Saturday, June 8, 2013

RE-LIVING A 'MIRACLE' IN LAKE PLACID




Opening the door to the Olympic hockey arena in Lake Placid was akin to ripping off the
lid of a treasure chest full of memories that had been sealed for more than 30 years. I almost
felt guilty not having to pay to enter a hockey shrine that produced a once-in-a lifetime moment
that re-energized an entire country. A bunch of fresh-faced college kids authored a 'Miracle on
Ice', upsetting a Soviet team that was too big, too fast, too strong, but just ripe enough to be
beaten. It was, hands down, the greatest sporting event of the last century.

If there was a tour guide to take me around to tell me the story of how Team USA beat the
Soviets on their way to winning the gold medal, I would have given him $20 to get a burger
and beer across the street. I had read every article, watched every movie, and even had a chance
to meet and interview Mike Eruzione, the hero and captain of the team while I was working in
Boston. I didn't need somebody to tell me about a moment I witnessed as a teenager from New Canaan, CT, which seemed like a world a way from Lake Placid at the time.


I wanted to soak this all in by myself, with my memories, along with the ghosts from the 1980
Olympic game between the United States and Soviet Union. Forgive me for being selfish, but
I'm just glad I didn't have to share this moment with a bunch of other tourists. I didn't want to
have to be 'moved along' because I was taking too much time imagining what this place must
have been like on that heart-stopping February night more than three decades ago.

I got chills walking down the aisles toward the playing surface. The chills were much like the
ones I experienced as a 15-year old kid when the chants of U.S.A! U.S.A! blasted through my
television set which was glued to ABC Sports. Those chants almost came to life as I marveled
at a hockey arena that was close to perfection, not one polluted by luxury boxes and corporate
greed that we see in nearly every arena and stadium in professional sports today.


The 8,000 magnificent red seats are so close to the ice, the spectators must have been able to
feel the heartbeats of a bunch of college kids as they tried to slay the big, red dragon that was the Soviet Union, a team of paid professionals who had been together nearly every day for
four years, preparing for their coronation as the greatest team in the world, once again.

My trip down to the ice and into the hallways of the locker rooms made me feel like a little kid
who just found an open gate at Augusta and was allowed to walk into Butler cabin without
anybody noticing. Except I wasn't trespassing or doing anything illegal, although, it sure felt that
way because this was too good to be true. Sorry, some people like posting pictures of their food
on Facebook. I like to write about historic moments that make me feel young again.


I strolled down the hallways where nearly everything that happened during that Olympic
tournament is contained in a plaque and posted on the wall. Then I came to 'Locker Room 5',
which was the dressing room for Team USA for their victory over the Soviet Union. And yes,
the roster of everyone on that team is encased on the wall just outside of it. Jim Craig, Dave
Silk, Ken Morrow, Mark Johnson, Buzz Schneider.....they were all there just in case anybody
had forgotten. 

The door of locker room 5 looked like any other door, except it's the gateway to the greatest
upset in sports, college, professional, or the Olympics. So many stories, characters, and one
speech that was so brilliant, it's immortalized on a plaque. It smacks you in the face just after you



 open the door. A picture of Herb Brooks, the hard-driving coach who led the U.S. is at the head of
it, with the exact words he used to motivate his players before they took the ice against the Soviets:

                                     Great moments are born from great opportunity.
                                      And that's what you have here tonight, boys.
                                          That's what you've earned here, tonight.
                                                                One game.
                                      If we played 'em ten times, they might win nine.
                                                 But not this game. Not tonight.
                                                   Tonight, we skate with 'em.
                         Tonight, we stay with 'em, and we shut them down because we can!
                                  Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world.
                                 You were born to be hockey players -- every one of ya.
                                            And you were meant to be here tonight.
                                                          This is your time.
                                                   Their time -- is done. It's over.
     I'm sick and tired of hearin' about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw 'em!
                                                          This is your time!!


I got goosebumps reading this speech. Every hair on my back stood up and tingling ran through
my spine. I could almost hear Brooks' character in 'Miracle on Ice', Kurt Russell shouting it
out to the players in the movie, 'Miracle on Ice.'  Stuff like this is powerful, really powerful.



Once you're finished reading the plaque, you can enter the locker room, which looks the one
you see in any municipal rink in the country. It is cramped, has that hockey smell, and showers
that are too close for comfort. Amenities? It had none. Hard to believe it accommodated Team
USA in a mammoth event like the Olympics. Perhaps, it just added to the charm and history
of it all.


As I left the locker room and went back to the bench where Team USA sat for the game. I
imagined Brooks in his camel hair blazer looking to the scoreboard, anxiously counting down
the seconds to the game. My eyes wandered up to the rafters, where Al Michaels and Ken
Dryden called the game. The press box looked like a chicken coup as it was perched high
above the rink. The echoes woke up and he was screaming..."five seconds, four seconds,
three seconds. Do you believe in miracles? Yes!


The excitement and unbridled joy I felt as a sophomore in high school, watching alone at home
came rushing back. It was an amazing moment. An empty hockey rink never made me feel
so alive.

Plan a trip to Lake Placid and experience this place. Like inside the fence at Augusta, this
place is truly special. Almost as miraculous as the game against the Soviets, is the fact that
this tiny village hosted such a massive event like the Olympics, not once, but twice.

Lake Placid can always hang it's hat on entertaining dozens of countries, but also being the
site of the greatest sporting event of the last century. It truly was a miracle.



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