Herald Journal Columns
Feb. 13, 2006, Herald Journal / Enterprise Dispatch

First “Miracle on Ice” for the hockey purist

By Matt Kane

As I was watching the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks Monday night (Yes, there is still hockey on television. You just have to look for it), I started to channel surf during the second intermission.

Much to my delight I found something interesting.

ESPN Classic was airing “First Miracle: The 1960 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team.”

So, naturally, as an ex-high school hockey player in the State of Hockey, I was hooked.

The show gave me a look back at what the true intention of the Olympic movement really was.

A healthy competition between amateur – I stress amateur – athletes glowing with pride for the country each represented.

A prime example of the deflated meaning of the Olympic Games today came in the Calgary/San Jose game I flipped back to during commercials. The announcers were talking about the players from each team that would skate for their native countries in the Turin Olympics, currently underway.

And both broadcasters questioned the withdrawal of Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff from the Finland national team. Kiprusoff sited a hip injury as the reason.

“It is in the best interest of the Calgary Flames that I use this opportunity to ensure I am totally recovered for the NHL playoff drive,” the goalie told the Calgary Flames website.

Really? So, all the other 158 NHL players are doing a disservice to their teams by playing in Turin for the next two weeks. And if you are so worried about the playoff run, Miikka, why were you playing against the Sharks Monday night?

But, actually, I am happy to hear guys like Kiprusoff and Vancouver Canucks captain Marcus Naslund – groin injury – pull out of the Olympics. This backs up my belief that only amateur players should be allowed to suit up in the Red, White and Blue for team USA, and every other color for the other countries represented at the Games.

It would be hard to imagine guys like Mike Eruzione, Jim Craig, Neal Brotten and Dave Christian backing away from the 1980 Olympics because of a sore hip. Or John Mayasich, Jack McCartan, Roger Christian and brother Billy Christian (Dave’s dad) doing the same 20 years earlier.

All of the above were college kids when they played for the United States, so none of them had multi-million dollar contracts to worry about if they should get hurt.

In fact, only two players from the 1960 team went on to play in the NHL. (The 1980 team sent 13 players to the NHL.) All these players wanted to do was win gold for their country.

And they did.

Not in a state of the art arena with Taj Mahal dressing rooms, but on an open-air ice rink with a roof over it. It’s neat, when watching the one-camera CBS footage from the hockey games, to see the shadows and bright sunlight spread across the ice service. It caused a flashback to my youth days playing on the Lions outdoor rink in Sauk Centre. When was the last time Brian Rolston shot a slap shot with the sun in his eyes?

In the documentary of the 1960 team USA, captain Jack Kirrane was asked if he went to the White House after winning the gold medal.

Paraphrasing: “The white house in St. Paul. The one my dad owned,” he said. “I was back at work Monday at 8 a.m.”

The stories of these guys forfeiting months of work and service in the army for tryouts and exhibition games and then two more weeks for the Olympic Games in Squaw Valley, Calif., makes me laugh when I think of what today’s Olympic hockey players have to give up.

Their Cadillac Escalade for two weeks.

For Kirrane, his time spent with the US national team cost him a promotion as a firefighter.

One player, Tommy Williams, didn’t receive his gold medal until after the Games were over. Kirrane explained what happened in an article on NHL.com.

“I had a fistful of medals and was looking around for Tommy Williams to give him his, but he and his family had already gone home to Minnesota.” Kirrane said. “They had a long drive ahead of them and so they wanted to get started.”

It’s doubtful Williams’ long drive was taken in an Escalade.

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