Miracle On Ice: The story never gets old
Every five and 10 years, what Sports Illustrated proclaimed the "greatest sports moment of the 20th century," becomes a story again. On Saturday, Feb. 21, in Lake Placid, N.Y., the 1980 USA men's Olympic hockey team will celebrate the 35th annive...
Every five and 10 years, what Sports Illustrated proclaimed the "greatest sports moment of the 20th century," becomes a story again.
On Saturday, Feb. 21, in Lake Placid, N.Y., the 1980 USA men's Olympic hockey team will celebrate the 35th anniversary of its "Miracle on Ice" victory over the vaunted Soviet National Team during the Cold War and its subsequent march to the gold medal.
All living Miracle on Ice players, including Dr. Bill Baker of Brainerd, are tentatively scheduled to be in Lake Placid for the first time since the 1980 Winter Games. The reunion weekend will include a "Relive the Miracle" celebration in the Herb Brooks Arena at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, the same arena in which the semifinal game was played. Sunday, Feb. 22, marks 35 years to the day of the USA's 4-3 win over the hated Big Red Machine.
The weekend will also include a tribute to defenseman Bob Suter, whose jersey will be raised to the arena rafters. Suter, 57, died of a heart attack in September of 2014. It will include team members offering their perspective on the historic event and will utilize original photos, audio and video footage from the 1980 Winter Games.
In addition, NBC's Hockey Day in America will broadcast live from Lake Placid on Sunday.
"I haven't seen some of the guys for a long time," Baker said in an interview at his oral and maxillofacial surgery office in south Brainerd. "I don't know the last time I saw Mark Johnson. He's been busy coaching (the University of Wisconsin women's hockey team). I'm looking forward to that.
"It's always fun to see the guys. We're missing one. It's going to happen again, you just don't know when. That's why we've got to enjoy it whenever we can."
Baker's defensive partner, Dave Christian, may have put it best on the website www.whiteface.com , which has been promoting the event:
"To be able to share our story with fans has always been a pleasure, and given the 35th anniversary is in 2015, this seems like a great time to reach as many people as possible," Christian said on the website. "Honestly, sharing the stories never gets old, because it always ends with a smile on someone's face."
Baker said he doesn't often reminisce on the team's accomplishment but he's always happy to talk about 1980 when the subject is brought up.
"It was just such a neat thing to be a part of but it doesn't change what you do every day," he said. "I still get up at 3 in the morning and drive to Bemidji (the location of one of his offices) then drive back after work. It doesn't define you, but it was a wonderful thing.
"I'm happy to talk about it it's just that time flies and here we are 35 years later."
Baker said he has not seen the recently released documentary "Red Army" which tells the story of the great Soviet teams of the 1970s and 1980s and their fabled Green Unit that included center Igor Larionov, wings Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov, and defensemen Alexei Kasatonov and Slava Fetisov.
But he did watch ESPN's 30-for-30 documentary "Of Miracles and Men" which offers the Soviet's view of what happened in 1980.
"(The Russians) were a real enigma," Baker said. "You didn't know where they came from, what made them tick. They showed up, they marched in together, they marched out together. Now we find out these guys were guys like us but they were in the Army and had a different set of things they needed to do to get there.
"Guys they interviewed like Fetisov - obviously he was a great player - but we didn't know his background. We knew some of the other players because they had played against the NHL. We knew who they were, but we didn't know how they trained. It was just things you heard."
In the semifinal game, the Americans scored twice in the first period against the Soviets' Vladislav Tretiak who was considered the best goaltender in hockey in 1980. Tretiak was mysteriously pulled by coach Viktor Tikhonov and replaced by Vladimir Myshkin to start the second period.
"They assumed they were going to score. They always did," Baker said. "I saw them play teams when they wanted to turn it up a notch they would turn it up.
"If you watched the Europeans practice, as a North American player back then, you wouldn't think you belonged on the same ice sheet. They were just so talented."
The Soviets went ahead 3-2 in the second period and maintained that lead until Johnson tied the game at 8:39 of the third. Mike Eruzione scored with 10 minutes left to give the USA its 4-3 lead.
"When Eruzione got the goal to go ahead, I'm thinking 'Oh boy here we go,'" Baker said. "The Russians always turned things up a notch and boy they did. They turned it up for the last 10 minutes and we were just on our heels. We couldn't get the puck out of our own end.
"I always said it was like the ice was tilted. We couldn't get the puck out. We couldn't get it past the red line but we hung on."
Suter was the team's first player to pass away. Coach Herb Brooks died in a car accident in 2003. Baker said Suter was a "great guy" but he "absolutely hated him" when Suter played for Wisconsin and Baker played defense for Minnesota.
"He was always in your face, chirping at you, giving you a face rub," Baker said, "but when you played on a team with him you just loved him.
"He was one of those guys who would do whatever it took to be on the team. I was surprised. He wouldn't have been the first person I thought would have some health issues.
"A lot of guys on the team I never thought I could like. In tryouts I thought 'There's no way. Oh my God. How am I going to do this?' But by the end of the year you would go through a wall for them."
In 1980, the USA team consisted of collegians and amateurs. Unless the Olympic format changes - NHL pros now play in the Olympics - there will never be another Miracle on Ice.
"They don't sneak up on anybody," Baker said. "It's a whole different format, and a different time. The country was ripe for something to hang on to. It just was perfect."
'Miracle On Ice' exhibit
• The Crow Wing County Historical Society/Museum in Brainerd features a Bill Baker Hockey Exhibit. Museum hours are 10 a.m. through 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark .