A `Miracle' happened here

Lake Placid folks rub elbows with history

February 04, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - The tiny padded bundles chug across the ice like miniature fire plugs on skates.

Teetering on the edge of gravity, one little player lifts his stick and shoots. The puck makes a lazy, wobbling trip through the crease and past the sprawling goalie before it arrives, exhausted, at the back of the net.

Another miracle on ice is born.

Hollywood is taking a second crack at re-creating the original miracle: the 1980 Olympic hockey game between a scrappy U.S. squad and the four-time defending gold medal Soviet team, named the greatest sports moment of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated.

The new movie, Miracle, is due in theaters Friday, and with it will come another shift of Miracle-mania and players young and old itching to take a slap shot on the famous rink, say Lake Placid residents.

Just like a hockey game, the new movie has a lot of substitutions. Kurt Russell has replaced Karl Malden, who starred in the role of coach Herb Brooks in the 1989 film Miracle on Ice. Former NHL goalie Bill Ranford plays goalie Jim Craig. Patrick O'Brien Demsey replaces Andrew Stevens as Mike Eruzione, the U.S. team captain.

Lake Placid, the home of the original Miracle movie, has been replaced, too. It's cheaper to make a movie in Rossland, British Columbia.

But though Canada may have gotten the location work, Lake Placid still has the goods. The village of 2,600, where twin Olympic ski jumps rising at the edge of town serve as a welcome sign like no other, has not turned its venues into shrines.

Tourists ride the bobsled with a professional driver, ski the slopes where Germany's Ingemar Stenmark won two golds, and skate on the same outdoors oval where Eric Heiden won five gold medals for the home team.

The real stars

But Lake Placid's real stars remain the Miracle on Ice game and the 1980 rink, says Ted Blazer, the chief operating officer of the Olympic Regional Development Authority, the quasi-state agency that runs the venues.

"The game is the event that everything else evolved from," he says. "People to this day come to see where it happened, and every resident carries that with them wherever they travel. You can go to a coffee shop or a gift shop or a hotel or motel, and everyone knows how special it is.

"Even kids who weren't born know. It's something you can't manufacture. It's angel dust."

The village received a dusting in 1989, when Miracle on Ice was released; in 2000, the 20th anniversary of the game; and in 2002, when Brooks once again coached the U.S. team.

"Lake Placid already had a name after hosting the 1932 Winter Games and 1980 cemented the legacy," says Jack LaDuke, a reporter for WCAX-TV, who ran the film and photography unit for the local Olympic organizing committee. "I'm sure this movie will create another round of interest."

The rink survives

If enthusiasm alone could melt ice, the 1980 rink and the two others housed in the Olympic Center on Main Street would be puddles.

Local high school teams play varsity games on the ice where Eruzione scored the winning goal over the Soviets. The Can/Am tournaments, held several times each winter, attract 375 teams and almost 15,000 players - Mites, Squirts, PeeWees and Bantams - from ages 8 to 17. Coaches pace behind the bench where Brooks also paced.

The 1980 rink is where the gold and silver medal U.S. women's team practices, and where former National Hockey League stars conduct clinics through the winter.

"So many of the great arenas are gone - the Forum, Boston Garden, [the old] Madison Square Garden, Maple Leaf Gardens. It's nice they didn't tear this one down, too," says Mike Bossy, a hockey Hall of Famer and former New York Islander. "Hockey needs to preserve some of its history."

Many folks who were living in upstate New York in 1980 didn't get to see history in the making. They were Olympic volunteers at other sites or they had a ticket but arrived too late.

"I had Board of Director credentials, but they won't let me in," recalls Jim Rogers, retired owner of WNBZ-AM radio and member of the local organizing committee.

"The building was rated for 8,500 and there were 12,000 inside. My wife and I went home and watched it on Canadian TV live. My wife looked at the mob scene afterward and said she was glad we weren't there. Me? I would have loved to have been there."

Play by play

Sandy Caligiore was there, as Rogers' play-by-play man, the local equivalent to ABC's Al Michaels.

"I haven't listened to it in a long time," said Caligiore, 52, of the tape he made of the game broadcast. "There was a time when I was listening to it regularly. When ESPN would replay the game, I would synch it with my radio call."

And how did his announcing compare to Michaels' legendary "Do you believe in miracles?"

"Obviously not good at all," says Caligiore, laughing.

These days Caligiore has an office less than 100 feet from the 1980 ice, as the spokesman for the Olympic Regional Development Authority.

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