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ON THE SCENE: Eruzione: ‘We want to give them the Olympic experience’

April 12, 2019
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

If you are a speedskater, wouldn't you love to have a chance to be coached by Eric Heiden and Bonnie Blair, or as a figure skater by Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi and Torvill and Dean, or as skiers to be coached by Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn? For many hockey players, their dream is to be coached by members of the 1980 U.S. Miracle on Ice hockey team.

Good news for them is that for the fifth year in a row, that dream's been possible through the state Olympic Regional Development Authority's Miracle on Ice Fantasy Camp held last week in the Herb Brooks Arena where 13 of the 1980 players shared their skills and love of hockey. This year, 45 men and women signed up, 18 for their first time, and nine for their fifth time.

I had the good fortune of attending both their game against the Soviet Union as well as their gold medal game against Finland, which was no less exciting as it was either win gold or end up with no medal. For the first game, my then girlfriend Toni Fountain Sikes, who hailed originally from Alabama, had never attended a hockey game before. Our seats were center ice on the upper level, which provided us a great view of the entire game.

Article Photos

From left are Miracle on Ice Fantasy Camp participants John McCormack, Kevin Sutorius, Ron Normandin and Steve Brescia.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

"I remember that we stood up for the whole game because everybody stood up for the entire game," said Toni. "I lost my voice from screaming. It was so loud in there because everybody was screaming."

I said to Toni, "I told the hockey players that this was your first hockey game and after it was over you asked me if all hockey games were like this."

"That's right," said Toni. "It was an amazing experience. I'll never forget it as long as I live. I don't know if you remember, but I didn't want to go. You're the one who talked me into going. I was reluctant because I didn't know anything about hockey, but I'm so glad we did. It was a life experience. It was wonderful."

The 1980 players and fantasy campers have had their own life experiences.

"I'm trying to pass on the enthusiasm of what it's like to be in the Olympic Games," said Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 team who scored the winning goal against the Soviets. "The campers have replica jerseys; they do everything we did as far as getting ready to practice and play the gold-medal game. We want to give them the Olympic experience. They're taking a bobsled run, they're going to curl this afternoon, and we're also going to tell stories and what it was like for us to be here. We want them to get a sense of what it's like to be an Olympic athlete."

As for the deafening noise that Toni mentioned, Eruzione said the players didn't hear anything. They were so focused on the ice, the only words they heard were a teammate calling for a pass or Coach Herb Books whistling to change lines. On the bench, they could hear the "USA, USA" chant but not much else.

"We went to the Olympics with the hope and dream of winning the whole thing," said Eruzione. "People to this day think we only played one game. They forget about our games against Sweden, Czechoslovakia, West Germany and the final game with Finland. If we lost to Finland, we wouldn't win a medal. We went into the last game excited by the opportunity, by the chance of a lifetime to win a gold medal in our country for our country. That's a special feeling."

For 1980 player Mark Johnson - who scored two goals in the Miracle on Ice game and is currently the coach for the University of WisconsinMadison women's ice hockey team- his inspiration was his dad, Robert "Badger Bob" Johnson, who coached the University of Wisconsin Badgers, the 1976 U.S. Olympic hockey team, and in the NHL for five seasons. His biggest takeaway was a love for the game and for sharing that love with others.

"Coaching hockey is a way for players, whether you've had a successful career, long or short career, to give back to the game," said Johnson. "There's no better way of giving back than to helping players, in this case these players, experience the fun of what hockey is."

Olympian Rob McClanahan said the game with the Soviets couldn't end fast enough. After Eruzione scored the fourth goal, the last 10 minutes were the longest 10 minutes in his and his teammates' lives as they held on as they were being outshot 30 to 10.

"The Finns were ready for us," said McClanahan, "but even though we were down two to one after the second period, there was no way we were going to lose that game."

1980 backup goalie Steve Janaszak described how much bigger an Olympic hockey rink is over the rinks they usually play, how all the grueling conditioning Herb Brooks put them through paid off. He also said that it was so loud in the arena that the rafters were shaking. But what stunned the team was how Brooks treated them after they won the Miracle on Ice game.

"Brooks practiced us very hard in that off day, which was kind of surprising," said Janaszak. "We just beat the Russians, and we went out for what we thought would be an easy practice skate, but not Herb. He said, no, you guys aren't good enough. He took us right back down to Earth."

Janaszak went on to praise ABC Sports announcer Al Michaels - who after yelling, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" - then said nothing, letting the moment and the cheering fans speak for the moment.

These and many more stories were what the fantasy campers gained, many stories that friends tell each other and no one else.

"One of the things that have come out of this camp is incredible friendship and camaraderie amongst the campers, and also between the campers and the 1980 guys," said former ORDA Events Director Katie Million, now commissioner of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association who co-founded the fantasy camp with ORDA's Jeff Potter. "That's something you can't plan for; it's amazing to see all those friendships."

The campers agreed.

"We've become a family," said campers John McCormack, a refrain echoed by all that I talked with.

"They'll talk to you like you're their brother or sister," said Ron Normandin.

"You get treated like a professional athlete for four days, which is pretty good," said Krysty Krywko, of Calgary, Alberta, now living in Chappaqua, New York. "I've made lots of friends, and it's lots of fun. The coaches give lots of tips. At my first camp, McClanahan said, 'Krysty, you're a lot better than you think you are.' That stuck with me. It's a big thing to have an Olympian tell you that. Now every time I get the puck, I think I have to carry it for Rob."

"The 1980 game was a bonding experience for the country, and this camp has become a bonding experience for me," said fantasy camper Steve Brescia.



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