The 1980 "Miracle On Ice" team that stunned the world by winning the gold medal at Lake Placid has had an enduring impact on hockey in the United States. Bill Guerin
is part of that legacy.
The New York Islanders
captain has enjoyed a fine NHL career -- he reached the 400-goal mark earlier this season, has appeared in four All-Star Games and won a Stanley Cup with the 1995 New Jersey Devils
. And he's always been proud to answer the call when his country has needed him.
"It's an honor and a privilege to represent your country in any way," Guerin told NHL.com. "For us, that's playing hockey."
Guerin, now 38, has worn the red, white and blue for two decades, beginning in 1988-89 when he made the first of his two appearances in the World Junior Championship. Since turning pro, he's played in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics and the 1996 and 2004 World Cups.
Guerin said his first appearance for his country is something he'll never forget.
"I was thrilled," he said. "I forget what year it was, but it was a world junior tournament. It was the greatest thing."
Guerin was 10 years old in February 1980 when Herb Brooks coached the U.S. team to its stunning upset of the Soviet Union on the way to the gold medal. He said that game had a lasting effect on him and a lot of his contemporaries -- players such as Mike Modano
, who came of age in the 1990s.
"I remember watching it sitting in my parents' family room," Guerin said. "I was only 10, so I don't think I really understood the magnitude, but I did go crazy and I loved it. My dad tried to explain to me what was going on in the world then. It was a big thrill and one of the big reasons I wanted to be a hockey player."
That victory gave hockey in the United States an enormous boost. One of those inspired by it was a certain 10-year-old in Massachusetts.
"It inspired all of us," said Guerin. "We were at that impressionable age, and I think it really kick-started hockey for American kids at that time. Not that kids weren't playing -- everybody was -- but it gave you encouragement and belief in goals. That was always a goal of mine -- to play in the Olympics -- because I wanted to be like those guys."
Playing for your country is something out of the ordinary, Guerin said, because it widens the scope of who you're playing for.
"It inspired all of us. We were at that impressionable age, and I think it really kick-started hockey for American kids at that time. Not that kids weren't playing -- everybody was -- but it gave you encouragement and belief in goals. That was always a goal of mine -- to play in the Olympics -- because I wanted to be like those guys." -- Bill Guerin
"I think there's something special about it because you take guys from all other NHL teams and you come together as countrymen on one team," he said. "You're not just playing for one city; you're playing for all the cities and the states."
It wouldn't be surprising if some young hockey players want to grow up to be like Guerin. He's been one of the NHL's best two-way forwards for nearly two decades, a Stanley Cup champion, an All-Star Game MVP (2001). He knows that along with the privileges of being a star athlete come responsibilities.
"It's a big honor to be a role model," he said. "We all are, whether we like it or not. Kids come to the game, they watch you on TV. Everybody has a hero growing up and everybody wants to meet that hero. If you met that person and were disappointed, that would absolutely crush a kid. You have to look at it from their perspective and be the person they want you to be."
Guerin was a member of the U.S. team that won the silver medal at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Getting to the championship game was a high point for Guerin, but he said his favorite Olympic memory occurred earlier in the tournament.
"My best Olympic and hockey memory was before we played the Russians in Salt Lake, sitting in the locker room before warm-ups," he said. "The building was already full and the crowd was chanting 'USA, USA.' It was a real emotional time -- pretty awesome."
So was winning that game, and it still stands out even through the disappointment of dropping the gold-medal game to Canada. Guerin also was part of the 2006 team in Turin, Italy, and he hopes the next generation of U.S. hockey players -- the ones who grew up watching him and his group -- realize what wearing the USA logo flag on their jerseys really means.
"Hopefully they understand, and I'm sure they do, what a big privilege it is," he said of the next group playing for the United States. "It means a lot, and when you do that for the U.S. -- we don't want to take a back seat to anybody. You try to live up to the high standards of our country."