Time doesn't dim Laviolette's golden dream LILLEHAMMER '94

February 15, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- Peter Laviolette can't shake the memory of a cold winter night in 1988 in Calgary, Alberta.

Team USA had just lost to West Germany. There would be no hockey miracle for Americans -- just a stunning elimination from Olympic medal-round play.

As the players wandered into the dressing room, some threw their sticks and gloves in disgust, and others wept.

"A lot of guys cried," he said. "It was tough. And then, you look back on it over the years and it gets tougher and tougher to take. Yeah, I was one of those who cried."

Six years later and Laviolette is back in the Winter Olympics, a defenseman and team captain for Team USA.

He is 29, with a face full of scars and a mouthful of dentures, a minor-leaguer still dreaming of winning the gold medal that eluded him in 1988.

Four years from now, the Olympic tournament is sure to be loaded with NHL stars representing their countries. The quality of play will easily surpass the ragged show on display in Norway.

But some of the romance will be missing, too, romance that only players such as Laviolette, a Crash Davis on skates, can provide.

"I can tell you who won the gold medal in 1960 and 1980, Team USA," he said. "It's not New York or Los Angeles, it's a whole country. If the U.S. is playing for the gold medal, everyone will know about it."

Laviolette can tell you where he was the night in 1980 when the Americans beat the Soviets in Lake Placid, N.Y. He was watching the tape of the game on television at his parents' home in Franklin, Mass., jumping and screaming with every goal.

"It was crazy," he said. "We knew the score, but we still were leaping around the living room."

He said it was at that moment that he began to dream about becoming an Olympian.

Laviolette has followed a jagged road to the Olympics. He played Division III college hockey at Westfield (Mass.) State -- a school that doesn't even have a team anymore.

He was one of the surprise picks to make the American team in 1988. And after the Games, he got his taste of life in the NHL, sticking for 12 games with the New York Rangers.

"Nice hotels," he said. "Nice travel. And the arenas are beautiful."

Laviolette is more accustomed to life in Flint, Mich., and Binghamton, N.Y. It's a world of tattered arenas, long bus rides, and lousy road food.

But it's a world in which Laviolette can flex his muscles and pound his opponents as a defenseman.

The Americans are going to need some muscle in this tournament. They barely managed a 4-4 opening-game tie against the French. And it was Laviolette who ignited the comeback from a two-goal deficit with a score on a 60-foot slap shot.

Tonight, the Americans play Slovakia, a dangerous squad led by a former NHL All-Star, Peter Stastny.

Laviolette said Team USA could be a medal-round surprise. It's a team without a star but with a lot of heart, college kids and minor-leaguers together, trying to win a gold.

"We feel we can win the gold with what we have," he said.

It would be a nice way to finish off a career.

Laviolette said he doesn't know where he will play when the tournament ends. He is a free agent who might have to go back to the minors.

But it wouldn't be the first time.

He has played a lot of road games in his career, coast to coast in the United States and around the world.

But ask him to remember just one, and he recalls a day in 1988 when the Olympic team rolled into Warroad, Minn., on the Canadian border, to play outdoors against the Warroad Lakers.

"It was so cold we wore hats under our helmets and changed our shifts," he said. "Instead of four lines, we had two. And the other two lines were in the warming room. I will never forget that. I have never been through anything like that."

There is only one game missing from his career, now, he said.

He wants to play just once for an Olympic gold medal.

"You can have the All-Stars," he said. "I'd love to win a gold medal for U.S. amateur hockey. Don't take the dream away for other kids who want to be Olympians. If you left it up to me, I'd wait another 20 years to see a 'Miracle on Ice.' "

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