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|Salt Lake 2002
|U.S. Olympic Committee
|International Olympic Committee
|Forums: Follow your sport at our message boards
Do you believe in memories? Yes!
As U.S. faces Russia tonight, thoughts of and comparisons to 1980 Miracle on Ice arise.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2002
SALT LAKE CITY -- A guy walks into a store, sees a woman he wants to meet, sidles up to her in the checkout line and strikes up a conversation.
He introduces himself as Dave Silk, who played for the United States' 1980 Olympic gold-medal hockey team. This amuses an older woman in line who turns to the man pirating Silk's name, and says, "That's funny I'm Dave Silk's mom."
But what is really funny, Silk said, has been his mother repeating the story and telling anyone who would listen, "I knew it couldn't be my boy because the girl was too pretty."
The larger point here is the way that team branded itself into the nation's consciousness.
"Even 22 years later," captain Mike Eruzione said, "we still shake our heads about what it was for and what it was about."
What it was about, even more than winning gold, an accomplishment Sports Illustrated rated the greatest sporting achievement of the 20th century, was beating the mighty Soviet Union in the medal round.
It is a hot topic as the United States prepares for tonight's game against Russia.
In many ways comparisons are not valid. The U.S. team, coached by Herb Brooks, included mainly college players with an average age of 21. Today's Olympic teams are filled with NHL stars. And don't forget the Soviet Union had access to players from its satellite states.
There are, however, some eerie similarities.
Brooks is again the coach. The United States has won gold in consecutive Winter Games on home ice, including the 1960 Games at Squaw Valley, Calif. And there is a 20-year gap between championships that is tough to ignore.
The Soviets were fighting in Afghanistan in 1980. The United States fights there today against terrorism.
Ayatollah Khomeni was the bad guy then as American hostages were held in Iran. Today, Osama bin Laden tries to hold the United States hostage through terror.
"It's pretty amazing," Eruzione said. "We've come full circle. But by winning the gold medal, the Soviets did not go out of Afghanistan, the hostages weren't released, but it did make America feel pretty proud.
"Hopefully in Salt Lake, our athletes will do well and the flag will be raised and the anthem played and we can continue to show the patriotism we should."
The 1980 team, which beat Finland to clinch the gold, played its part. Eighteen of the 20 players -- Mark Pavelich and Mike Ramsey were absent -- put their hands on the Olympic torch, much like they joined hands above their heads on the gold-medal podium in Lake Placid, and lit the Olympic cauldron in Salt Lake City.
As for the game, defenseman Ken Morrow said the real achievement was clinging to a 4-3 lead through the third period.
"We were so used to seeing the Soviets turn it on whenever they wanted and score a couple of goals in a matter of a couple of minutes," said Morrow, who also won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders. "So in that regard for us to hang on the last 10 minutes it really is incredible."
No one was more shocked than the Soviets, who beat the United States 10-3 in a final tuneup at Madison Square Garden.
"The team did not fear Herb Brooks or the Americans," said Igor Kuperman, assistant general manager for Russia's 2002 team.
Nothing changed after the loss.
"They were impressed with the way the Americans played, but they knew if they were going to play them 99 more times they would beat them 99 times," Kuperman said.
"They were just very upset with themselves. That was the story. It's not like they lost to the Czechs or Swedes. They lost to a bunch of American college kids."
Lou Vairo, assistant coach of the 2002 team and a scout for the 1980 team, took exception.
"Our guys were not lucky," he said. "It's a miracle in one way because it was unexpected. But they worked hard and executed when it came time to execute. The feeling was one of immense pride. I think it was one of the most important events in the history of hockey."
Bruins forward Bill Guerin, playing in his second Olympics, said it was one reason he pursued the sport as a profession.
"I watched every game that I could in my parents' family room, right in front of the TV," he said. "I never missed a play or anything. It was a huge inspiration for me, and it still is."
"A fabulous one-time deal," Vairo said. "You probably won't see anything like it again."
Vairo is right, as long as the NHL remains part of the Olympics.
"One of the overlooked points of Herb Brooks' genius was our team's chemistry," the real Dave Silk said. "We weren't even the 20 best college hockey players in the country, but we played well together. You just can't get that with the Olympics the way they are today. The players fly into town, and two days later, they're playing.
"That said, it's a great venue to showcase ice hockey at its best. Unfortunately, I think it's gone at the behest of a lot of younger players who may not play in the NHL."
"By allowing the pros, we have taken away the dreams of our young kids," he said.
Not to mention the help for that next desperate guy who needs a cheesy pickup line.
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