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Past and present stars celebrate 100-day countdown

Wednesday, 11.04.2009 / 12:50 PM / All-Access Vancouver

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

"It's pretty nostalgic. It gives you a little bit of a glimpse on what the Games may be like as far as kids looking up to you and some of the camaraderie that you have amongst Team USA."
-- David Backes

NEW YORK -- The United States Olympic Committee celebrated the start of the 100-day countdown to the Winter Olympics by bringing some of the country's top athletes of past and present to Rockefeller Center on Wednesday.

Thousands of adults and children congregated on the midtown Manhattan landmark to show their Olympic spirit during a gala that featured booths where people could simulate competing in a biathlon, a high-flying trampoline show that started well before most people had their first cup of morning coffee and a slew of Olympic greats.

St. Louis Blues right wing and U.S. team hopeful David Backes was on hand, along with 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team members Mike Eruzione, Jim Craig and Steve Janaszak. Bill Cleary, who was part of the gold-medal winning ice hockey team in 1960, also was there.

"It's pretty nostalgic," Backes said of the kickoff party. "It gives you a little bit of a glimpse on what the Games may be like as far as kids looking up to you and some of the camaraderie that you have amongst Team USA. It's been an experience and we just started the day early this morning."

One of the highlights was a youth hockey clinic run by Eruzione. Children from the Ice Hockey in Harlem program stepped onto The Ice Skating Rink at Rockefeller Center with Eruzione, who scored the winning goal in the landmark game against the Soviets in 1980 and eventually won a gold medal.

It had to be a treat for the kids, right?

"He had no idea who I was," the self-deprecating Eruzione said of one of the children.

Ice Hockey in Harlem is a non-profit, community-based organization for youths that uses hockey to promote academic achievement, responsibility, teamwork and good character. To hear Eruzione talk about 6-year-old Christian Vargas, it's not a bad way for a child to have good time, too.

"There was this one kid, Christian. I wish everybody could've saw his face," Eruzione said. "He smiled the whole time he was on the ice. And he's learning how to play, you could tell, but he was the happiest kid of all the guys. This kid was smiling whenever he was out there. It was awesome. It was really nice to see."

All the guys who were on the ice weren't all guys.

Sydney Kinder, 14, was one of the few girls enjoying the clinic Wednesday morning. The self-proclaimed offensive defenseman was beaming while talking about the experience of taking the ice with Olympic legends, even though she was quick to admit she was barely old enough to remember Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch.

"I think I heard of him," she said of the soon-to-be Hall-of-Fame blueliner.

Kinder said she dreams of getting a chance to play for the U.S. women's team someday, but she's also setting her sights a little higher. And Penguins star Sidney Crosby might want to watch his back.

"I've got my eye on the NHL," said Kinder, a Rangers fan whose favorite player is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. "Sidney will be the second-best Sidney in the NHL."

Backes and the group of Olympic heroes also made an appearance on NBC's "Today" show, skating with co-host Meredith Vieira. Craig and Vladimir Myshkin, the Russian goalie who replaced Vladislav Tretiak after the first period of the "Miracle on Ice" game, spent time together, as well.

It's easy to see the difference between the hype for the 2010 Games and the Olympics of 30 years ago.

"It just tells you how far the Olympic Games have come, because this never would've happened in '79 or '80," Eruzione said. "It's great for all the athletes to meet some of the Olympians and the whole concept of what they're doing here is great."

Contact Dave Lozo at dlozo@nhl.com