Thirty-five years ago this month, the underdog U.S. Olympic hockey team captured the gold medal in Lake Placid, N.Y.
The heavily favored Soviet squad had to settle for silver and, thanks to a pre-Olympic tune-up in Erie, car wax (more on that below).
None of the players or coaches from the U.S. team hailed from Pennsylvania. But because of the rich history of professional hockey in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Erie and Hershey, we are able to establish eight Pennsylvania connections to the “Miracle on Ice” Americans.
1. Buzz Schneider
Before helping to form the Americans’ “Conehead” line (with fellow Minnesotans John Harrington and Mark Pavelich), Schneider was a sixth-round pick of the Penguins in the 1974 National Hockey League draft. He never played for the Penguins.
2. Mark Johnson
The U.S. team’s leading scorer, Johnson was a fourth-round pick of Pittsburgh in the 1977 NHL draft. He played parts of three seasons for the Penguins in an 11-year NHL career.
3. Mike Eruzione
After four years at Boston University, Eruzione played in the minor leagues for two seasons. In 1978-79, he played six games (no points) for the Philadelphia Firebirds of the American Hockey League. Don’t you want to believe that in the City of Brotherly Love he ran into Rocky Balboa, another great overachiever? Eruzione, the American captain, scored the winning goal in his team’s 4-3 “Miracle on Ice” win against the Soviets.
4. Tim Harrer
Harrer, who had played for Brooks at the University of Minnesota, joined the American team late in its exhibition schedule, ostensibly to keep complacency from settling in among the roster.
In the movie “Miracle,” players who have been with the team since the beginning object to Harrer’s presence, so Brooks sends him home. Harrer played professionally, including 39 games (seven goals, six assists) with the 1980-81 Hershey Bears.
5. Erie Blades
It’s widely known that the Soviets blew out the Americans, 10-3, in an exhibition game a week before the start of the 1980 Olympics. Less known is that two nights before, on Feb. 7, the Soviets played an exhibition against the Eastern Hockey League’s Erie Blades. The result was a 9-0 Soviet win in front of 4,250 fans at the Erie County Fieldhouse. (Footnote: In the Blades’ lineup was Val James, who went on to become the first African-American to play in the National Hockey League.)
Before the game, according to the Erie Times website, the Soviets shopped at the Millcreek Mall: “Most of the Russians were interested in automotive sections of the stores and purchased items such as air pumps, car wax and seat covers.”
6. Jim Craig
Goaltender Craig played every minute of every game for the Americans. After the Olympics, he had a short pro career that included a 13-game stint with the 1981-82 Erie Blades, then of the AHL.
7. Craig Patrick
Patrick, whose family is considered hockey royalty, played for the 1977-78 Hershey Bears, collecting five goals and four assists in 27 games. Two years later, he was Brooks’ assistant coach at Lake Placid. From 1989 to 2006, he was general manager of the Penguins, during which the team captured two Stanley Cups and drafted Sidney Crosby. Patrick also had two stints as the Penguins’ coach.
8. Herb Brooks
Brooks had been out of coaching for years when, in December 1999, Patrick hired him to lead the Penguins. Brooks took the Penguins to the second round of the playoffs but opted not to return to coaching the next season. At the time of his death in a 2003 car accident, Brooks was the team’s director of player personnel.