Olympic postscript: US hockey heroes two years later

Two years after their historic triumph at Lake Placid, the 20 young men who made up the US Olympic hockey team have gone their separate ways with varying degrees of success. Ironically, though, it's the lesser lights of 1980 who have received most of the rave notices as pros, while those who got the lion's share of adulation during the Games are either still struggling on the ice or already into the post-hockey phases of their careers.

The names of Neal Broten, Mark Pavelich, and Mike Ramsey, for instance, hardly bring back the sort of memories still evoked by the mere mention of Jim Craig or Mike Eruzione. But Broten, who elected to return to college last year rather than turn pro right away, is going great guns in his rookie season with the Minnesota North Stars. Pavelich, an unsung hero at Lake Placid who spent last winter playing in Europe, is this year's big surprise as the sparkplug and second leading scorer of the rejuvenated New York Rangers. And Ramsey, a regular defenseman with the Buffalo Sabres, was the first of the Olympians to play in the NHL All-Star game.

Also forging fine early pro careers are forwards Steve Christoff of Minnesota and Dave Christian of Winnipeg and defenseman Ken Morrow of the New York Islanders -- a trio who did get some ''ink'' at Lake Placid but were still pretty much overshadowed in the media hype department. Others who have reached the top level include forwards Dave Silk and Rob McClanahan of the Rangers and defenseman Bill Baker of the St. Louis Blues.

Meanwhile among the biggest Olympic names, only team high scorer Mark Johnson , now with Pittsburgh, is currently in the NHL. Craig has had a rocky, injury-marred road back and forth between the majors and minors and is now toiling at Erie, Pa. -- a far cry from those flag-draped days of glory when the combination of his spectacular goaltending and TV's penchant for human-interest drama made his name a household word overnight. And Eruzione, the team captain who became an instant celebrity when he scored the winning goal against the USSR , chose to bow out at the top and has built a successful career as a ''personality'' via TV commentary, public appearances, etc.

In overall terms, therefore, exactly half of the Olympians are playing in the NHL, with four knocking at the door in the high minors, one playing in Europe, one teaching and coaching, one running a sporting goods store, two back in school, and finally Eruzione, however one categorizes him.

As for the coaches, Olympic head man Herb Brooks is coaching the New York Rangers this season, while in a bit of irony his erstwhile Lake Placid assistant , Craig Patrick, is now his boss as general manager.

With this week marking the second anniversary of both the famous upset of the Soviets and the gold medal victory over Finland, here's a complete breakdown including some recollections of 1980 plus an update on what each Olympian is doing now: Goaltenders

1. Jim Craig -- His standout play, especially against the Soviets, was one of the big factors in the Olympic triumph, and he cashed in on his fame immediately by signing with Atlanta right after the Games. Played some NHL games late that season, then was traded to Boston where he played fairly regularly early in the 1980-81 campaign but was eventually benched. Has been bothered by a succession of minor injuries, and is currently playing at Erie, Pa., in hopes of working his way back to the NHL either with the Bruins or another team.

2. Steve Janaszak -- The only Olympian who did not get into any of the games at Lake Placid, but the one whose personal life has been most significantly affected by the experience, since it was there that he met Jackie Minichello of Bayshore, N.Y., who is now his wife. Signed by Minnesota and played a couple of NHL games right after the Olympics, then was traded to the Colorado Rockies, where he has spent the last two seasons in their farm system, moving up this year to Fort Worth in the Central Hockey League, just one step from the NHL. Defensemen

3. Ken Morrow -- Key defensive performer on Olympic team, joined New York Islanders right after the Games and helped in their drive to the Stanley Cup. Has been a regular there ever since, playing for a second straight cup winner in 1981-82 and for this year's club as it bids for a third title in a row.

4. Mike Ramsey -- One of the youngest Olympians (19 at the time) and considered one of the most promising, he was the first American player ever selected in the first round of the NHL draft (by Buffalo). Signed with the Sabres shortly after the Olympics and has been with them ever since. Was chosen for this year's All-Star game as a replacement when teammate John Van Boxmeer got hurt, and is so far the only US Olympian so honored.

5. Bill Baker -- Although it got somewhat forgotten in all the excitement about the victory over the Soviets and the gold medal, he scored one of the most important goals of all when he blasted in a shot with 27 seconds left to tie Sweden -- without which there well may never have been any of the later heroics. In the NHL he started with the Montreal organization, playing mostly in the minors, was traded to Colorado, then last fall was dealt to the St. Louis Blues, for whom he has been playing fairly regularly.

6. Jack O'Callahan -- Injuries kept him out of some action at Lake Placid, but he was one of the team's defensive stalwarts when able to play. Now with the Chicago Black Hawks organization, playing regularly for its top minor league club in New Brunswick.

7. Bob Suter -- Played primarily a fill-in role at Lake Placid. Had been drafted by Los Angeles, but opted to end his hockey career after the Olympics and now runs a sporting goods store in Madison, Wisconsin.

8. Dave Christian -- One of the most publicized Olympians in the beginning, due to the fact that his father had scored the winning goal for the United States in its 1960 upset of the USSR at Squaw Valley. Was switched from his normal forward position to play defense, but still wound up tied for second in scoring with eight assists, including some very big ones. He helped set up the tying goal against the Soviets and assisted on both the tying and winning scores against Finland. In the NHL he has also been one of the big success stories as one of Winnipeg's leading scorers last season and again this winter. Forwards

9. Mike Eruzione - The team captain, he had three goals and two assists, but of course will always be best remembered for his winning tally against the USSR and for his exuberance on the podium at the medal ceremony. Mike, who was one of the older Olympians at 25, had already played a couple of years of minor league hockey and was considered only a marginal NHL prospect, so he elected to seek his fortune elsewhere. The decision was obviously a good one, for he has remained in the public eye and made good money doing TV work for Madison Square Garden; serving as a consultant for a movie; making public appearances; accepting speaking engagements; endorsing products, etc. Among the general populace, his name remains synonomous with the Olympic triumph, and since he has managed to remain visible for two years now, it seems likely he'll continue to do so -- especially since it won't be too long before people start thinking about the next Winter Games coming up in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, in 1984.

10. Mark Johnson -- Led team with five goals (including some big ones) and six assists for 11 points. He scored twice against the Soviets, including the goal that tied the game 2-2 with one second left in the first period and the one that again tied it at 3-3 midway in the final stanza to set the stage for Eruzione's heroics. He also scored the insurance goal against Finland that nailed down the gold medal. In the NHL with Pittsburgh his lack of size has been more of a negative factor than it was in college or international play, but he sees a fair amount of ice time for the Penguins and is always an offensive threat whenever he is out there.

11. Steve Christoff -- A dangerous scorer who was held in check through much of the Olympics, but came through handsomely in the finale, scoring the first US goal unassisted and setting up the last one. Joined the North Stars shortly after the Olympics, starred in their playoff upset of Montreal, and has continued to be one of the team's leading scorers.

12. Rob McClanahan -- The answer to the trivia question, ''Who scored the actual gold medal-winning goal?'' he also played well throughout the Games to finish tied with two teammates for runnerup honors behind Johnson in overall scoring. Was up and down between NHL and minors while in the Buffalo and Hartford organizations, then was recently acquired by the Rangers, who also sent him to the minors briefly but brought him up to the parent club last week.

13. Mark Pavelich -- A much underrated contributor at Lake Placid, he made some very big plays, assisting on Baker's last-minute tying goal against Sweden and setting up two goals against the Soviets, including Eruzione's game-winning effort. Overlooked by the NHL, he spent last season playing in Switzerland, but has blossomed this year with the Rangers, where he has been playing on the top-scoring line and is the team's No. 2 point producer.

14. Neal Broten -- A lesser light on the Olympic squad who has come into his own as a pro. Only a college freshman at the time of the Games, he returned to the University of Minnesota for one more year, leading the Gophers to the NCAA finals and being named college Player of the Year, then joined the North Stars late last season and has been one of their mainstays and leading scorers all this winter.

15. Buzz Schneider -- The only holdover from the 1976 Olympic squad, he matched Johnson for the team lead in goals with five, including the first one against the Soviets, and was tied with two others for runnerup honors in total points at eight. Has played in Switzerland the last two seasons.

16. Dave Silk -- A strong factor for the Olympians with five points, including assists on both of Johnson's goals against the Soviets. Has played well ever since for the Rangers, and was among the team's leading scorers for the first half of this season until an injury sidelined him for a while.

17. Phil Verchota -- Had five points including the tying goal against Finland , then ironically wound up playing in Helsinki last season after turning down a North Stars offer. This year he has returned to continue his studies at the University of Minnesota.

18. John Harrington -- His five points included the first assist on Eruzione's goal against the USSR (he got the puck to Pavelich, who passed it to Mike to set up the score). Played last season in Switzerland with Pavelich, but is now teaching and coaching high school hockey in Minnesota.

19. Mark Wells -- A spot player at Lake Placid, he has been playing in the high minors (New Haven, Oklahoma City) and hoping to make it to the NHL.

20. Eric Strobel -- Another part-timer on the Olympic team, he is now back in school at the University of Minnesota. The Coaches

Herb Brooks, head coach -- A former Olympic player himself and a successful head coach at the University of Minnesota, he blended tough discipline with tactical sharpness to create a winning combination. Passed up NHL opportunities to coach last season at Davos, Switzerland, then took over as coach of the New York Rangers this season.

Craig Patrick, assistant coach -- A former college star and eight-year NHL veteran, he is now the New York general manager.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Olympic postscript: US hockey heroes two years later
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today