Walking into Herb Brooks Arena, located within the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York, is enough to give any hockey fan chills. Even without the ice installed, which was the case this weekend as preparations were underway for the 35th Anniversary of the 1980 U.S.A. Hockey Team, “Relive the Miracle,” the magic was still in the air.
The celebration took place the evening of Saturday, February 21, just one day prior to the anniversary of the fated game vs. the Soviet Union. It was the first time the 19-surviving members of the gold medal team would convene for a reunion in the arena named after the U.S. team’s coach. In addition to Coach Herb Brooks, who died in 2003, the only member of the team not in attendance was Bob Suter, who died just this past September. Suter’s jersey was raised to the rafters of the 1980 Rink during the multi-media program.
Jim Rogers, ‘Chairman of the Protocol Division,’ for the 1980 Olympic Organizing Committee, recounts the Miracle on Ice celebration as if it took place at the most recent Winter Olympic Games. Rogers stated that when Mike Eruzione (Captain of the 1980 team) scored the game winning goal, “you could shout at the top of your lungs and you wouldn’t be able to hear your own voice in the barn,” which held 11,000 spectators that evening.
The ABC network coverage of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games did not broadcast the game vs. the Soviet Union live in the United States, but not for lack of trying. Game time was set for 5 pm, which fell in the middle of local news coverage. ABC proposed moving the start time of the game to 8 pm, and offered an additional $2.5 million. The committee declined according to Rogers, stating that “the games were for the athletes and this would disrupt their well-being.”
With no social media presence in 1980, word of mouth from spectators at the arena still traveled fast. An account was made that when a man ran into Jimmy’s 21 (a popular restaurant on Main Street) relaying the news of defeat, patrons immediately rose and sang the National Anthem together. Main Street, typically closed off to the public between the hours of 1-6 am in order for retailers and restaurants to restock during the Games, was still bustling with activity at 3:30 am.
The Miracle on Ice game has been said to have raised awareness of hockey among the youth in America at the time. Youth, such as Patrick O’Brien Demsey, celebrating his first birthday just two months prior to the start of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, would ultimately help recreate, by portraying Eruzione in the 2004 Walt Disney Pictures “Miracle.”
Recently, Demsey recounted some of his experiences during the filming, that one could say may show some parallels to the experiences of the young 1980 team. Demsey described his on-screen team by saying that they were “as much a team as any team I’ve been on. Most of us had never acted before or been on a movie set and the next thing we knew, we were living in a high-rise in downtown Vancouver and getting paid to act. It was a complete 180 from the life I knew. When you spend that much time together you become a family.”
Time spent together it was. The rehearsal and filming schedule for “Miracle” could also be contended to rival that of the training schedule for the Games. “We did a month of rehearsals, on ice and acting and we shot for four months, so it was a long haul. Especially when you are doing 16-hour days, six days a week. If I remember correctly, the Russian game took almost 6-weeks to film.”
To this day, Demsey is still displaying his film counterpart’s leadership qualities. He joked that he “dropped the ball” with planning a reunion (with his “Miracle” teammates, many he still remains in touch with) to celebrate the 35th anniversary. The similarities between Demsey and Eruzione don’t end there. As far as Eruzione’s style of play, Demsey said “Mike and I are very similar. We were never the best players but we were always good locker room guys. The guys who can motivate and get the team pumped up.”
Hailed the “Sport Event of the 20th Century” by Sports Illustrated, people light up at the chance to share where they were during the Miracle on Ice game and receiving the news of the 4-3 defeat over the Soviet Union. The same can be said of the experience casting and filming “Miracle,” as Demsey describes. “There was a moment, during our final auditions, before we had the job, when I was sitting with Mike Mantenuto (cast as Jack O’Callahan.) I said to him, ‘I just can’t wait to pull on that USA sweater.’ He looked to me and said, ‘you really are Eruzione.’ That’s how real it felt to us, it felt like we would be representing our country and in a way we still are.”
“A couple of weeks into our training camp, he (Herb Brooks) showed up at the rink, there was a lot of excitement because of his presence. We were all wearing white jerseys and helmets with face masks, so we were indistinguishable from one another. The director, Gavin O’Connor, brought us over to the boards and we formed a semi-circle around Herb who was on the bench. Gavin said, ‘guys this is Coach Brooks, Coach, this is our team.’ Herb looked us over and said ‘how are you guys doing?’ No one spoke up so I said ‘we’re a little bit rusty.’ He looked right at me and said ‘you must be Eruzione, he was always a little bit rusty.’ We all got a real kick out of that.” Later on during the practice, Demsey went up to Brooks to formally introduce himself. Brooks responded to him by looking at him and saying “I know who you are, Paddy.” That would become Demsey’s defining living Miracle on Ice moment.
“I didn’t really understand the magnitude of what was happening. It’s been 12 years since we filmed and every year I appreciate that film more and more. It’s hard to put into words how I feel when someone tells me how much that movie means to them. Everyone gets to enjoy the story of that event now, and we were luck enough to be the ones to tell the story. I feel grateful and appreciative that I was given the opportunity to work on it. It was and continues to be the greatest job I could ever imagine.”
Al Michaels opened the ABC broadcast of the Miracle on Ice game stating, “for people who don’t know the difference between a blue line and a clothesline, it’s irrelevant,” the same can be said for being able to relive this historical sports moment, from a visit to Lake Placid Olympic Center to taking in the film “Miracle,” both are a feel-good experience for generations to come.