US hockey team's 'Miracle' gold medal was 35 years ago

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) -- It's been more than three decades since his landmark goal became the centerpiece of the U.S. Olympic hockey team's Miracle on Ice. For 60-year-old Mike Eruzione, it still seems like only yesterday.

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US hockey team's 'Miracle' gold medal was 35 years ago
The 1980 U.S. Olympic upset of the mighty Soviet team still reverberates 35 years later among the players and in Lake Placid, N.Y.,the town that hosted the 'Miracle on Ice.' (Feb. 18)
United States Olympic ice hockey coach, Herb Brooks, left, speaks to members of the team during a break in practice at the Ice Hall in Lake Placid, N.Y. in this Feb, 8, 1980 photo. Brooks, who coached the U.S. hockey team to the ``Miracle on Ice'' victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, died Monday, Aug. 11, 2003 in a car wreck, a Minnesota state official said. Brooks was 66. (AP Photo/Douglas Ball)
USSR. Moscow. Olympic ice-hockey team of the USSR. L-R, upper row: B. Mikhailov, Y. Lebedev, S. Starikov, Z. Bileletdinov, V. Golikov, V. Pervukhin, A. Golikov, A. Maltsev, A. Skvortsov. Middle row: V. Vasiliev, V. Lutchenko, A. Kasatonov, V. Zhluktov, V. Fetisov, V. Petrov, S. Babinov, Kh. Balderis. Lower row: V. Myshkin, V. Kharlamov, senior coach V. Tikhonov, V. Krutov, coach V. Yurzinov, S. Makarov and V. Tretyak. February 5, 1980. (Photo by: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)
This is an overall view of the ice hockey rink in Lake Placid, where the U.S. team won a 4 - 3 victory of the Soviet team during the Winter Olympics, February 22, 1980. (AP Photo)
LAKE PLACID, NY - FEBRUARY 22: Mike Ramsey #5 of the United States checks Valeri Kharlamov #17 of the Soviet Union during the Winter Olympic Games on February 22, 1980 in Lake Placid, New York. The United States won 4-3. (Photo by Tony Duffy/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Feb. 22, 1980 file photo, The United States' Mark Johnson (10) prepares to shoot puck into the net for the second U.S. goal in the first period of a semifinal hockey game as the Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretjak defends at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. The U.S. won 4-3. Although Mark Johnson is sitting on the mother of all hockey motivational stories, he's waiting until just the right moment to break it out for the U.S. women's team. Johnson was the reason for the "Miracle on Ice" 30 years ago, scoring two goals for the U.S. hockey team when they toppled the Soviets. (AP Photo/File)
LAKE PLACID - FEBRUARY 22: Slava Fetisov #2 of the Soviet Union Olympic hockey team shoots during the 'Miracle on Ice' against the United States on February 22, 1980 at the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LAKE PLACID, NY - FEBRUARY 22: Goalie Jim Craig #30 and his teammate Mike Ramsey #5 of the United States protect the goal during the Olympic hockey game against the Soviet Union on February 22, 1980 in Lake Placid, New York. The United States won 4-3. (Photo by: Steve Powell/Getty Images)
1980: Herb Brooks, former coach of the 1980 US Olympic team and NHL teams Minnesota, New Jersey and the New York Rangers looks on during a game. (Photo by: Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)
FILE - In this 1980 file photo, Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak allows a goal by the U.S. team in the first period of a medal-round hockey game at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. A big reason the Americans were able to upset the Soviet Union in the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" at the Olympics was the benching of goaltender Tretiak by Soviet coach Victor Tikhonov with the score tied at 2 after the first period. Backup Vladimir Myshkin surrendered two goals and the U.S. won 4-3, then went on to capture the gold medal. (AP Photo, File)
LAKE PLACID, NY - FEBUARY 1980: Team USA's Mark Pavelich #16 struggles with Vladimir Krutov #9 of the Soviet Union to gain control of the puck during the XIII Olympic Winter Games in February of 1980 in Lake Placid, New York. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LAKE PLACID, NY - FEBUARY 1980: Team USA's goalie Jim Craig #30 slides to guard the net during the XIII Olympic Winter Games circa February of 1980 in Lake Placid, New York. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LAKE PLACID, NY - FEBRUARY 22: Aleksandr Maltsev #10 of the USSR scores against Jim Craig #30 and Bill Baker #6 of Team USA during the XIII Olympic Winter Games on February 22, 1980 in in Lake Placid. The U.S. defeated the Soviets 4-3 in the 'Miracle on Ice' game. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LAKE PLACID, NY - FEBUARY 1980: Team USA's goalie Jim Craig #30 clears the side of the net obstructed by a team Russia player during the XIII Olympic Winter Games in February of 1980 in Lake Placid, New York. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LAKE PLACID, NY - FEBUARY 1980: Team USA' defenceman Ken Morrow #3 slaps a team Ruissia player across the chest with his stick the XIII Olympic Winter Games in February of 1980 in Lake Placid. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LAKE PLACID, NY - FEBRUARY 22: US hockey players John Harrington (L) and Michael Ramsey (top R) react after the puck was fired into the net for a goal past Soviet goalkeeper Vladimir Myshkin (C) as his teammates Sergei Makarov (top) and Zinetula Bilyaletdinov stand around during the Olympic semifinal match between the USA and the Soviet Union 22 February 1980 in Lake Placid at the Winter Olympic Games. The USA upset the defending champions 4-3 to advance to the final, where they will play Finland for the gold medal. (Photo credit should read STAFF/AFP/Getty Images)
LAKE PLACID, NY - FEBRUARY 22: Goaltender Jim Craig of United States Olympic Hockey team jump with jubilation after the United States beat the Soviet Union hockey team in the semi-finals hockey game February 22, 1980 during the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. The United States won the game 4-3. The game was dubbed The Miracle On Ice. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
22 Feb 1980: The USA Team celebrates their 4-3 victory over Russia in the semi-final of the Ice Hockey event at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, USA. The game was dubbed 'The Miracle on Ice'. The USA went on to win the gold medal by defeat
22 Feb 1980: General view of teams from the United States and the Soviet Union shaking hands after the semifinal hockey game during the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. The United States won the game 4-3. The game was dubbed The Miracle On Ice.
22 Feb 1980: The USA Team celebrates their 4-3 victory over Russia in the semi-final of the Ice Hockey competition of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, USA. The game was dubbed 'The Miracle on Ice', and the USA went on to win the gold medal
LAKE PLACID - FEBRUARY 22: The United States hockey team celebrates on the ice after defeating the Soviet Union team on February 22, 1980 during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. The win became known as the 'Miracle on Ice'. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LAKE PLACID, NY - FEB 22: Team USA celebrates their 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union in the semi-final Men's Ice Hockey event at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York on February 22, 1980. The game was dubbed 'the Miracle on Ice'. The USA went on to win the gold medal by defeating Finland 4-2 in the gold medal game. (Photo by Steve Powell /Getty Images)
8 Feb 2002: Captain Mike Eruzione and other members of the 1980 gold medal-winning USA men's hockey team hold up the torch before lighting the Olympic flame at the Opening Ceremony of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
1980 USA Olympic Hockey Team, winners for Best Sports Movie Award for 'Miracle' (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage for ESPN)
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"It was a long time ago, but for me it's different," said Eruzione, whose game-winning goal against the Soviet Union in the medal round at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics still sends chills down an awful lot of spines. "I deal with it so often it's hard to believe it's been 35 years. Every week I'm doing something or going somewhere that's associated with 1980."

With his inimitable deft touch, Hall of Fame coach Herb Brooks guided Eruzione and his fuzzy-faced teammates, college kids matched up against one of the best teams in hockey history. On Feb. 22, they triumphed with an improbable comeback.

The U.S. defeated the Soviets 4-3 on Eruzione's 30-foot shot midway through the third period to deprive them of what likely would have been their sixth gold medal in seven Winter Olympics, then clinched the gold by rallying past Finland 4-2.

"It doesn't feel like yesterday," said Buzz Schneider, a winger on the U.S. team and today involved in real estate in Minnesota. "But people remind me all the time. It's just part of who we are, I guess."

And it's become a significant part of the legacy of Lake Placid. One of only three places to host a Winter Olympics twice (St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Innsbruck, Austria, are the others), Lake Placid has capitalized on its Olympic heritage in a big way. According to the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority, which operates the winter sports venues in the region, nearly 2 million visitors, including thousands of youth hockey teams, go each year to this Adirondack Mountain village of 2,600.

It's difficult to imagine life around here without that Olympic heritage, personified by Lake Placid-born speed skater Jack Shea. He was the first U.S. double gold medalist in Winter Olympic history, winning twice in 1932 after reciting the Olympic oath in his shining moment at those first Lake Placid Games.

"The Olympic name itself lives on," said 80-year-old Jack LaDuke, who served as audio-visual director for the 1980 Winter Olympics. "People want to come to the Olympic village. They want to see where it happened. The Olympics itself is a big draw - the history of it."

There is excitement in the air again. Every surviving member of the hockey team - rugged defenseman Bob Suter died at 57 in September and coach Brooks was killed in a car accident in 2003 at age 66 - is coming back for a "Relive the Miracle" reunion on Saturday night at Herb Brooks Arena, the hockey rink they made famous.

Eruzione, who works in alumni relations at Boston University, and several teammates also are hosting a five-day fantasy camp beginning March 29 that so far has attracted more than 50 participants. And NBC plans to anchor its "Hockey Day in America" coverage from Lake Placid on Sunday and feature the team.

When the U.S. won that hockey gold in 1980, it was a time of world strife. The Soviet army had just invaded Afghanistan as the Cold War simmered, a group of Americans was being held hostage in Iran, the U.S. economy was hurting and President Jimmy Carter already had announced a U.S. boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow.

The sociopolitical impact of that era has since faded. The memory of that February night in Lake Placid has not.

Never will.

"We were just coming off the Vietnam War and there was a lot of anti-nationalistic mood and rhetoric in this country," said Ed Weibrecht, then-president of the Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Mirror Lake Inn with wife Lisa. "There wasn't a level of national pride that I think we have today.

"A tear almost comes to my eyes - that was so overwhelming," Weibrecht said. "At the end of the game, all you could hear was the chant: `USA! USA! USA!' And when the people poured out into the street, that's all you could hear for an hour up and down Main Street. People really, really became proud to be Americans again. It was incredible."

Some too young to remember have been touched, too.

Kimberly Kruckenberg, of Matthews, North Carolina, was 9 and hockey certainly wasn't on her radar then. It is now, and she and her husband, who both play the sport recreationally, will celebrate their 16th wedding anniversary with Eruzione and his buddies at the fantasy camp.

"Being in the arena and kind of going through history, to be able to watch them experience it, kind of relive it almost, was an opportunity we couldn't pass up," Kimberly said. "I probably won't stop smiling. I'll be sitting there in awe, being able to be where they were."

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