LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Around a variety of euphoric highlights and humorous stories, the 1980 U.S. Olympic Ice Hockey Team’s “Relive the Miracle” gala included some sadness.
When the U.S. team that shocked the Soviet Union in the final round of the Lake Placid 1980 Olympic Winter Games returned to the scene of the “Miracle on Ice” for the first time, it did so one member short.
In the midst of Saturday’s 35th anniversary celebration, the No. 20 jersey of U.S. defenseman Bob Suter was raised to the rafters at Herb Brooks Arena, the place where a young American hockey team went from unknowns to legends by beating the heavily favored Soviets. The Wisconsin hero, regarded for his devotion to bring the sport to the masses, died of a heart attack last September. He was 57.
“Bobby was a great player and a great person,” said team captain Mike Eruzione, who scored the game-winning goal against the Soviet Union. “We all realize that at some point we’re going to move on. But nobody thought that Bobby at 57 would not be with us. He was a special teammate, a special person and clearly will be missed.”
All 19 living members of the U.S. team that went on to beat Finland and claim the gold medal attended the event. Herb Brooks, the team’s hall of fame coach, died in a car accident 12 years ago.
Suter’s son, Ryan Suter, played on the 2010 and 2014 U.S. Olympic teams and is a standout defenseman for the Minnesota Wild. He was part of a taped video message created by Arizona Coyotes broadcaster (and upstate New York native) Todd Walsh, who also moderated the event.
The event included a panel conversation and video clips through four segments: “The Journey,” “The Steps,” “The Miracle” and “The Gold.”
About half the 7,700-seat arena was filled with fans who paid the charming price of $19.80 for tickets. There were also about 50 VIP tables on the floor with guests who were given a pre-event tour of a place that is virtually unchanged during the last 35 years, including hallowed locker room No. 5.
“I like that the arena looks almost exactly the same as it did in 1980,” said Ken Morrow, a 1980 U.S. defenseman who went on to win four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders. “The town hasn’t changed a lot. There’s something special about that. I hope we don’t lose that. You can look around and remember everything.”
It is still a town bent on loving hockey, and particularly this team. Many fans wore vintage 1980 Olympic souvenirs, and American flags were everywhere. Some fans brought along ticket stubs from the memorable Feb. 22, 1980, game against the Soviet Union. (A 4-3 outcome, and the center-ice scoreboard showed it.)
The members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team were Bill Baker, Neal Broten, Dave Christian, Jim Craig, Steve Christoff, Eruzione, Steve Janaszak, Mark Johnson, John Harrington, Rob McClanahan, Morrow, Jack O’Callahan, Mark Pavelich, Mike Ramsey, Buzz Schneider, Dave Silk, Eric Strobel, Suter, Phil Verchota and Mark Wells.
Players say there was a uniqueness to the group that not only was transparent to the viewing public, but is endeared to this day by those who were a part of it.
“I’ve played on a lot of teams, and this is the best team, the closest team I ever played on,” longtime NHL veteran Broten said. “As a younger guy, I looked up to all these guys. It was a privilege and honor for me to represent our country with these guys and do what we did.”
They were clearly glad to be together. Pavelich was commended (albeit reluctantly) for driving from Minnesota. He’s been an outsider in past reunions.
In one of the more heartwarming segments, several players took the microphone to commend backup goalie Janaszak, the only American to not take the ice for even one second of its Olympic run.
Craig, the goalie whose brilliant play kept the Americans in a game in which the Soviets largely dominated, commended him as the ultimate teammate.
The real kicker may have been the biggest laugh of the night: Craig told the crowd how he [Janaszak] met his wife in Lake Placid.
"What can I say? I had some free time on my hands," Janaszak said.
The group has run the gamut in life, from private investor to surgeon or real estate developer. A few list themselves as retired now.
So that could mean more reunions.
Eruzione said it was “bittersweet” to gather without the team fully intact. There were also plenty of stories told about Brooks and Suter.
“They were both shocking in that they were sudden. It just didn’t seem right losing them that early,” Morrow said. “But with Bob, I know it hit me hard. Because he’s our age. I’m the same age as Bob. To hear the news … We knew eventually we were going to lose somebody. But it’s very hard. It hit me very hard and still has. It’s very cathartic for us, getting together and remembering the good times.”