April 06, 2020

Former USA team star glad NHLers in Games

In 1980, Mike Eruzione scored the goal that became immortalized in the annals of United States hockey.

Eruzione scored the game-winning goal as a young U.S. team, with nine of its 20 players still having college eligibility, shocked the hockey world with a 4-3 victory over the powerful Soviet Union in the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.

The U.S. went on to win the gold medal. Teams representing the Soviet Union had won the previous four Olympic golds and, following the U.S. triumph in 1980, went on to win the next three.

The 1998 Olympics will take on a new look in terms of hockey when NHL players are introduced into The Games.

Eruzione said he was reluctant to accept the idea of NHLers in the Olympics at first “because I know what we experienced and what a great thrill it was to come from behind and accomplish so much. By allowing pros, I thought it would take away a lot of dreams from young kids.”

But Eruzione has had a change of heart, saying the fact everybody is going to have the opportunity to see the best players in the world “will make it a great tournament for hockey.”

However, he doesn’t think the Olympics are the best forum for such an event.

“I’d like to see them take the World Cup of Hockey and make it bigger and better where they’d have a month or two to prepare for the tournament instead of just three or four days or two weeks,” said Eruzione. “People are going to see great hockey at the Olympics but if they had more time to prepare, they’d see unbelievable hockey.”

He feels under the current format, the team that “comes together the quickest might be the one that wins the gold medal, not necessarily the one with the most talent.”

In discussing the Olympics with Ben Smith, the former Northeastern University coach who is now the head coach of the U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team, Eruzione said Smith shed some interesting light on the subject.

“He said when we won the gold medal, the best American players were on the Olympic team,” said Eruzione, the director of development for Boston University athletics and an administrative assistant for the hockey team. “There weren’t any NHL players who were American except maybe Mark Howe, who was with Detroit at the time.”

Eruzione is proud of the impact the gold medal had on U.S. hockey but he also said the gold medal captured by the 1960 team was equally significant “because we took from what they did in 1960 and made it into something special in 1980.

“We opened the eyes of a lot of people, two-fold. First, we proved that Americans could play and, second, we showed that college players could play,” said the 43-year-old Eruzione, a Boston University graduate.

“Now we’re a country that has to be reckoned with in the sport of ice hockey,” added Eruzione. “Nobody believed it in 1980 and we’ve kept getting better and better, not so much skill-wise but depth-wise. We are so much deeper now. The talent pool is so much better. Look at the college game and how many great American kids are playing the game now. What we started in 1980, these players have brought to a new level.”

Eruzione, who does some fund-raising work for the U.S. Olympic Committee and for some of their sponsors, said 1980 seems like yesterday at times “because I have to deal with it so often. But when I try to play, I realize it was a long time ago.”

One of the challenges for college coaches today is competing for players against Major Junior teams. The Major Junior coaches get to begin recruiting players at a much earlier age than the American college coaches.

However, Eruzione isn’t worried about it taking a toll on college hockey.

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