USA's 'Miracle' hockey team returns to ice

Posted: Thursday, December 06, 2001

It's been almost 22 years since they've skated together, a lifetime filled with families and careers and one very special memory.

Now, America's 1980 gold-medal hockey team is going back to the rink.

The ''Miracle on Ice'' squad will play together for the first time since Lake Placid when it meets a team of NHL old-timers in Los Angeles on Feb. 1, the day before the NHL All-Star game.

The game will cap a series of clinics given by the Olympic team members, beginning this week in Philadelphia.

''We've had reunions, maybe 12 or 15 guys getting together. But we've never been together as a team,'' goalie Jim Craig said Wednesday. ''It's time for us to get back together.''

The message they will carry at the clinics will be one of teamwork, of how setting aside individual goals can pay off with a greater good.

''Our team was a pretty good role model for that,'' Craig said. ''There was a lot of moral value to our team. There was a belief that if you focus on a goal, give up personal goals for a team goal, that you can accomplish great things.''

And they did.

Now the Olympians will carry that message to youngsters. The clinics, sponsored by Allstate Insurance, also will make stops in Chicago, Washington and New York.

Craig, his sideburns now tinged with specks of gray, remembered the feeling as he stood on the ice at Lake Placid, wrapped in an American flag, searching the stands for his father to share that gold-medal moment following the unlikely victories over the Soviet Union and Finland.

''I was 21,'' he said. ''It was incredible. Unless they've done it, nobody can understand what it's like to represent your country, to hear the national anthem being played. The patriotism we felt is probably equal to what Americans have now.

''The chants of 'U-S-A! U-S-A!' The only time I've ever heard anything that came close to that was before the World Series games at Yankee Stadium.''

There is some symmetry at work here. The gold medal came at a time when the United States was in the midst of the hostage crisis in Iran. The reunion occurs following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

A week after the game against the former NHL players, the Olympics start in Salt Lake City, the first time the Winter Games have been in the United States since 1980.

Herb Brooks, who coached Craig and his teammates to the gold medal, will coach the U.S. hockey team again, only this time he'll have NHL players instead of the college kids and minor leaguers that were assembled at Lake Placid.

''When they picked our team, Herbie picked the best players to be teammates to achieve and compete for one goal,'' Craig said. ''We had the right chemistry. We knew that if we worked as a team it would be more effective than working individually. There were better players he might have picked but they might not take the risk that was necessary as a team.''

The risk was evident a week before the Olympics, when the young Americans were thrashed by the Soviets 10-3 in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden.

''You might win,'' Craig said. ''Or you might get beat 10-3. But we were going to represent the country the best we could. If you get beat, that's one thing. When you feel bad is when you beat yourself.''

Brooks cajoled Craig and his teammates, teased them, yelled at them and ultimately sold them on his system. Then he watched it all pay off with the gold medal.

''Herb was ahead of his time,'' Craig said. ''He scared the U.S. Olympic Committee. He was radical. Now he's already won it. Now he's mellow. He's doing it for the passion. I'm glad he's back.''

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