Tag Archives: olympic hockey

Remembering the Miracle on Ice

We all remember where we were when tragedy happened.  No one can forget where they were when John or Bobby Kennedy or the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated. Likewise few can forget where they were when the Space Shuttles Challenger or Columbia, blew up or where they were during the the events of September 11th 2001.

Tragedy we remember well, but good news not so much.

But, despite the fact that good news is not always as memorable as tragedy there are some good news stories that make a lasting mark.

Back in 1980 there was one of those sentinel events. I am sure that if you were alive back then that you remember it well.

I am speaking about the victory of the US hockey team, Team USA over the Soviet team at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid New York. Some might be prone to dismiss this as merely a sporting event with little relevance, but the context of an event makes all the difference. English historian and military theorist Colin Gray wrote “Wars are not free floating events, sufficient unto themselves as objects for study and understanding. Instead, they are entirely the product of their contexts.” 

I like what Gray said, but I think that we can expand it to other historical events, not just war. If this was just a stand alone hockey game with would have little meaning. There are times when underdogs win championships and defeat heavily favored perennial champions. Most of those times, except for the devoted fans these events pass into relative obscurity and pop-up from time to time on an ESPN special. This event is much more important than a remarkable sporting event.

080624-gaslines-hmed-4p.grid-6x2

Back in 1980 times were tough in the United States, recession, double digit inflation, 20% interest rates, a gas crisis, as well as the residual effects of the Vietnam War created a specter of anxiety for many people.

Even as the domestic economic lurched from crisis to crisis the United State was reeling  and the humiliation that the Iranians were inflicting on the United States on a daily basis following the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran and a seemingly unending hostage crisis. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was yet another thumb in the eye of the United States.

So as the United States prepared to host the Winter Games at Lake Placid New York there was not much to cheer about. The country was mired in political crisis as the sitting President Jimmy Carter was continually at odds with his own Democratic Party and to all appeared weak in dealing with the Soviets, their satellites or the Iranians. When Cater made his “malaise” speech in July 1979 the reaction around the country and world was I was less than positive. I was in the UK touring as a spotlight tech with a  singing group and the reaction of the Brits and other Europeans was ridicule of the President, and pity for the United States. It seemed to many that the United States had hit bottom and was not coming up any time soon.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fztlLwgSFCg (highlights and live call)

In 1980 Team USA was nothing more than a bunch of American college kids playing teams of Warsaw pact professional all-stars from powerhouse teams such as the Soviet Red Army team.  The Soviets had dominated international hockey since 1956 and with the exception of the US Gold Medal team of 1960 had won every Olympic gold since that time. In 1980 the Soviets were once again expected to win Olympic Gold.

When it came to the American hockey team no one expected much, with the exception of head coach Herb Brooks.  Brooks and his collection of college players, a number of whom would later become stars in the NHL, began their time together inauspiciously conducting a 61 game exhibition tour against teams from around the world.  On February 9th in the final game leading up to the Olympics  the Americans faced the Soviets at Madison Square Garden and were blown out by a score of 10-3 by the Soviet team.  In the lead up to the Olympics the Soviets toured North America and played against NHL teams. The Soviet team went  5-3-1 against their NHL teams.  The previous year a Soviet team had shut out an NHL All-Star team 6-0.

When the Olympic completion began the Soviets as was expected dominated their opponents in the preliminary round going 5-0 and outscoring their opponents 51-10.  The United States surprised everyone tying Sweden 2-2 with a last minute goal and then stunning a highly favored Czech team 7-3 before defeating Norway, Romania and West Germany to advance to the medal round.

Brooks practiced the team hard as they prepared for the Soviets who they were scheduled to meet in the opening round of the medal competition. A loss for the Americans would force them to play for Bronze and no one expected the Americans to defeat the Soviets. Yet when the day came the Lake Placid Field House was packed with 8500 fans decked out in Red White and Blue, American flags displayed everywhere and the crowd spontaneously singing “God Bless America.”  Unfortunately because the Soviets refused to allow a later start time the game was not televised live nor broadcast live on the radio in the States.

On February 22nd I had finished work making and rolling pizza dough at Shakey’s Pizza in Stockton, went home showered and then got in my car to head over to Judy’s house.  On my way over I was listening to the radio when ABC radio broke in to air the last minute of the game live. I was listening as Al Michaels made the famous call “Eleven seconds, you’ve got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

I could not believe it and was screaming with joy and wild abandon in the car. As soon as I got to Judy’s I went in and told her and her parents When the game came on I watched it with undivided attention and to this day I cannot forget that night.  The Americans had beaten the vaunted Soviet team 4-3 and would go on to defeat Finland in the Gold medal game 4-2.  The next day they were guests at the White House and after that the team broke up.  13 players would go on to NHL careers, Brooks would lead the 2002 Team USA to a Silver in 2002 before being killed in a car crash in 2003.

The Soviet people and their news media were stunned by the loss and the fact that the Soviet Team won Silver by defeating Sweden 9-2 the team had lost its luster.  While it remained dominant until the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1990 it was the end of an era.  Today many Russian players star in the NHL and live in the United States even after their careers.

That team and its members did something that no one expected in defeating the Soviets and going on to win the Gold medal against the Finns. No one could have expected the effect on the country either. It was a miracle, a miracle on ice.

Thirty-five years later the triumph of Team USA against all odds on that night is remembered as an event nearly unequaled in sports history as well as contemporary American history.  That game actually marked a return of pride to the country after a decade of discontent, defeat and discouragement.

Some people, especially those on the political right in their Reagan myth, mistakenly give Ronald Reagan the credit for turning around the attitude of the country in the 1980s. I don’t think that they could be more wrong. It wasn’t Reagan or any other politician, it was the 1980 American Olympic hockey team that made us believe again.

That is why this event meant so much more than a a game.

I don’t know about you, but I still believe in miracles.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Finishing Second…Padre Steve Muses on Winning and Losing

“Without losers, where would the winners be?” Casey Stengel

Upset Win for Team USA

Charlie Brown once said “Winning isn’t everything, but losing isn’t anything.” I am one of the most competitive people that I know, I hate to lose and that attitude extends to almost everything I do. While I have a good attitude and don’t at least consciously try to gloat when I do well I also am never happy when I know that I could have done better.  As a kid I remember reading NHL Hockey great Stan Mikita’s book “I Play to Win” and while early on in life I took things less seriously than I should have I never forgotten that little book.

The Agony of Defeat Team USA Women “win” the Silver Medal

The most disappointing thing for me is to come close to winning it all and falling short due to my own mistakes or just simply having been beaten by someone better.  Since I am not the most gifted of athletes and had to learn the hard way about doing well academically I am one of those guys who have to work doubly hard to do well.  When I was in high school I played football for a year before moving on to be a trainer for the team.  I had never played organized tackle football before and probably should have stayed with baseball but I went out for the team anyway and through sheer determination and refusal to quit stayed on the team.  I didn’t get much playing time in, only a few plays in each of the last three games of the season but still finished the season.  At the team banquet after the season I was named most inspirational player. Now most inspirational is not about being the best or even good.  I really don’t know why I got it but evidently I must have inspired someone.  I realized after the season that I had no legitimate place on the football field and since I was the smallest and one of the slowest individuals in a sport where size, speed and power are paramount I took it all as a life lesson.

Canadian Celebration

In college I did not live up to my potential, I came out with a 2.8 something GPA.  However in the classes that I put the effort into I aced, those that I sluffed off because I thought they were boring I blew with a poor attitude and lazy performance.  There were also times that I overreached and had to sacrifice grades in order to get the credits I need for graduation, this happened my senior year when I took 21 hours at Cal State Northridge, 4 at UCLA had a job and was in the National Guard. Threatened with incompletes I negotiate to get out with low grades and not have to take the classes again.  Not a smart way to go, but once again a learning point taken.

No Medal for the Russians

In seminary I worked my ass off both in class, with more than one job and serving in the National Guard. That was the hardest I have ever worked. We had lost our house in the real estate meltdown of 1988-89 and Judy was sick through most of seminary.  When it looked like due to financial considerations that I would have to drop out for a semester I called a “prayer line” of a major TV ministry. Some “prayer partner” at the Terrible Blond Network (TBN) had the never to tell me that I must not be called to ministry because “otherwise God would be blessing you.” Somehow that angered and motivated me to get back in the game and finish, I just needed something to motivate me and despite many other challenges I finished and finished well, with a 3.5 GPA in a 92 semester hour program always working at least a full time job as well as being a National Guard officer.  Despite this I was not satisfied as I thought that I could have done better in several classes which would have probably had me finish with a 3.8 GPA. In classes that I scored less than an “A” I felt like I had let Judy as well as those helping me down, and we got a lot of help the last two years of school from people at work and church.  Since that time I have worked very hard in every academic endeavor as well as in physical conditioning.  Since I entered the Navy I have judged and score less than an “Outstanding” on the Navy RPT or Class One on the Marine PFT as personal failure.  I may be almost 50 years old competing against myself as well as trying to keep pace with young guys but I hate not to do my utmost to excel.  My biggest disappointment coming back from Iraq as that physically and emotionally I have not been at my best. That is changing and I hope that Adolph passes on his own so I don’t require surgery that could set me back in my physical conditioning program.   At least emotionally and spiritually I am getting things back together and academically I finished a Masters in Military History with honors passing my comprehensive exams with distinction and keeping a 4.0 through the entire program.

Glad to get the Bronze, Team Finland

The past few nights while laid up in pain from the damned Kidney stone which I have decided to name Adolf Von GrosseSchmertzen (Adolf of the Big Pain) I ended up watching a lot of the Olympics especially Hockey and Speed Skating.  I think this is because I played hockey for a couple of years in junior high school.  What impressed me was what used to be called on ABC’s Wide World of Sports “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

Redemption for Bodie Miller

While watching these events I again was impressed as just how close the margin is for world class athletes and teams between winning and losing.  I wonder how anyone could call any of these athletes’ losers or as in the case of some countries like South Korea have fans send hate mail to athletes who don’t win it all. I could feel for the Dutch speed skater who followed his coach’s directions and ended up disqualified even though he had won the event handily and would have done so without the misdirection. Likewise the angst of Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso whose ill timed crash and stoppage caused Vonn to not finish and Mancuso to finish 8th in an event that they have dominated.  Then to see the winner’s who had never won before or failed to live up to expectations in previous games like Bodie Miller who came back from a personal worst at Torino where though heavily favored did not medal. In this Olympics it was great to see the joy on his face when he won his gold medal.  There were so many other individual performances that were memorable where athletes experienced triumph and tragedy often exhibiting tremendous grace and sportsmanship even in defeat.  From the treacherous Bobsled, Luge and Skeleton track where a young Georgian luger died before the completion and a heavily favored German sled flipped, the chaotic short track speed skating, to the grueling Nordic events and the individual pressure on the figure skaters and ice dancers it was something to watch.

Less than Gracious in Defeat Evgeni Plushenko

When American figure skater Evan Lysacek defeated favored Russian Evgeni Plushenko his joy as well as magnanimity in victory were in stark contrast to Plushenko who bad mouthed Lysacek and then claimed a “Platinum medal” on his website.  It is hard to lose, I guess Plushenko will have “the sorest loser who ever lived” placed on his tombstone.  Then there was the beautiful performance of Joannie Rochette of Canada in Women’s Figure Skating who took to the ice just days after the death of her mother and won the Bronze Medal.

Overcoming the Death of Her Mother Joannie Rochette takes Bronze

However for me the most memorable moments will be the Hockey tournament in both the mens and womens competition.  The shock of the Canadian men losing for the first time in Olympic completion to the United States has set up a possible rematch for the Gold medal; while the vaunted Russians were manhandled by the same Canadian team and eliminated from the completion not even reach the quarter-finals.  To see the dream of the Swedish women end in sudden death to the Finns was one of the most poignant examples of the thrill of victory for the underdog Finns who had not medaled since 1998 and the devastated faces of the Swedes some of whom sat on the ice in tears while a fear meters away the Finns were celebrating.  But the hardest was for the American women who lost to the Canadians 2-0 in the Gold medal game. Finishing second is always difficult because unlike others you always wonder and have in your mind the “what if” and “why” that make of the difference between victory and defeat.  That goes for the Olympics, the Super Bowl, World Series, World Cup, High School  or Little League championship.  Second is the hardest place to finish.  Watching the medal ceremony after the Gold Medal game it was a study in contrasting emotions.

Disqualified for Listening to Coach…Ouch

First were the Finns who had upset the Swedes in the Bronze medal game in sudden death overtime.  They showed elation even though they finished third.  Then there were the Canadians flush with victory on home ice, once again joy.  Finally there was the American team, the defending World Champion team still in shock and showing the disappointment of their loss while trying to be gracious in defeat.  As they received their medals you could see that this was not what they came to Vancouver for, they had come to win and finished second.

Evan Lysacek Wins the Men’s Gold

Now the Canadians are great people and great Allies.  They have stood with us for years and despite enduring a lot of ugliness by various American media types they are our friends.  We have two Canadian exchange officer chaplains in our Pastoral Care residency program and I wish I could get them into our Navy. The Canadian Hockey teams sent a letter to their troops deployed in harm’s way.  One of our Canadians sent a copy to me and it really stuck me as something very special.   I place it for you here:

February 5, 2010

To OUR Troops,

As we get ready to represent Canada at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Februaryand March, we wanted to take a minute to let each and every one of you know how much of an inspiration you will be in our quest for three gold medals in the coming months.

People throw out words like war and battle way too often when speaking about sports such as hockey.,,As athletes, we know that what we do for our country can never measure up to your contributions ‐ the sacrifice and dedication that our armed forces show on a daily basis.

When we take to the ice, rest assured that we will have you in our thoughts and prayers. We are so proud to be Canadians, and owe so much of what we have here to you, the Canadian military.

We will do our best to represent you well in competition, and look forward to a day in the very near future when you will return home safely in Canada, and all Canadians can thank you in person.

All the best,

Jean Labonté                      Scott Niedermayer                     Hayley Wickenheiser

Captain                                      Captain                                       Captain

Sledge hockey team             Men’s hockey team                  Women’s hockey team

I thought that the way the Canadian hockey teams did this for their soldiers was really great, they are a classy organization.

Anyone who has ever finished second, or lost in a playoff or championship game can understand. I’ve been on a number of teams that have finished second or lost a playoff game after winning a league or conference. That is far more emotionally difficult than being on a team that is terrible, in fact my best year hitting in either baseball or softball came when I played on the worst team that I ever played on.  That season ended when I was plowed over at home plate trying to put a tag on a charging runner and breaking my right wrist.

Over the years I have come to handle defeat better.  I still don’t like it but I refused to be a bad sport by either dissing my competition or gloating.  I am up for promotion this year, of course it is a competition as not everyone will get promoted. I think my record is solid but you never know until the results are released.  When officers are “passed over” or “non-selected” they are often shunted aside by the institution and sometimes even by their colleagues.  In the past I have always tried to care for friends who were not selected and help them prepare for a second look or their grief at the end of their career.  I am fortunate, even if I a not selected I will be able to retire and count it all as a great career between two services.  Hopefully regardless of the outcome I will be gracious, although as Bill “Spaceman” Lee said: “People are too hung up on winning. I can get off on a really good helmet throw.”

So to all those who competed with all their hearts thank you.  You may not have won but you are all the best in the world at what you do. Maybe your example will inspire others to greatness in sports and life.

And to the rest of us, me included may we all strive to do our best and treat others well in the process.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Peace

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Do you believe in Miracles? Padre Steve Remembers the “Miracle on Ice”

We all remember where we were when tragedy happened.  No one can forget where they were when John or Bobby Kennedy or the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated. Likewise few can forget where they were when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up or the events of September 11th 2001.  However, in spite of the fact that good news is not always as memorable as tragedy there was a sentinel event by a group of unknown US college hockey players that if you were around back then you have likely never forgotten and probably remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when it took place.  Of course I am speaking about the victory of the US hockey team, Team USA over the Soviet team at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid New York.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGACsSW4Iqw&feature=related (Al Michaels Call)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fztlLwgSFCg (highlights and live call)

Thirty years ago today I was a college sophomore in California.  I had grown up with hockey, when we were stationed in Oak Harbor Washington as a child from 1965 through the end of 1969 I grew up with the weekly broadcast of “Hockey Night in Canada” on the Canadian Broadcasting Network.  When we moved to Long Beach my dad would take my brother and me to see Los Angeles Kings games and then when we moved to Stockton to see the California Seals in Oakland.  While in Stockton I played in a youth hockey league for a couple of years playing defenseman, occasional right wing and for 4 games goalie when our goalkeeper was injured.   As a goalkeeper I went 2 for 2 in those four games and can tell you that there is almost nothing as frightening as having a 2 on 1 or one or two man breakaway coming at you full bore.  Goalies are a special breed and I don’t think that I would want that kind of pressure on me to make a living, combat and life and death is hard enough…I don’t need that.

So hockey to a lesser extent than baseball has been a part of my life for a very long time.  I remember watching my first Winter Olympics when I was in Stockton back in 1972.  Back then Team USA was nothing more than a bunch of American college kids playing teams of Warsaw pact professional all-stars from powerhouse teams such as the Soviet Red Army team.  The Soviets dominated the game in the since 1956 and with the exception of the US Gold Medal team of 1960 had won every Olympic gold and in 1980 were once again expected to win Olympic Gold.

Back in 1980 times were tough in the United States, double digit inflation 20% interest rates a gas crisis, recession, residual effects of the Vietnam War and the humiliation that the Iranians were inflicting on the United States on a daily basis following the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran by “students” and the seemingly unending hostage crisis.  The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was yet another thumb in the eye of the United States.  As the United States prepared to host the Winter Games at Lake Placid New York there was not much to cheer about.  The country was mired in political crisis as the sitting President Jimmy Carter was continually at odds with his own Democratic Party and to all appeared weak in dealing with the Soviets, their satellites or the Iranians.  When he made his “malaise” speech in July 1979 I was in the UK touring as a spotlight tech with a Christian singing group and the reaction by the Brits and other Europeans was ridicule of the President and pity for the United States.  The United States had hit bottom.

When it came to the hockey team no one expected much with the exception of head coach Herb Brooks.  Brooks and his collection of college players, a number of whom would later become stats in the NHL, began their time together inauspiciously conducting a 61 game exhibition tour against teams from around the world.  In the final game on February 9th 1980 the Americans faced the Soviets at Madison Square Garden and were handily beaten by a score of 10-3 by the Soviet team.  The Soviets on the other hand had enjoyed nothing but success against NHL teams with Soviet teams going 5-3-1 against their NHL counterparts.  The previous year a Soviet team had shut out an NHL All-Star team 6-0.

When the Olympic completion began the Soviets as was expected dominated their opponents in the preliminary round going 5-0 and outscoring their opponents 51-10.  The United States surprised everyone tying Sweden 2-2 with a last minute goal and then stunning a highly favored Czech team 7-3 before defeating Norway, Romania and West Germany to advance to the medal round.  Brooks practiced the team hard as they prepared for the Soviets who they were scheduled to meet in the opening round of the medal competition. A loss for the Americans would force them to play for Bronze and no one expected the Americans to defeat the Soviets. Yet when the day came the Lake Placid Field House was packed with 8500 fans decked out in Red White and Blue, American flags displayed everywhere and the crowd spontaneously singing “God Bless America.”  Unfortunately because the Soviets refused to allow a later start time the game was not televised live nor broadcast live on the radio in the States.

On February 22nd I had finished work making and rolling pizza dough at Shakey’s Pizza in Stockton, went home showered and then got in my car to head over to Judy’s house.  On my way over I was listening to the radio when ABC radio broke in to air final few seconds of the game live, as Al Michaels made the famous call “Eleven seconds, you’ve got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!” I could not believe it and was screaming in the car, as soon as I got to Judy’s I went in and told her and her parents When the game came on I watched it with undivided attention and to this day I cannot forget that night.  The Americans had beaten the vaunted Soviet team 4-3 and would go on to defeat Finland in the Gold medal game 4-2.  The next day they were guests at the White House and after that the team broke up.  13 players would go on to NHL careers, Brooks would lead the 2002 Team USA to a Silver in 2002 before being killed in a car crash in 2003.

The Soviet people and their news media were stunned by the loss and the fact that the Soviet Team won Silver by defeating Sweden 9-2 the team had lost its luster.  While it remained dominant until the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1990 it was the end of an era.  Today many Russian players star in the NHL and live in the United States even after their careers.

Thirty years later the triumph of Team USA against all odds on that night is remembered as an event nearly unequaled in sports history as well as contemporary American history.  That game actually marked a return of pride to the country after a decade of discontent, defeat and discouragement.  That team and its members did something that no one expected in defeating the Soviets and going on to win the Gold medal against the Finns.  No one could have expected the effect on the country either. It was a miracle, a miracle on ice.

I don’t know about you, but I still believe in miracles.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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