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‘This rink looks the same’ to ’80 winger Eric Strobel

April 12, 2019
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer (gkelly@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Eric Strobel sat in the top row of the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena and watched the final games of the 2019 Miracle on Ice Fantasy Camp. It's the same location where he and his teammates made sports history nearly 40 years ago.

Since then, the Soviet Union separated, the American Motors Corporation folded and video games have come a long way from Space Invaders, which athletes played at the 1980 Olympic Village.

But as Strobel reclined in the hard, red seat, everything felt so similar.

Article Photos

1980 U.S. Olympic hockey player Eric Strobel sits in the stands Wednesday, April 3 at the during the gold-medal game of the Miracle on Ice Fantasy Camp at the Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid.
(News photo — Griffin Kelly)

"This rink looks the same," he said.

Strobel was a winger for the 1980 Olympic hockey team that beat the Soviet Union and then went on to win gold against Finland in Lake Placid. This was his fourth year at the Miracle on Ice Fantasy Camp. He acts as the assistant commissioner for the camp, but he doesn't like to take the job too seriously.

"That's what's so fun about here. You basically do whatever you want," he said. "All the campers know it. You just go out and have fun."

Strobel played for the 1979 NCAA champions University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, the collegiate team Herb Brooks coached before the 1980 Olympics. Much of the Olympic team was made up of Gophers and other Minnesotans mixed in with a few East Coast guys such as captain Mike Eruzione and goalie Jim Craig, both of Boston University. Strobel said that transition from college to the Olympics wasn't much of an issue. The opponents were different, but the teammates and Brooks's coaching style were pretty much the same.

There's a scene in Disney's "Miracle" film where Brooks makes the team skate seemingly endless back-and-forths - known as "Herbies" - as a punishment-teaching moment after tying the Norwegian team in Norway. In the film, the guys were exhausted, falling down and some were gagging as if they're about to puke.

Although Ken Morrow told nhl.com in 2014 that "none of us threw up like those kids in the movie," Strobel said that type of workout was par for the course and not that arduous, at least for the Gophers.

"When Herbie would get mad, he made us skate, but for us, it was kind of a walk in the park," Strobel said. "But for the guys not from Minnesota, they couldn't figure out what was going on. That was just a normal deal with Herbie."

Everybody has a nickname. The one for Brooks was Herbie. Defenseman Bill Baker's is Billy. Defenseman Mike Ramsey's is Rammer.

Only a few months after winning Olympic gold, Strobel broke his leg during an American Hockey League game. He recovered and could've still played professional hockey; however, a hockey paycheck wasn't the best back in those days.

"The money was nowhere near as good as it is nowadays," he said. "So I thought, 'What the heck. I can opt out, get my college degree, get a job and make more money than I would playing in the American Hockey League. If you think about the money these guys make today, I definitely would've tried to play."

Strobel majored in marketing in business. His first job was with National Computer Systems, selling test-grading machines to high schools. He later got into the phone business and sold used phone equipment to hospitals.

"I sold phones all over the country," he said. "You'd put a headset on, some golf shorts and a T-shirt and you'd sit there and call and develop a lot of customers. It was a great job, a lot of fun."

A few clients put the name and face together, but Strobel never liked to bring up his Olympic status. He didn't want to come off as cocky.

"Even now you don't bring it up," he said. "I think our guys are pretty modest."

Part of the fantasy camp is getting to share the ice and play with some of the 1980 players. Strobel can't do that, on account of a stroke he suffered more than a decade ago.

"I don't skate, and really I can't skate," he said. "I still have sight and balance issue, but all you can do is the best you can and keep on keeping on."

Sports Illustrated listed the Miracle on Ice as the most important moment in sports history of the 20th century, right in front of Jackie Robinson's debut with the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers and Jesse Owens taking home four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Strobel said it was hard to feel the impact of the team's win at that moment.

"We were kids. We were 21 years old," he said. "We didn't have any comprehension of what was going on. We were playing the game, trying to win. We weren't thinking about the Cold War or gas prices. All we wanted to do was beat the Russians. It wasn't political at all."

Strobel started to realize something big had just happened when he and the rest of the team took Air Force One to the White House.

Next year will mark the 40 years since the Miracle on Ice. Strobel will be 60 years old.

"Time goes by fast, and we have a lot of memories," he said. "We'll talk in the locker room and say, 'Hey, remember this, remember that?' A lot of this stuff you remember. A lot you don't. But it's like the personality never changes."

 
 

 

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