars with the best teams of the previous decade, who believed that we were capable of anything.
Another aspect was that we were playing in the USA and we were very comfortable in Lake Placid as we had spent a great deal of time there starting in the summer of 1979. We were a team full of highly competitive individuals and when you add in the 9 months of training with that high level of competitiveness, we believed we always had a chance to perform well for 5 games in Feb with a view to earning the opportunity to play 2 more medal round games.
The results speak for themselves. Herb and I maintained a very good relationship all through the Olympic year and thru my time in the National Hockey League and until his passing.
He drove change and created a path while developing others along the way. Herb was a visionary and may have been ahead of his time. He saw potential in all of the players, and although he was driven, he had a way of inspiring us to believe that we could succeed as a team.
First of all, as a member of that team, I appreciate how he worked to make us all better players, and also understood that we needed to be a team that was greater than the sum of its parts. As I got started in my coaching career, he became a mentor to me, and I appreciated his willingness to listen to my ideas, give his own thoughts, and also teach me how to have strength in my own convictions as a hockey coach.
CDN – Q5: Please give any other thoughts you have about your having been a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.
I consider myself to be the luckiest guy on that team. Just to be considered as one among this group is an honor. It was an incredible team. And, I met my wife-to-be during the Games. She was working for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as an interpreter in the Olympic Village. We met there and were married 15 months later. The Gold Medal victory continues to be awe-inspiring, and the team remains an extended family, but she is my Miracle from Lake Placid.
I believe that winning the gold medal proved to us in a very deep way the power of what a group of people could accomplish when they put their personal egos aside and focus more on how to be better together than as individuals. The aspect of winning the whole thing and being known as the team who achieved the greatest sports victory of all time clearly keeps us together but many of us have won other things at different levels along the way and there are bonds with all of the teams and players you play with over the years. That’s the beauty of hockey. It is the most challenging of sports, everyone plays, and it’s very difficult. There are stars, but the only way you win is when you have 20 guys playing hard and committing to one another at all times. The depth of how we experienced that feeling is something only we share, and it will keep us bound forever.
We came together as a group of talented college players and were forged into a team. When we watched the American flag hoisted slightly higher than the other two, it made us feel a sense of pride in our country that is hard to describe. My experience as an Olympian has also opened doors for my current position with Gold Medal Strategies, Boston.
When I was 22 years old and an Olympic Hockey Gold Medalist, I am sure I had a cockiness and ego that told me that winning was something I deserved for my efforts in developing as a hockey player. As years have gone by, amazingly 40 years, I have over that time recognized how fortunate I was to be considered for that 1980 Olympic Hockey Team. There must have been some luck for me involved to make that team and have that success. Over the years, I have learned to feel grateful, thankful, and humbled by the fact that I was chosen for that team. I am appreciative to have such great friends as my teammates and as lifelong friends.
I have lots of great memories, but there’s also disappointment about how our team is remembered. While it’s true that many revere Jim Craig, Mark Johnson, me, Jack O’Callahan, Buzz Schneider (and those in this interview), a lot of people forget that our TEAM is what made the difference. For example, had Bill Baker not made that game-tying goal with less than a minute in the game vs. Sweden, we would have been disqualified from medal round competition. We should not only remember Billy Baker, but also: Pavelich, Christian, Christoff, Ramsey, Silk, Broten, Strobel, McClanahan, Verchota, Wells, Suter and Morrow.
Gentlemen, on behalf of Communities Digital News (COMMDIGINEWS) and its readers, thanks to all of you for your invaluable perspective on the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team.
About the Author:
Bill Randall is a contributing writer for COMMDIGINEWS (CDN). He is a retired U.S. Navy Command Master Chief and was on active duty during the 1980 Olympics.