Mark Johnson and the rest of his teammates on the 1980 Winter Olympics team accomplished something that changed the course of hockey in this country.
What happened in Lake Placid, N.Y. made them famous for life -- even if they didn’t know the full impact while they were still in the town during the Olympics.
“Once we left Lake Placid, we started to get a sense of what was going on,” Johnson said. “On Monday morning we got on Air Force One and we were flying down to Washington, D.C., to have lunch with the President -- you know, something that normally happens in our day. We get off the plane in Washington, D.C., and get on a couple of buses. We’re making our way down to the White House, and all these people are lined up on the streets with flags waving and they’ve climbed up telephone poles.
“I don’t know who it was but about halfway there someone finally said, ‘What are these people doing outside? What are they here for?’ Somebody said, ‘They are here to celebrate what you did up in Lake Placid.’ I think really for a lot of us it really hit home like, ‘Wow, this thing really much be pretty special.’ ”
For the 20 players on that team, they will always be remembered first and foremost for what happened in Lake Placid. That is true now, but of course it was during the rest of their playing days.
Many of them went on to have success in the NHL, but there was a challenge or two that came with being part of the “Miracle on Ice” team.
“The hardest part for me and I’m sure it was that way for the other guys is when you first went into your NHL locker room,” Johnson said. “A week after Lake Placid I was in the Penguins locker room, and here’s Orest Kindrachuk and Ross Lonsberry and a couple of other guys who are Stanley Cup winners and NHL veterans for a long time and the game would end and here come the reporters and who would they go up to? They would filter over to myself. I would feel uncomfortable because you were in the NHL and you were getting paid to play, but you hadn’t earned any stripes yet. That was probably the biggest challenge most of us had.
“Kenny Morrow was fortunate enough to walk into the Islanders locker room and end up winning four straight Stanley Cups. We all knew if we were going to stay up there we were going to have to play well.”
Johnson and his teammates remain heroes in the sport 31 years later, and they don’t go very many days without someone asking them about that day when they defeated Russia.
“We still get quite a bit of that, especially when you’re speaking at a banquet or somebody who is my age or a little bit younger who was at the game or was watching the game,” Johnson said. “The one story we always tell is I think the rink maybe held 9,500 people and I think 50,000 people have told me they were there at that game. I’m not sure what is accurate. We get it quite a bit, because people are excited and they want to tell you what they were doing or what was happening in their life. It is something that never gets old, and it makes you feel humbled and privileged to be one of the 20 players part of that even if it was more than 30 years ago.”