"USA USA USA" is a chant that still vibrates inside the confines of the 1980 Rink at Herb Brooks Arena. The minute you take a step inside the goose bumps of excitement instantly run on your skin -- at least for us Americans. The red seats in the lower bowl are still the same as are the upper deck wooden bleachers. The scoreboard above center ice -- ditto. But that's the beauty of it. It's not only hockey history, it is the greatest achievement in USA hockey history still 33 years later.
This miracle accomplishment by 20 amateur, college hockey players at the 13th Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY commenced my hockey career as well as bringing an entire nation together during turbulent times.
The political arena was "hot mess" leading up to the events in February. Though something good came about finally as the sporting world focused on the true and genuine competition from the world's greatest athletes, converged onto a small village located in the picturesque Adirondack Mountains.
In particular, a hockey team that had no chance in medaling, did the unthinkable by winning gold. Although Team USA actually defeated the Finns to get on the middle podium and hear their national anthem, it was that beautiful, wintery evening of February 22, 1980. The mighty underdogs from the United States of America upset the powerful and professional Soviet Union, 4-3 in glorious fashion. An event that has easily gone down as the greatest sports moment of the century.
Though for me personally, the uniqueness and nostalgia of the rink does not stop there. As a kid growing up just 60 minutes from the Olympic Center, I was blessed with the opportunity to showcase my skills many years not only in the '80 rink, but also on the 1932 sheet and USA auxiliary rink.
As Pee Wee in the mid-80s (just 6 years removed from the remarkable scene) my small association team participated in the annual Can-Am Tournament. We were an average Tier II team at best and got matched-up against a stronger team on paper for our big game on the 1980 Rink.
It seemed we did not have a chance in hell to defeat this team, especially on a larger ice surface. It was the David vs. Goliath bout. But as Jim Craig did, our goalie performed out of his brown, leather pads. Then with just 23 seconds remaining, I pulled my own miracle by scoring the game winning goal breaking the scoreless tie, sending the fans in the stands in uproar. If you have ever experienced a National Junior Evaluation Camp, that will explain to you about how many spectators were in attendance.
But for that split second in the moment I felt like Mike Eurzione. As as a kid that's what dreams are made of.
My second treasure inside the 1980 Rink was in the fall of 1987. I watched a secluded, closed-doors game that besides the coaches on the bench and scouts in the stands was only witnessed by myself, my father, and the Zamboni driver. My dad had received a tip just hours prior to the game and we made the quick drive east then secretly entered the arena through the back door.
After quickly becoming friends with the Zamboni driver, he allowed us to stay and take in the action. My dad will talk with anyone and on this day the skill certainly came in handy.
This mid-September contest pitted the New York Islanders in training camp versus the next chapter of college hopefuls trying to write their own history and secure a roster spot on the 1988 US Olympic Team. Let’s just say the game was more than entertaining. You had a bunch of professionals throwing their bodies around in hopes of landing a job in the big leagues while on the other side a bunch of young Americans were sacrificing their lives for a chance to represent their country in Calgary. You could tell in a hurry nobody wanted to be that Herb Brooks or Phil Cox – a.k.a. the last player cut.
But it wasn’t just a game filled with high intensity of physicality, it also had plenty of great offensive scoring opportunities, passing plays, and stellar saves. It was a neat experience between father and son that I will never forget.
My third, gratifying encounter in Lake Placid at the Herb Brooks Arena was the NCAA Frozen Four of 1988. In a Saturday afternoon, consolation match between the Maine Black Bears and Minnesota Golden Gophers some players were beyond ready to put closure on the season. The game was starting to get a bit out of hand and the officials scrambled to break up some scrums. At one point the sorting of penalties took much longer than expected. So to keep us fans entertained, Minnesota’s 1st Team All-American sophomore goaltender, Robb Stauber, stickhandled the unattended puck and rifled it down from his own crease on opposing Maine goalie, Scott King. The two puck-stoppers ended up firing the biscuit back-n-forth a handful of times until the “zebras” became unamused and impeded the show.
Then the championship night cap game featured two small schools. One from the ECAC Hockey Conference, St. Lawrence Skating Saints, and the CCHA’s, Lake Superior State Lakers. The game saw end-to-end action in nail biting fashion. I was hoping the local North Country squad from Canton, NY would be victorious though unfortunately, sniping forward Mark Vermette (Cochenour, ONT) of the Lakers potted the game-winner in overtime.
Of course over the years from childhood and adulthood I have had many great times at the 1980 Rink as now my family and I make the yearly trip to Lake Mirror country. Although this past weekend while scouting the games at the National Junior Evaluation Camp, I got a compelling, first-hand story from a local. As I was anxiously awaiting the ice to be re-surfaced, my son and I stepped in the gift shop to waste some time. Prior to that my son had corralled a puck in the stands that was rang off the cross bar during Team Sweden’s practice session.
This older gentleman with a full head and beard of white hair started to tell us a personal story back in the day of the 1980 Olympics, as he had took notice to my son retrieving the puck. He mentioned that he was working that monumental game between USA and the CCCP as a penalty box attendant. He then explained about the goal American, Mark Johnson, scored with one just second remaining in the first period on all-world goalie, Vladislav Tretziak. The puck was then given to him at the end of the period by the on-ice official. The gentleman ended up putting the puck in his coat pocket and and held onto the rubber disc for almost 30 years. Until only of a few years back when Johnson returned to Lake Placid.
The puck was then officially authenticated with his signature and then by the official who was conveniently an area resident still to this day. Later the puck was auctioned off on eBay for charity for over $6000.
So how do I feel about Lake Placid and the 1980 Rink at Herb Brooks Arena?
Well, I'll just leave that to Al Michaels infamous call, "Eleven seconds, you've got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!"
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