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American hockey has grown up since Miracle on Ice

by Evan Sporer / NHL.com

Mike Eruzione and Mark Johnson were quick to mention it, and each continued to stress the point: The Miracle on Ice -- the United States' win against the heavily favored Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics -- may be the defining moment in American hockey history, but without a number of other big moments, the story would be incomplete.

"As great as the Soviet victory was, I think sometimes what gets lost in the shuffle is how important that game was against Sweden, and the game against Czechoslovakia," Eruzione said Monday. "Sometimes a lot of the success of our team gets lost in one game.

"I want people to remember it was a series of events and a series of games."

This Sunday is the 35th anniversary of the 1980 semifinal victory against the Soviets, and all 19 living members of the U.S. team will reunite in Lake Placid as part of the festivities for Hockey Weekend Across America.

Although the reunion is a celebration, it also will be a somber occasion. Bob Suter, the father of Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, died in September at the age of 57; he is the first of the "Miracle" players to die.

"With the group getting together and Bobby not being there, certainly he was a special individual and has done a ton of great things for hockey," Johnson said. "He gave a lot of kids an opportunity to climb the ladder and play hockey.

"For a lot of kids, Phil Kessel, his son Ryan, just to name a few, got an opportunity to play in the NHL."

Part of what makes this reunion and this weekend special, according to Eruzione and Johnson, is it signifies how far USA Hockey has come since their David vs. Goliath game.

"I said in '80 we might have opened the door, but now other players have knocked it down," Eruzione said.

USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean highlighted some of the strides the program has made since that defining moment at Lake Placid.

"I think it is fair to say USA Hockey is as strong as it's ever been," said Ogrean, who was director of public relations for the 1980 Olympic team. "We all have the same goals: to get more people playing, more people watching, and more people excited about the sport of hockey."

USA Hockey posted a 2.3 percent increase in growth over the past year, with more than 500,000 players registered, according to Ogrean. Three American college hockey players -- Jack Eichel of Boston University, Noah Hanifin of Boston College and Zach Werenski of Michigan -- each has a chance to be picked in the top five of the 2015 NHL Draft. Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is gunning to become the first American player to win the Art Ross Trophy.

"We think the depth of our player pool is better than it's ever been," Ogrean said. "It's not just winning the medals; we want to keep offering the game and making it accessible to whoever wants to play.

"We want everybody to develop a lifelong love of the sport."

Eruzione and Johnson recalled returning home after they won Olympic gold and seeing the effects it had on the growth of hockey.

"It exposed a lot of younger players to, 'Hey, I want to play in the National Hockey League,'" said Johnson, a Wisconsin native.

Eruzione, a Massachusetts native, has remained in New England and is director of special outreach at his alma mater, Boston University. It's there he's had a chance to watch the next generation of American hockey and witness the maturation of its players.

"I got calls from people prior to the hockey year saying, 'You have to watch this Eichel kid,'" Eruzione said. "I went to the first few practices and said, 'Oh my God, is this kid good.'

"I'm crossing my fingers that maybe he comes back for one more year."

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