De-icing A Memory

December 04, 1993|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Team USA goalie Mike Dunham was only 8 when the United States pulled off the "Miracle on Ice" and won the gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics, but he gets goose bumps every time he steps on the arena ice here.

"I couldn't comprehend the experience until a few months later when I visited this arena," said Dunham, 21. "That's when it hit me, the emotion, the euphoria of the crowd, the impact the game had on America and the game itself.

"I feel it now, the history this place holds," Dunham said. "Everybody on this team knows about the tradition. We don't talk about it. We just know. This was where we beat the Russians."

Team USA will play Russia here again today in Game 2 of a seven-game tour as the Americans prepare for the 1994 Winter Olympics in February in Lillehammer, Norway.

Team USA won the first game, 6-3, Wednesday night in Amherst, Mass., but there's more to today's game than just a tuneup.

Tradition is at stake.

Team USA coach Tim Taylor wouldn't let a CBS crew keep its gear in locker rooms 1 and 2 because they are believed to be the ones used by the Americans before they beat the Soviets, 4-3, to advance to the gold medal game in the 1980 Games.

"It's traditional, and I'm a little superstitious," Taylor said.

"He's always teaching us about history," defenseman and captain Peter Laviolette said. "It's important to him and us because of what happened here."

Lake Placid is a luminous, vivid town of snow on mountain lakes and winding roads through wilderness. It's an Adirondack resort, population 4,000, that attracts tourists from all over the state, New England and nearby Canada.

It was here that a bunch of baby-faced collegians and failed minor-leaguers, who had been together for only six months, captured the hearts of millions and gave America some self esteem, given the melancholy of the times. The hostages were in Iran, and the Soviet army was in Afghanistan. The economy was in disarray, and the Cold War was warming up.

The United States was seeded seventh of 12 teams, but ended up beating the Finns, 4-2, for the gold.

"There are moments that happen when everyone remembers where they were and what it was like, and we were one of those moments," said Mike Eruzione, who now works in the community development department at Boston University, where he played hockey.

"We gave America something to cheer about. People were tired of seeing us get kicked around. We were young, and maybe we were their dreams. I'm still trying to understand what it meant to people. You know, I bet you people still think we beat the Russians in the gold medal game," Eruzione said.

That's because the victory came against a Russian team that had humiliated an NHL All-Star team by six goals in 1979 and demolished the United States, 10-3, in a pre-Olympic game at Madison Square Garden.

This time it was different. Goalie Jim Craig stopped 36 of 39 Soviet shots. Mark Johnson scored with one second left in the first period to tie the score at 2. The Soviets replaced goalie Vladislav Tretiak with Vladimir Myshkin. Behind 3-2 in the third period, the Americans fought back with goals by Dave Silk with 11:21 left and the game-winner from Eruzione with 10 minutes left.

The postgame celebration was like something out of a TV movie, which it eventually became. U.S. players tossed their sticks in the air, as chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A" reached a deafening crescendo. Eruzione collapsed in tears. Craig, wrapped in an American flag, looked into the crowd and asked, "Where's my father?"

Vice President Walter Mondale congratulated them in the locker room. President Jimmy Carter ate lunch with the 20 players at the White House.

"It was just a bunch of guys going hard all the time, and we made up for our inadequacies with hard work," said Bill Baker, now a dentist in St. Louis. "We proved that if you persist, miracles do happen."

They also proved that Americans could play in the NHL, which was dominated by the Canadians in 1980. But after Lake Placid, 13 of the 20 players went on to the NHL. By 1984, the NHL was looking at some of the best U.S. players barely out of high school, and in 1990 there were 100 Americans in the NHL.

"They sort of got everything rolling," Laviolette said, "not only in the NHL, but corporate sponsors started supporting the amateur ranks. We owe a lot to those guys."

It provided drama no other U.S. hockey team may duplicate, especially because the NHL may provide players for the Olympics after 1994.

"It was such a big upset that I remember hearing the U.S. had beaten the Soviet Union, then watching it on television on a delayed basis and still waiting for the Russians to tie the game in the last 10 minutes," Laviolette said.

"This is our last chance for another Miracle on Ice, and I wouldn't mind going out that way," he said. "I wouldn't mind being compared to those boys of winter."

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