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Making a goal count

Bill Baker remembers tying Sweden to stay in contention during 1980 games

April 12, 2019
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Bill Baker, defenseman on the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, walked back and forth in the players' box at the Herb Brooks Arena. He scrutinized his clipboard, going over plays and formations. But then the Black Eyed Peas' "Let's Get It Started" over the loudspeaker distracted him. He jokingly did a little dance to make his friends in the seats laugh before turning back to his notes.

This was Baker's second year at the Miracle on Ice Fantasy Camp, which lasted from March 31 to April 3. This year, he was the head coach of Team Red - named Baker's Dirty Dozen by the players. He won a bronze medal at the fantasy camp alongside coach/player Steve Janaszak, backup goalie for the 1980 team. Baker said the sight of the rink and his old teammates brings back memories.

"What happened in February of 1980 is kind of hard to describe," he said. "It's always fun to come back."

Article Photos

1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team player Bill Baker coaches Team Red — Baker’s Dirty Dozen — during a game on Tuesday, April 2 at the 5th annual Miracle on Ice Fantasy Camp in the Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

Baker grew up in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. He loved the sport from an early age, but he didn't eat, sleep and breathe hockey. Hockey was just what kids did in his town.

"Everybody played," he said. "We'd head down to the rink, and I guess one thing leads to another. You make the pee-wee teams, then the bantams, and you make your way up."

Like many players on the 1980 team, Baker was part of the 1979 University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Herb Brooks was Baker's coach in both the Olympics and the 1979 NCAA championships.

By the time Baker got to the Olympics, he said he was used to Brooks's coaching method, which was intensive and borrowed heavily from the Soviet and Canadian styles of play, focusing on skillful passing and aggressive offense.

"There was a familiarity," Baker said. "We had a lot of the same players and Herb as the head coach. I'm sure for some of the guys from the other schools, it was a little different. There weren't any real surprises for us."

When it comes to the Olympics, Baker is probably best known for scoring the tying goal in the opening game against Sweden, making a final score of 2-2. Brooks pulled goalie Jim Craig from the net in the last 41 seconds of the game, adding an extra attacker. Buzz Schneider fed the puck to Baker, who slapped a 55-foot shot past Swedish goalie Pelle Lindbergh with 27 seconds left in the game.

"It was a surprise," Baker said. "Pulling the goalie in the last minute of the game. It turned out to be a huge goal in the end. At the time, we were just trying to get a point and stay in the race."

Without that goal, the U.S. may not have made it to the medal round.

Like many of the players on the 1980 team, Baker said it was difficult to see the impact of the Miracle on Ice game at first.

"I think when you're involved in it, you don't realize how big it was," he said.

American television and film will often paint the Soviets as communist enemies, even after the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991. "Red Dawn," "Rocky IV" and "Archer" are just a few examples.

Baker said he and the rest of the hockey team didn't really see the Soviet team as an antagonist. They were more like an unrivaled mystery.

"We really didn't know those guys. We played the Canadian team a number of times. These guys were just so awesome. The Russian team was on a different level. We really didn't have any interaction with them. Certainly, we respected them to the nth degree. It was hard to describe them because they were so good."

Post Olympics, Baker played professionally in the National, American and Canadian hockey leagues, skating with teams such as the Montreal Canadiens, the St. Louis Blues and the New York Rangers.

After he ended his athletic career in 1984, he went back to school and studied oral and maxillofacial surgery. Even before college and his professional hockey stint, Baker said he knew he wanted to study dentistry.

"I think what initially got me into it was the trauma, seeing guys get hit and hurt back before face masks. I wanted to be the guy that could fix people up."

Helmets back then just covered the head, but not many offered facial protection. Some players didn't like helmets altogether. Goalie Andy Brown played without a mask up until his last game with the Indianapolis Racers in 1977. Guys like Brown are why every cartoon hockey player is missing teeth and has black eyes.

Baker said he doesn't often treat hockey injuries nowadays, but there are a few old-timers who still don't like the face mask.

"It's kind of hard to change. I know for me it's really difficult because I also wear glasses and everything fogs up."

Baker hasn't strapped on his ice skates in a long time, but that may change soon.

"I've got a couple of young grandsons, so I'm hoping to get back into it."



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