LAKE PLACID — It's been more than three decades since his landmark goal became the centerpiece of the U.S. Olympic hockey team's Miracle on Ice. For 60-year-old Mike Eruzione, it still seems like only yesterday.
“It was a long time ago, but for me it's different,” said Eruzione, whose game-winning goal against the Soviet Union in the medal round at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics still sends chills down an awful lot of spines. “I deal with it so often it's hard to believe it's been 35 years. Every week I'm doing something or going somewhere that's associated with 1980.”
With his inimitable deft touch, Hall of Fame coach Herb Brooks guided Eruzione and his fuzzy-faced teammates, college kids matched up against one of the best teams in hockey history. On Feb. 22, they triumphed with an improbable comeback.
The U.S. defeated the Soviets 4-3 on Eruzione's 30-foot shot midway through the third period to deprive them of what likely would have been their sixth gold medal in seven Winter Olympics, then clinched the gold by rallying past Finland 4-2.
“It doesn't feel like yesterday,” said Buzz Schneider, a winger on the U.S. team and today involved in real estate in Minnesota. “But people remind me all the time. It's just part of who we are, I guess.”
And it's become a significant part of the legacy of Lake Placid. One of only three places to host a Winter Olympics twice (St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Innsbruck, Austria, are the others), Lake Placid has capitalized on its Olympic heritage in a big way. According to the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority, which operates the winter sports venues in the region, nearly 2 million visitors, including thousands of youth hockey teams, go each year to this Adirondack Mountain village of 2,600.
It's difficult to imagine life around here without that Olympic heritage, personified by Lake Placid-born speed skater Jack Shea. He was the first U.S. double gold medalist in Winter Olympic history, winning twice in 1932 after reciting the Olympic oath in his shining moment at those first Lake Placid Games.
“The Olympic name itself lives on,” said 80-year-old Jack LaDuke, who served as audio-visual director for the 1980 Winter Olympics. “People want to come to the Olympic village. They want to see where it happened. The Olympics itself is a big draw — the history of it.”
There is excitement in the air again. Every surviving member of the hockey team — rugged defenseman Bob Suter died at 57 in September and coach Brooks was killed in a car accident in 2003 at age 66 — is coming back for a “Relive the Miracle” reunion on Saturday night at Herb Brooks Arena, the hockey rink they made famous.
Eruzione, who works in alumni relations at Boston University, and several teammates also are hosting a five-day fantasy camp beginning March 29 that so far has attracted more than 50 participants. And NBC plans to anchor its “Hockey Day in America” coverage from Lake Placid on Sunday and feature the team.
When the U.S. won that hockey gold in 1980, it was a time of world strife. The Soviet army had just invaded Afghanistan as the Cold War simmered, a group of Americans was being held hostage in Iran, the U.S. economy was hurting and President Jimmy Carter already had announced a U.S. boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow.
The sociopolitical impact of that era has since faded. The memory of that February night in Lake Placid has not.
“We were just coming off the Vietnam War and there was a lot of anti-nationalistic mood and rhetoric in this country,” said Ed Weibrecht, then-president of the Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Mirror Lake Inn with wife Lisa. “There wasn't a level of national pride that I think we have today.
“A tear almost comes to my eyes — that was so overwhelming,” Weibrecht said. “At the end of the game, all you could hear was the chant: 'USA! USA! USA!' And when the people poured out into the street, that's all you could hear for an hour up and down Main Street. People really, really became proud to be Americans again. It was incredible.”
Some too young to remember have been touched, too.
Kimberly Kruckenberg, of Matthews, North Carolina, was 9 and hockey certainly wasn't on her radar then. It is now, and she and her husband, who both play the sport recreationally, will celebrate their 16th wedding anniversary with Eruzione and his buddies at the fantasy camp.
“Being in the arena and kind of going through history, to be able to watch them experience it, kind of relive it almost, was an opportunity we couldn't pass up,” Kimberly said. “I probably won't stop smiling. I'll be sitting there in awe, being able to be where they were.”