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Summer training set stage for 'Miracle on Ice'

by Evan Weiner
Jim Craig, Team USA's goaltender on the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team, believes the groundwork for that improbable championship was laid four years earlier.
In the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, just about every team jumped into the tournament without much practice because a good number of the players on the various teams are on NHL rosters. But according to Craig, at least for the Americans who played in 1980, there was meticulous planning behind the 1980 team that was coached by Herb Brooks.
"He started the United States Olympic Sports Festival where they would go out and have teams from the Midwest, the West, Middle Atlantic and the Northeast and he started four years before the (1980) Olympics even started," Craig said. "It was about '76. But I think my chances with Herb got going when I played in the 1979 World Championships in Moscow for him. It was all professionals then and he (Brooks) was the only one who had amateurs playing."
Brooks, who was coaching at the University of Minnesota, was named Team USA's coach and general manager following the 1979 World Championships and got to work immediately. He had his players on the ice during the summer, a time when hockey players never worked. But Brooks used the summers as a time to find players even though most hockey players took those months off.
"It was different but that is why we were able to do what we did," Craig said. "He changed the way things were done, he created a new paradigm. It was never work (for me), it was always a dream, it was always passionate, it was always fun so anytime we got a chance to get on ice. We really looked forward to it."
Brooks did change hockey thinking; NHL teams now have summer training camps for draftees and young players. In 1976 and through 1979, Brooks set up sort of a scouting combine to try to figure out who was the right player for his system. He brought his team of mostly college players and one older minor leaguer, Mike Eruzione to Colorado Springs, Colo., to get ready for a long campaign that led up to the Lake Placid Games in 1980.
"We were picked," Craig laughed. "It was over four years, he had all the college coaches keeping an eye over (players), it was almost like a scouting combine and he just kept track of all of the players.
"Herbie was Herbie, he had his plan and it was like show up and go to work. Herb kind of pulled greatness out of each and every one of us.  I think what we did, we grew to have the right stuff, it was never there right at the start, we grew into it.
"I guess, Mike (Eruzione) hadn't played at that much, we actually, none of us were pros, we didn't play enough, so we were all amateurs."
Brooks has come across over the three decades since the 1980 Olympics as someone who was very aloof and ran the team with a rigid hand, yet Craig told a different story and that Brooks adapted to his players. Brooks knew he needed defenseman Ken Morrow, who was sporting a beard. Morrow liked his beard and said later that he didn't know if he would have played for Brooks if he was ordered to shave his beard.

But as Craig pointed out, Brooks was a smart fellow even if he was distant with his players.
"(Brooks) said if you didn't come in (to camp) with a beard or have a beard, you couldn't grow one," said Craig. "So that Kenny was all set, he said if you didn't have a beard before it started, you couldn't grow it."
Brooks set up a long and somewhat tiring schedule for the players that made the team during the Colorado Springs summer tryout session. Team USA crisscrossed the United States playing games against various teams, which seemed more like baseball teams barnstorming in the 1920s, stopping in every town that had a ballpark and a team before the regular season started. Brooks' arduous schedule toughened his players who were accustomed to limited college schedules.
"It was 60 games in four months and that was a lot of work, it was really condensed and a great deal of pressure," Craig said. "We had home ice in Minneapolis, but we didn't have many games there. I think we grew as individuals; we didn't have any experience or any background and didn't know any better, which was great.
"He cared about all of his players."
In 2008, the International Ice Hockey Federation selected the "Miracle on Ice" game between the United States and Soviet Union as the No. 1 international hockey event of the 2Oth Century.
Craig is probably right that Brooks' players just didn't know any better, after all they were just college kids playing hockey.
And being kids, they were enthusiastic and let all of the emotions out after beating the Finns 4-2 in the gold-medal game. Craig had the American flag draped around him once the final horn sounded and the players celebrated on ice. He was also caught by cameras uttering, "Where's my dad?" Brooks disappeared under the stands and was not seen.
"I have no idea (how the flag ended up around his neck), it was put on me and I made sure it didn't fall off. I just wanted to share a real special moment with him (his father)," Craig said.

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