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Coyotes to honor 10 players from 'Miracle on Ice'

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- All 20 members of the hockey team that provided the greatest sports moment of the 20th century still are, as captain Mike Eruzione put it, "out there alive and kicking."

In the 34 years since the United States men's hockey team performed its "Miracle on Ice" at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, all 20 have come together exactly two times: Once as part of the 2002 NHL All-Star Game, and one year later for the funeral of their legendary coach, Herb Brooks.

"We had a reception at the White House the day after we won the goal medal. And after lunch, that was it. We headed home," Eruzione said. "We were together every day for six months. We reached our ultimate goal and then it was, 'OK, I'll see ya around.' And after that it's about leading your life. But that bond is always there, and when we see each other it all comes flooding back."

Getting even half the team together for a golf outing or a special occasion has been rare. So when Phoenix Coyotes president, CEO and co-owner Anthony LeBlanc and vice president of communications Rich Nairn inquired if a member of the team could come to Arizona this week, their mutual agent Bob Murray answered, "How about more?"

So when the Coyotes face the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, 10 members of the 1980 team will stand with the 14 players -- five from Phoenix, nine from Chicago (a 10th Blackhawk, Patrick Kane, will miss the game due to the death of his grandfather) -- who will take part in the 2014 Sochi Olympics in a special pregame ceremony.

"This is the first time an NHL team has ever asked the 1980 team to come to an event," said Eruzione, who scored the game-winning goal against the Soviet Union in the semifinals to change the course of hockey in America. "Mr. LeBlanc is a Canadian owner but he thought highly enough to bring 10 of us here and I tip my hat to him. We're all proud to celebrate the games coming up in Sochi and give the Olympians on both teams a great sendoff. To have nine or 10 of us in a room together, it just doesn't happen too often."

Eruzione, defenseman Ken Morrow and forward Rob McClanahan -- who scored the game-winning goal in the gold-medal game against Finland -- took part in a reception and question-and-answer session with Coyotes fans Thursday. It was obvious they enjoyed sharing their memories of 1980 as much as the audience enjoyed soaking it in and remembering.

Teammates Neal Broten, Steve Janaszak, Buzz Schneider, Dave Silk, Bob Suter, Phil Verchota and Mark Wells will join them Friday for a golf outing before the game.

"What we did will never happen again -- in the context of 1980," Eruzione said. "Professionals play in the Olympics now, although that might change. The Soviet Union is not what it was in 1980 and the political climate is not what it was then. America's hockey rival isn't the Soviets, it's Canada. We don't go into the tournaments as an underdog; we're one of the favorites. If we don't medal it's a disappointment.

"But the political aspect is the biggest one. We were looking for something to feel good about as a nation in 1980. It happened to be us, a bunch of kids playing hockey in a small village like Lake Placid. The world was watching. It will never be the same."

Morrow won the gold medal and the first of four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders in an incredible 90-day span, a feat someone could duplicate in 2014 with so many NHL players heading to Sochi.

"Guys like Mike were having parades in their hometowns. Three days after the gold-medal game I was on Long Island practicing with one of the greatest NHL teams of all-time, and four days after that I was playing," said Morrow, the Islanders' director of pro scouting for the past 22 years. "I never had time to sit around and think about what was happening and that was a blessing. I just kept playing.

"I was in four tournaments that year -- three with Team USA and one with the Islanders -- and we won them all. It was incredible."

The players answered questions about the movie "Miracle," which told the story of the team to a new generation, although all three agreed the movie was more "The Herb Brooks Story." They lauded the performance of Kurt Russell as Brooks, but were quick to point out it wasn't quite an accurate depiction.

"They softened him up for the movie," Eruzione said. "He wasn't that friendly."

All three players said they will be watching the hockey tournament in Sochi closely. McClanahan, who has been in the investment business for 30 years and coaches hockey in Minnesota, said the question of whether professionals should play in the Olympics is a tough one.

"I'm very glad we got the opportunity to play as amateurs and look what was possible when we were given the chance," he said. "But I'm also a hockey fan and to me the Olympics are about seeing the very best athletes. And that's what we are seeing now."

The Coyotes' retired jerseys that hang at Arena are a testament to the legacy of the 1980 team: Teppo Numminen, whose father Kalevi was the coach of the Finnish team the U.S. beat for the gold medal; and Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick, two of the most successful American players in NHL history who told stories of lacing up skates before squirt games as they watched the USA-Russia game on television.

"I know Keith and [Roenick] very well," said Eruzione, who has worked at Boston University for more than two decades. "What we did in 1980, guys like that and Pat LaFontaine and Chris Chelios took to another level. Now the Patrick Kanes and Zach Parises and Ryan Suters are taking it even higher.

"It had to start somewhere and I'm glad it started with us."

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