A Miraculous Sendoff
GLENDALE, Ariz. - Like an Olympic cauldron, the 1980 U.S. men’s ice hockey team set its home country and rest of the world on fire when it accomplished the improbable and defeated the Soviet Union in what is now etched in history as the Miracle on Ice.
Thirty-four years later, that fire still burns as bright as ever, and nowhere was that more evident than Friday night in Glendale, Ariz., where 10 team members reunited to be recognized by the Phoenix Coyotes organization and to help send off the Olympians for both the Coyotes and visiting Chicago Blackhawks in grand style.
Five Coyotes and 10 Blackhawks will compete at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, which began Thursday, but Team USA’s only representative from the two squads, Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, was not present as he was attending the funeral of his grandfather. The U.S. men’s team opens Olympic play on Thursday, Feb. 13, against Slovakia.
The idea for a Miracle on Ice sendoff took root from Coyotes co-owner, president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc and vice president of communications Rich Nairn as a small event to help send the Olympians off before leaving for Sochi. But when the team contacted their agent, Bob Murray, the idea quickly grew into a mini-reunion of sorts, complete with leisure time for the team and a healthy gathering of media that surprised even captain Mike Eruzione, who scored the game-winning goal against the Soviet Union in 1980. Team USA secured the gold medal after defeating Finland in its final game.
“We didn’t even have this much media when we won in 1980,” said Eruzione, who appeared to be mildly surprised when he walked into the interview room alongside teammates Neal Broten and Buzz Schneider about an hour-and-a-half before the teammates had the chance to participate in a pregame ceremony. Also in attendance were Steve Janaszak, Rob McClanahan, Ken Morrow, Dave Silk, Bob Suter, Phil Verchota and Mark Wells. Not present was Bob Suter, whose son, Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, is an alternate captain for Team USA in Sochi.
And despite the Miracle on Ice team being wildly popular even to this day, Eruzione said reunions of this sort have been few and far between.
“This has never happened for us,” Eruzione said. “It’s something new and exciting. I’m not being disrespectful to anyone else in the National Hockey League, I want to clarify that, but the fact that the Coyotes thought about something like this it’s pretty special.”
According to an Associated Press report, the entire 1980 squad has been together just two times since the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid. Once was at the 2002 NHL All-Star Game and the other reunion was at 1980 Olympic coach Herb Brooks’ funeral in 2003. Also in 2002, 17 of the 20 team members reunited at the Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games where they lit the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony.
Broten told the media that was gathered at Jobing.com Arena that he and his teammates were very happy to be in the Valley of the Sun on the night the Opening Ceremony for the 2014 Winter Games aired on tape delay in the United States. The 15-minute pregame ceremony in Arizona included a highlight video from the Miracle on Ice, introductions of the 15 players headed to Sochi and Eruzione dropping a ceremonial first puck.
“We feel really honored that the Coyotes have had us here for a couple of days,” said Broten, a Minnesota native who went on to play in 1,099 NHL games with four different franchises over the course of his career. “Mike (Eruzione) and Buzzy (Schneider) and myself and the other members of the team feel really honored to be part of this event tonight.”
While events like Friday’s were fun and a chance to relish the memories of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games once again, Eruzione said that more importantly, Friday night was a chance to continue the special bond between the teammates that can’t be broken.
“It’s great for us to get together because we have a bond, a friendship, a love that we’ll always have for each other; it’s just hard to get 20 guys together, but when we do, we have some fun,” Eruzione said.Anthony Perez is a freelance writer from the Phoenix area. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.