Reliving a miracle on ice

This article can be found published on Chicks Who Give a Puck.

Lake_Placid

Getting the chance to touch Jim Craig's net felt almost like an honor. (Wendy Monhollan)

Getting the chance to touch Jim Craig’s net felt almost like an honor. (Wendy Monhollan)

I had heard my dad mentioned once or twice before about this Olympic team back in 1980, but as a kid growing up, things that happened before I was born didn’t matter too much to me. All I really knew is that the United States defeated Russia for the gold. Shows you how much I paid attention, eh?

It wasn’t until a movie came out when I was 16 when it really caught my attention. I’m sure you can all take a shot in the dark at the movie I’m talking about: none other than Miracle.

I instantly became hooked. I started searching the internet and reading books to find out what I could. I fell in love with players like Jimmy Craig, Mike Eruzione, Jack O’Callahan, Rob McClanahan, and most of all, Mark Johnson. And of course, I began to idolize Herb Brooks.

It took about a month of convincing, but I was able to win out on where to take the family vacation this year. We would start in Montreal, go to Ottawa, then end in Lake Placid, home of where that 1980 team captured the hearts of the thousands, if not millions, of people across the United States.

For years, I’ve been dreaming about one day being able to see the place where the “miracle” happened. I craved it even more when I met Craig at the 2010 Winter Classic in Boston, Mass. Now I finally had the opportunity, and I was teeming with excitement.

Walking towards the Olympic Center, I could barely control myself. I had my 2011 USA Hockey World Junior Championships jersey on and was ready to soak it all in. I first toured the museum inside the center dedicated to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, both of which were held in Lake Placid.

An entire wall was filled with nothing but things from the 1980 hockey tournament. Jerseys from many nations adorned the wall and several U.S. players jerseys hung from the ceiling. Pictures and memorabilia were spread all over. I was in awe when I was able to touch Craig’s net. I sat down on the bench in front of a small television that looped the entire U.S.-Soviet match and was wrapped up in the final 10 minutes of the game. The look on my face must have said it all because the man who worked in the museum invited me back to watch the entire game anytime I wanted.

The rink where Team USA defeated the Soviet Union and won the gold medal over Finland in 1980. (Candice Monhollan)

The rink where Team USA defeated the Soviet Union and won the gold medal over Finland in 1980. (Candice Monhollan)

The man talked to me close to half an hour. He told me how, when he was 23, he worked at the Olympic Center and was able to attend all seven games the U.S. played in. He even told me how I had missed Dave Silk vising the rink with his family a mere three weeks before I arrived. This man, who I regrettably never had a chance to learn his name, would have even more of an impact on me later on in the trip.

I left the museum to head upstairs to the place where it all happened. The entrance to the Herb Brooks Arena leaves no questions as to what lay beyond.  Across the six doors that lead into the arena is a picture of the U.S. hockey team celebrating their victory over the Soviet Union, and above are painted the words: Home of the Miracle on Ice.

As I opened the door and stepped foot into the arena, an overwhelming sense of happiness, pride, and amazement washed over me. I felt an urge to kneel on the ground and cry. Overly dramatic? Maybe to some of you out there it is. But to me, I was finally standing in the place where players I idolized had shocked and stunned the world and accomplished something no one else had done in almost 20 years. I didn’t utter a sound as I made my way through the throngs of red chairs, down to the players’ bench. I sat down and gazed out onto the ice. I pictured what it must have been like on that February day back in 1980. I tried to envision the players on the ice and hear the roar of the crowd as they chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!” I couldn’t help but to shed a tear of joy that I was here.

My parents left me to myself as I continued to sit in the empty arena. They understood what it all meant to me.

I thought this would be it for my time at the Olympic Center, but I thankfully was wrong.

The following day, I went to find out more information on the tour of the arena, but I had unfortunately missed the last tour of the day and lost my chance to visit the locker room. As I wandered by the door to the museum, the man from the day before saw me and waved me in.  We talked a little more Olympic hockey and I asked if there would be more tours the next morning. Sadly, he informed me that they weren’t having anymore that weekend. He once again could see my love and passion for not only hockey, but for this team, and seeing that no one was in the museum at the moment, he locked the museum up and took me down to the locker room on my own little personal tour.

Skating on the ice was like a christening for my new 1980 replica jersey. (Wendy Monhollan)

Skating on the ice was like a christening for my new 1980 replica jersey. (Wendy Monhollan)

I never got the chance to enter the locker room because a team had unloaded their equipment in there, but I at least got to see in through the window and even walk down the same hallway they traversed to reach the ice. This man did one more gracious act before he departed. He informed me of a special Red Cross skate that was happening right at that moment in the Herb Brooks Arena. There was no chance I was missing it.

If I thought I was emotional when I first entered the arena, it held nothing to how I felt when the blade of my skate touched the ice in the rink. I immediately touched the ice with my hand as I skated around. It was one of the most profound moments of my life. Several times I paused behind the goalie crease to just reflect on where I was and how lucky I was being there. Names flashed through my head of all the players who played in that U.S.-Soviet game: Johnson, Craig, Eruzione, McClanahan, Silk, O’Callahan, Vladislav Tretiak, Boris Mikhailov, Valeri Kharlamov, Alexei Kasatonov. This was where those 20 Americans laid it all out there against enormous odds and did the unbelievable – the improbable.

The trip to Lake Placid and, most importantly to me, the time spent at the Olympic Center was the most thrilling and awe-inspiring two days of my life. I can only hope that one day soon I can make a return trip and relive the same emotions and moments from this one.

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Categories: Ice Hockey, Olympics, Sports

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