Memories of 1980 like yesterday for Eruzione Success of 1992 team puts his storytelling in demand THE ALBERTVILLE GAMES

February 21, 1992|By John Eisenberg | John Eisenberg,Staff Writer

MERIBEL, France -- Mike Eruzione has told the stories so many times now that he can practically tell them during an afternoon nap. But now, suddenly, he has to wake up and tell them again. Everyone wants to hear them. What happened in 1980? What was it like?

Eruzione was the captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, which shocked the Soviet Union in the semifinals and beat Finland in the final to win an improbable gold medal. It is one of the best and lasting American sports stories.

With the 1992 U.S. Olympic team playing the former Soviet Union -- now the Unified Team -- in the semifinals today, Eruzione, who scored the winning goal in the Soviet game, is busy conjuring up his memories again. He is here as a CBS broadcaster.

"I remember the night before the Russian game my parents came over and we set up a summer barbecue right outside there in the dead of winter," he said. "Grilled some beef and had a great time. It was crazy. Everyone was all fired up. The curfew was midnight. We got in around 2."

The players were living in small trailers at the athletes' village outside Lake Placid, N.Y.

"I'm in there about five minutes and suddenly I hear [teammate] John Harrington in the next trailer go, 'Rizzo, is that you? Hey, I can't sleep.' I told him I couldn't, either, and he came over and then a couple others did and we sat around talking half the night. It's funny. I just got a couple hours sleep, but I was so jacked up I felt like I'd slept 12 hours."

The Americans were behind 2-1 near the end of the first period against the Soviets, but Mark Johnson scored a goal with one second left. Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov pulled legendary goalie Vladislav Tretiak after that one period.

"Johnson's goal was the biggest goal of the Olympics for us," Eruzione said. "Instead of coming into the locker room all down, we were all pumped up. Psychologically, it just made a huge difference. We knew we had them thinking. The thing is, they underestimated us as skaters. We were pretty quick and they didn't give us that respect."

The score was 3-3 with 10 minutes left when Eruzione scored on a 20-foot slap shot.

"I can still see it like it happened yesterday," he said.

He should. He retired from hockey after the Games and became a motivational speaker, using the Olympic victory as his tool. He has seen the tape of his goal hundreds of times.

"The one thing European teams and the Soviets never know how to handle is when the other team is playing with a lot of emotion," he said. "That's what we were all about, of course, and our emotion made up for their advantage in talent."

The Americans still had to play the gold-medal game against Finland. Down 2-1 after two periods, they were given a brief lecture by coach Herb Brooks.

"He just walked into the room and said one thing: "If you lose this game, you'll take it to your graves," Eruzione said. "Boy, he was right about that."

The United States went out and scored three goals in the final period to clinch the gold.

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