It was exactly one year ago today that the US hockey team won that wildly improbable Olympic gold medal at Lake Placid. The whole experience, climaxed by the historic upset of the Soviet Union and continuing through the final triumph over Finland, will always be one of the fondest memories of the 20 young men who pulled it off. But except for Capt. Mike Eruzione, goaltender Jim Craig, and perhaps a few others to a lesser extent, it hasn't really affected their careers to any significant degree.
Some moved right into the National Hockey League, others are in the minors, a few went back to school or into business, and four opted to play in Europe. All just about as expected -- and pretty much what figured to happen anyway.
The one whose career was most hugely affected, of course, was Eruzione. As the man who scored the winning goal against the Soviets, and whose joyous celebrating on the victory podium caught the fancy of the nation, Mike found himself famous overnight. As an NHL prospect, meanwhile, he was in the marginal category. So he did the sensible thing, cashing in on his fame simply by retiring as a player and launching a new career as a "celebrity."
Eruzione had spent two years in the minors and was 25 -- an age at which most players who are going to make the NHL are already there. Without the Olympic success, he probably would have sought a coaching job. Instead he is much in demand as a speaker, endorses products, does TV commentary, and has other irons in the fire.
Craig also captured the hearts of the nation both by his play (especially vs. the Soviets) and his actions afterward (Who can forget that shot of him skating toward the stands, draped with the American flag, searching the crowd with his eyes while his lips moved with the words, "Where's my father?"). He too acted quickly to cash in on his new-found celebrity via endorsements and speaking engagements. But unlike Eruzione, he opted to give the NHL a shot as well.
This made sense, for Jim was considered a definite prospect. Also, the gold medal assured him an immediate chance rather than the minor league apprenticeship which otherwise would almost certainly have been in order.
Jim's signing by Atlanta a few days after the games was obviously a bid to boost attendance. It worked, too, for a while, but then the Flames moved to Calgary and traded Craig to Boston. He played reasonably well for much of this season, but has recently been benched amid speculation that he may be sent to the minors for more seasoning.
These two were easily the most visible players, and though others made contributions at least as big, none got anywhere near the same widespread public recognition.
Sometimes this was by choice. Mark Johnson, who could have "played the role" after scoring two goals against the Soviets and leading the team in total points , just didn't want the hassle. He did sign quickly with Pittsburgh, had a big playoff last spring, and is doing fairly well this season, too, though his lack of size (5 ft., 9 in., 160 pounds) is a minus factor in the rougher NHL brand of play with its smaller rinks and lesser emphasis on skating and finesse.
Defenseman Ken Morrow joined the New York Islanders shortly after the Olympics and eventually earned the distinction of being the only player ever to win an Olympic gold medal and get his name on the Stanley Cup.
"It seemed strange at first, playing against my old teammates, but now I enjoy it," he says. "I think we'll always be close in our hearts, because what we shared at Lake Placid was such an emotional highlight. Winning the Stanley Cup was a great thrill, but I'll never be able to match the emotional peak we reached at the Olympics."
Dave Christian, one of the great human interest stories at Lake Placid (his father had scored the winning goal in the 1960 victory over the USSR) is the most successful NHL performer of the lot so far. Playing his normal center position after switching to defense for the Olympic team, he leads Winnipeg in scoring with 23 goals and 55 points -- though part of his success is no doubt attributable to the fact that he is one of the few bright spots on the league's worst team.
"I try not to think about the Olympics," he says. "That's over, and this is an entirely different situation. I just hope both experiences . . . will mature me as a player and a person."
Christian said his father had hoped to play in the NHL, but in those days of six teams and almost all Canadian players, he gave up that ambition and went into business.
"My dad was my first coach in kid hockey," he recalled. "It was always his hope that through me he could experience the thrill of another Olmypic victory, and that I could be the Christian who went on to play in the NHL."
Mike Ramsey, the first US-born player ever drafted in the first round, plays for Buffalo, as does Rob McClanahan, who scored the gold medal-winning goal against Finland. Steve Christoff signed with Minnesota last spring, set a rookie record with eight goals in the playoffs, and has played fairly well this season despite injury problems. Another who has made it is Dave Silk of the New York Rangers.
"I'll cherish the memories of the Olympics forever, but I don't like to live in the past," Silk says. "I'm not going to be on another Olympic team. There's not going to be another Russian game. Right now I'm just concerned with playing well for the Rangers and hoping to win a Stanley Cup."
Probably the best-known person connected with the team after Eruzione and Craig is not a player at all, but Herb Brooks, the coach who whipped his charges into the cohesive, well-conditioned unit that was ready to grab the brass ring when it beckoned. Brooks coached in Switzerland this past season, has been appointed coach of the US team that will compete in the world championships in Sweden in April, and then is expected to wind up in the NHL somewhere.
Ironically, Craig Patrick, who was Brooks's assistant, is now doubling as both director of operations and head coach of the New York Rangers -- the team to which Herb was originally reported headed. So Brooks may look elsewhere, although there's some speculation that Patrick might move back upstairs and hire Herb to coach the team next year.
The other players, many of whom had some big moments at Lake Placid only to see their feats all but forgotten a year later, are scattered all over. Bill Baker, whose tying goal against Sweden with 27 seconds left, launched the whole incredible saga, is in the minors, as are Jack O'Callahan and Mark Wells. Playing in Europe this season were such "unsung heroes" as Buzz Schneider, who got the first goal against the Soviets and was tied with McClanahan and Christian for second place in team scoring; Mark Pavelich, who set up Baker's goal and had two assists against the Soviets, including the pass to Eruzione for the winning tally; John Harrington, who had the first assist on Eruzione's goal; and Phil Verchota, who scored the tying goal against Finland. Elsewhere, Neil Broten and Eric Strobel are back in college, and Bob Suter has opened a sporting goods store.
And then there is Steve Janaszak, the spare goalie. Steve is playing minor league hockey, as he probably would have been anyway. But in Lake Placid he met Jackie Minichello of Bayshore, N.Y., and their romance has blossomed into an engagement, with the wedding set for May.
"I guess I'll always be amazed at the way things worked out for me," he says with awe in his voice. And who can blame him? For in the final and biggest irony of all, the only player who never got into a game turns out to be the one whose life was most significantly and permanently affected. Where Olympians are now The Coaches
Herb Brooks, head coach -- Passed up NHL opportunities to coach in Davos, Switzeland, for one season.Will coach US national team in 1981 world championships in Sweden in April. Expected to wind up coaching some NHL team next season.
Craig Patrick, assistant coach -- Director of Operations for New York Rangers , and has also served as coach since Fred Shero was fired in midseason. Goaltenders
Jim Craig -- Signed with Atlanta Flames amid great fanfare just a few days after Olympics. Traded to Boston Bruins for this season, played in 23 games with a 3.68 goals-against average, but has been benched since Feb. 4 and could be headed for the minors.
Steve Janaszak -- Playing for Fort Wayne in the International Hockey League. Defensemen
Dave Christian -- Most successful of the Olympians in the NHL so far. Playing his normal center position for Winnipeg, he leads his team in scoring with 23 goals and 55 points.
Ken Morrow -- Joined New York Islanders after Olympics and played regularly in late season and playoffs, helping team to Stanley Cup. Again a regular this season.
Mike Ramsey -- Playing regularly with Buffalo Sabres.
Bill Baker -- Started season with Montreal, played sparingly, and now with Canadiens' Nova Scotia farm club in America Hockey League.
Jack O'Callahan -- Signed with Chicago Black Hawks, but playing for their New Brunswick farm club in the AHL.
Bob Suter -- Owns and runs a sporting goods store in hometown of Madison, Wis. Forwards
Mike Eruzione -- The team captain and the man who scored the winning goal against the Soviets, he has retired as a player and spent the last year in the role of a "celebrity" -- speaking engagements, endorsements, color commentary on TV, serving as a consultant for the upcoming ABC-TV movie, "Miracle on Ice," etc.
Mark Johnson -- Joined Pitsburgh Penguins shortly after Olympics and had strong playoff in near-upset against Boston. Playing fairly regularly this season.
Steve Christoff -- Joined Minnesota North Stars after Olympics and set rookie record with eight goals in playoffs. Has played well this year too, though missing some time with injuries.
Dave Silk -- Playing for New York Rangers and doing fairly well (12 goals, 13 assists).
Rob McClanahan -- Signed with Buffalo and has split season between Sabres and their Rochester farm club in the AHL.
Mark Wells -- Playing for New Haven of the AHL, a New York Rangers' farm team.
Buzz Schneider -- Played for Bern, Switzerland, this season.
Mark Pavelich -- Played for Lugano, Switzerland, this season.
John Harrington -- Played for Rochester in AHL as a Buffalo farm hand last spring, but joined Pavelich in Lugano this season.
Phil Verchota -- Had offer from Minnesota North Stars, but elected to play in Helskinki, Finland, this season.
Neil Broten -- Returned to University of Minnesota, where he is again starring for the Gophers. Has been drafted by North Stars and is expected to sign with them eventually.
Eric Strobel -- Completing his education at Minnesota. No longer eligible for college hockey, but is playing for a club team.