Last crop of U.S. no-names pursues hockey dream of own.

February 02, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

NEW HAVEN, CONN — NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- The post-game celebration became part of a movie and history.

U.S. players tossed their sticks in the air, as chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A" reached a crescendo. Captain Mike Eruzione collapsed in tears. Goalie Jim Craig, wrapped in an American flag, looked into the crowd and asked, "Where's my father?"

Tim Taylor remembers America's "Miracle on Ice" in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

He still feels the pressure.

He wants his own magic moment.

"Down the line, it's probably going to happen that we have all NHL stars," said Taylor, the coach of America's 1994 Winter Olympic hockey team. "Philosophically and romantically, I believe the traditional Olympic ideal. I feel a player has to make a sacrifice to be an Olympian, especially in a team sport. These kids have been bleeding together, crying together, laughing together.

"These kids were 10 or 11 years old when the 1980 miracle happened. They were all affected by it. We talk about it all the time," he said. "Personally, I think it's time we had a new miracle."

This will be America's last chance, one more college try. The players, several of them NHL rookies, come from the university hockey havens -- Maine, Harvard, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The average age is 22.

They have a charismatic coach, a set of twins, an excellent goalie and veteran defenseman Peter Laviolette, who knows every good back-road diner on the minor-league circuit.

Great stuff for a sequel?

"The beauty of what we're trying to do here is have six months to take some young hockey players as far as they can go, and this sort of romantic image is one thing we use to motivate our players," said Taylor.

Added Laviolette, the U.S. team captain, "I think we've got the players, the system, the weapons and, no doubt, we have a great coach."

Taylor, 51, has coached the national team for five years, and was an assistant on the 1984 Olympic team. He has spent the past 17 years coaching at Yale, where he easily could be one of the university's professors.

Taylor was an English major at Harvard, modern literature his specialty. He comes from a wealthy newspaper family; at one time, his father was president of the Boston Globe. He has a thin face, neat gray hair and a scowl that can be very intimidating, especially to 22-year-olds.

Teacher, not tyrant

"He's an extremely intense individual," Laviolette said of Taylor, who was one of two final cuts for the 1964 Olympic team. "If it were up to him, we'd practice 10 hours every day. But he's not a ranter or a raver. He doesn't come into the locker room and lose it and start throwing chairs around. He believes the best way to correct something is to fix it."

Taylor is a teacher.

"He knows every system in the world, and he makes adjustments very well," said U.S. goalie Mike Dunham. "He can call a timeout early and change his entire game plan in 30 seconds. He seems to have this knack for developing players, and I think everybody has responded well."

Taylor also seems to have learned from his experience. Soon after he was named head coach, he met with Dave Peterson, the Olympic coach in 1988 and 1992.

"I think we [previously] spent too much time playing NHL teams during exhibitions," said Taylor. "So what I did was just play a couple of NHL teams, and try to go against as much international competition as possible."

Translation: Taylor has withdrawn from the dump-and-grind style and built this team on speed and quickness better suited for the larger international rinks, which are 15 feet wider than NHL rinks.

The results: The United States is 36-16-5 during the five-month tour with four exhibitions remaining. The United States was 28-12-2 against international competition.

"I can live with that," said Taylor.

But Taylor said he knows the tour does not produce Olympic-type pressure. Ever since the "Miracle on Ice," American hockey has been held to high standards.

"Obviously, we are striving and struggling to win a gold medal, but you have to deal with a lot of naivete, too, among the Olympic-watching U.S. public, which has little or no working knowledge of international hockey and the quality of the European opposition," said Taylor.

The elder statesman

That's one of the reasons Taylor kept defenseman Laviolette. He's 28, and spent most of his six-year playing career in the AHL. He was also a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team.

"He's the rock, the elder statesman of our group who gives us stability," said Taylor.

"Sometimes, I feel a little out of place, but everybody has accepted me," said Laviolette. "Actually, I never thought I would be a grandfather at 28. Some of these young players, though, can really play the game."

Such as Dunham and fellow goalkeeper Garth Snow. And forwards Todd Marchant, Peter Ferraro and Jim Campbell.

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