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Patrick looks back at "Miracle on Ice" ahead of 40th anniversary

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Penguins

Craig Patrick woke up in the middle of the night in his hotel room and realized that there was a light on. He rolled over and saw his roommate, Herb Brooks, sitting at a desk and scribbling on a notepad.

The two made eye contact.

"What?" Brooks remarked. "You don't get ideas in the middle of the night?"

That scenario would repeat itself several times during the seven months the two spent together while coaching Team USA during the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York.

"I remember many, many nights at like 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning waking up and he had all the lights on in the room and scratching stuff on paper," Patrick recalled on Friday. "He was just an awesome guy to be around, so committed to what he did."

Brooks and Patrick, head coach and assistant coach respectively, led Team U.S.A. to one of the most improbable victories in Olympic history by winning a gold medal and upsetting the Soviet Union - arguably the best assembled team in Olympic history - in the process.

The victory over the Soviets, which took place on Feb. 22, 1980, close to 40 years ago, has since been dubbed the "Miracle on Ice," and changed the entire landscape of American hockey forever. 

"I would say the thing that sticks out in my mind all these years (later) is the brilliance of Herb and his master plan," Patrick said. "Because he had a plan in place a year before it all happened. Along with the efforts of all the players for seven months, he pushed them hard for seven months, and I witnessed every second of it.

"They definitely deserved the gold medal, no matter whoever we beat. We definitely deserved to have the gold medal after all the effort and time they put into making it all happen."

Photo courtesy of Kelly Brooks Paradise during an exhibition game prior to the 1980 Olympics

The Penguins will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the "Miracle on Ice" on Tuesday, Feb. 11 against Tampa Bay with Patrick and team captain Mike Eruzione dropping the puck in a pre-game ceremony.

Patrick, who is currently a scout for Pittsburgh, served as general manager and occasional head coach of the Penguins between 1989-2006. He is a member of the Penguins' All-Time Team as a builder after crafting two Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and '92. Brooks, who passed away tragically in a car accident in 2003, served as a Penguins' scout (1996-03) and head coach (1999-00).

But Brooks and Patrick began their relationship in the spring of 1979.

Brooks' master plan began at the 1979 World Championship in Moscow when he asked Patrick, who was playing for Team U.S.A., to be his assistant coach for the Olympic tournament. Upon returning to the United States, Brooks phoned Patrick.

"He called me and said, 'Are you still interested?'" Patrick recalled "Because it was the end of my playing career, I said, 'Yeah, I'm interested still. When do you need me?' And he said, 'Tomorrow.' I was in Washington, D.C. and he was in Saint Paul. I hopped into my car and I drove out to Saint Paul."

That's when Brooks unveiled his plan. The Olympic roster featured players from some of college hockey's biggest rivals in Boston University, Boston College, Minnesota, Michigan, etc.

"The guys we're going to have on the team don't like each other," Brooks told Patrick. "They've been competing with each for national championships for years. The only way I know how to make them a team is to unite them against me."

And then he told Patrick: "Craig, your job is to keep all the pieces together."

"This was in May of '79," Patrick said. "So, it was all part of his master plan from the very, very beginning."

Over the course of the seven months the player did unite against Brooks as a team, and would go on to conquer the Soviet Union, 4-3, in an upset that inspired a nation and changed the status of hockey in the United States forever.

"We had four people to a trailer in the old Olympic village with no TV and no newspaper. We had no idea what was going on around the country," Patrick said.

What was going on was hope.

America had gone through an economic downturn of stagnation in 1979 and watched as their own citizens were held hostage in the Iranian embassy. Gas prices were soaring and the American swagger was waning. Even President Jimmy Carter said America was suffering from a "crisis of confidence."

That was until a group of 22 college kids defeated the greatest hockey team in the world at the height of the Cold War. When America had lost its way, it took the efforts of those players to inspire hope in a brighter future.

"The White House and President Carter sent Air Force One to pick us up and go to D.C.," Patrick said. "From Andrews Air Force Base to the White House, the road was lined with people on both sides, all waving flags. We just thought, 'What did we do?' We had no idea. And here we are today and I'm still amazed at what it meant then and now.

"We were just trying to win a hockey game, a hockey tournament. It's been so awesome to see the road that has been traveled since then. It's been amazing. It warms my heart to know that we accomplished something that people still remember highly to this day."

And what Patrick still remembers to this day, is his good friend Herb Brooks.

"Herb was a special guy," Patrick said. "The thing that sticks out, really for me, is I think his goal in life was to help everybody he could. If he bumped into you on the street and you might have had a bit of a problem, he would do everything he could to help you out of it. That's the kind of guy Herb was."

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