LAKE PLACID, NY – It doesn't take long to get the vibe here at Herb Brooks Arena, the rink where the Miracle on Ice was crafted by a bunch of scrappy young American Olympians nearly 35 years ago.
First off, it's a grand old barn; they haven't made many fancy upgrades, but why bother when you have the original scoreboard still hanging at center ice and wooden bleachers as the upper deck?
Look out the windows of the concourse and you'll see the Olympic ski jump to one side in the distance and the bobsled run in the other direction.
This week's event is the Team USA National Junior Evaluation Camp, featuring America’s world junior hopefuls, but also squads from Canada, Sweden and Finland. Interestingly enough, it was the Finns who provided the final test for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team – the Russians were the villains of the semifinal. So even though none of the kids here were even close to being born back then (heck, I was four months old), the history crosses borders both generational and international.
“I've heard about it,” said goalie Juuse Saros, a Nashville Predators prospect. “I've seen the movie a couple times. It's nice for Finland.”
For me, the Miracle on Ice is intriguing because it happened at a very specific point in time that made it possible and that time cannot occur again. The heroes of that team, players such as Jim Craig and Mike Eruzione, never went on to huge NHL careers and those who had already made it didn't go to the Olympics back then. Canada's squad featured a dedicated national team that only boasted a couple future NHLers, such as an 18-year-old Glenn Anderson and defenseman Randy Gregg.
Cherry-pick stars from just a couple NHL teams from 1979-80 and history becomes much different: from the Islanders and Habs alone, the Canadians could have had a starting lineup of Guy Lafleur, Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier up front with Larry Robinson and Denis Potvin in front of Billy Smith in net. Even if you give the Americans Rod Langway, no preacher on Earth would bet on a Miracle then.
But you can't rewrite history and why would you want to? The Miracle on Ice helped usher in a new wave of American players whose stature rose to the point that they knocked off Canada at the 1996 World Cup – an event that itself inspired another generation of American talent.
And the uniqueness of the feat itself has no parallels. Perhaps the closest came when Belarus shocked Sweden at the 2002 Olympics, but there was no medal on the line there and it was a one-time event that ended a game later when Cinderella was stomped by the Canadians 7-1 in the semifinal. Plus, the game is so international now that powerhouses no longer discount a country such as Switzerland and even 2014 Olympic minnows Austria and Slovenia will feature big names such as Thomas Vanek, Michael Grabner and Anze Kopitar.
What will be interesting is to see what happens in 2018, when South Korea hosts the Winter Games. Will the NHL attend, when there is no home country with hockey interests to appease, where travel and TV times will be a North American nightmare? I'm sure the Russians will still break the Kontinental League schedule and send their best from back home, but most of the top talent from both North America and Northern Europe will be in the NHL. Would Canadians send a combination of juniors and overseas players? Would the Americans send a similar combination of vets playing in Europe and college kids? That would be something to see, but it's a long way off. Back here in Lake Placid, the memories of 1980 surround you and it's a pretty nice trip.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRyanKennedy.
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