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Craig sees magic in U.S. Olympic squad

Monday, 02.22.2010 / 6:26 PM / All-Access Vancouver

By Bob Condor - NHL.com Editor-in-Chief

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Craig sees magic in U.S. Olympic squad
Jim Craig, who backstopped the U.S. to a "Miracle" gold medal at the 1980 Olympics, sees something special in the 2010 U.S. team
VANCOUVER -- Some things never change. That would include 1980 Olympic "Miracle on Ice" goalie Jim Craig being asked or reminded of his team's underdog-of-underdog victories against the biggest of bigs -- Russia at Lake Placid.

The Russian game was 30 years ago, Feb. 22, 1980, and practically every American old enough to form a memory won't forget Craig searching stands to wave to his father after the game. We all knew Craig had lost his mother in the year before the Olympic tournament.

"I have heard from sons who weren't talking to their fathers and started again," Craig said Monday in Vancouver, appearing at an impressive all-chalk U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame art exhibit sponsored by Allstate Insurance Company. "I talk to women who were young girls at the time and dreamed about playing hockey. Now look at the USA women's hockey team (which beat Sweden, 8-1, Monday to advance to an expected gold-medal match with Canada)."

And some things are never the same again. That would be Craig receiving an invitation to a party here sponsored by the Russian hockey federation. Plus, in 1997, Craig became fast friends with Russia hockey great Vladimir Lutchenko, a stay-at-home defensemen who won Olympic gold medals in 1972 and 1976 (beating the U.S. by scores of 7-2 and 6-2 in those tournaments). Lutchenko moved south of Boston to start hockey camps, and a cook at Craig's local rink suggested the two Olympians should meet.

"We coached our kids together for 10 years," said Craig. "Vladimir is a beautiful man. He has e-mailed me here at these Olympics saying we should get together with our wives."

Craig attended Sunday's U.S. win against Canada, sitting at ice level behind Ryan Miller's goal for two of the three periods, thanks to tickets provide by USA Hockey. Miller family members and friends were nearby and explained the shamrock on the American goalie's mask represented a tribute to Craig. The 1980 star was touched and even Tweeted about the shamrock to his Twitter followers Sunday.

A reporter wondered how Craig felt watching the last few minutes of Sunday's dramatic game, including a final 80 seconds during which the puck never vacated the U.S. zone.

"I thought, 'How did my Dad even watch me play?'" said Craig, pretty much all smiles during his appearance at the USA House. "We were up two goals and still felt nervous for (Miller). ... Those final minutes seemed like an eternity. In fact, when we scored the fourth, I was thinking maybe that was too early. Then some fans started chanting, USA. My reaction was, 'Oh, hold off on that. Let's not get them (Team Canada) mad.'"

No surprise that Craig said he still gets goose-bumps every time he hears the famed Al Michaels call, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" Perhaps even more meaningful to Craig was the comment of color analyst Ken Dryden, who had faced Lutchenko and those great Russia teams during the 1970s.

"To hear Ken Dryden say, 'It's over,' that summed up my feelings, too, that we had beaten the Russians, time had actually run out," said Craig.

Craig and his teammates were "a bunch of college kids" who he says were "young enough not to know any better" when facing the Russia powerhouse. Craig was quick to praise the late Herb Brooks for scheduling an exhibition game against Russia at Madison Square Garden in New York the week before the Olympics.

"We over-respected the Russians and it showed (in a blowout loss)," said Craig. "It was Herb's genius to plan that game and get our reaction out of the way."

Youth is one of the things Craig most likes about the 2010 U.S. team, which can continue a trend of winning Winter Olympics gold in years that end in "0."

"They are not overwhelmed by the Canadians' talent or size," said Craig. "And you have to like Ryan's calm presence in the net. This team counts on him to do his job, and he certainly did on Sunday. But every game he will be tested and the team will face a battle from here out. These are the best professional athletes in the world in the sport of ice hockey."