In hindsight, it almost seems ridiculous. The best-loved American sporting moment of the 20th century wasn’t a Super Bowl, a World Series or a basketball championship. It was a hockey game, at a time when most people who lived outside driving distance of the Canadian border couldn’t care less about the sport.
It’s been 25 years since the United States Olympic hockey team shocked the sports world by defeating the team from the Soviet Union to win the gold medal in Lake Placid. It came at a time when America wasn’t feeling too good about itself, as U.S. hostages were being held in Iran and the U.S.
R. was invading Afghanistan. The effort by a group of mostly college kids, who teamed up to beat one of the greatest teams ever assembled, lifted the American spirit.
A silver anniversary is always a good time to look back, and Wayne Coffey does a fine job of covering what happened before, during and after that now-legendary hockey victory in his book, The Boys of Winter. Coffey uses something of a play-by-play of the contest as the basic storyline, but weaves in biographies of all the principals as he goes along. It’s a great way to catch up with everyone. Some are still in hockey, like Mark Johnson, a women’s coach at the University of Wisconsin. Then there’s Mike Eruzione, who has been essentially living off his game-winning goal against the Soviets by giving motivational speeches. The only person not around to tell his side of the story is coach Herb Brooks, who died in an auto accident in 2003 but is still well represented here.
Coffey sticks to the game once the Americans take the lead, and it’s thrilling to review those last 10 minutes that couldn’t go by quickly enough for everyone on this side of the ocean. Thinking about those closing moments is still good for some goose bumps. Those who know plenty about the so-called “Miracle on Ice” will learn something about how it happened, thanks to Coffey’s interviewing. But everyone will appreciate just what this team accomplished after reading The Boys of Winter. Budd Bailey works in the sports department of the Buffalo News.