By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
When Team USA won its improbable Olympic gold medal at the Lake Placid Olympics on Feb. 24, 1980, current Rangers captain Chris Drury was all of 3 years old, and Rangers rookie defenseman Matt Gilroy was more than four years away from being born.
Like many younger Americans, Drury and Gilroy's personal feeling for the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" would understandably be limited to watching Disney's 2004 movie, "Miracle", or the 2001 documentary "Do You Believe in MiracleS", produced by HBO Sports.
|Boston University alums Matt Gilroy and Chris Drury are now wearing red, white and blue for the Rangers. During their college years, the two Americans formed a unique connection to some members of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team. |
Drury and Gilroy have seen those films, but their connection to the "Miracle on Ice" is much greater than that of most Americans their age. It's because as college students at Boston University, both players had an opportunity to befriend 1980 Team USA captain Mike Eruzione, who scored the game-winner against the Russians and is the greatest living symbol of that team. Today, both Drury and Gilroy know Eruzione well enough that they refer to him by his hockey nickname, "Rizzo".
Eruzione was one of four former Boston University players on the "Miracle on Ice" squad. The others were goaltender Jim Craig, defenseman Jack O'Callahan and forward Dave Silk, a 1978 Rangers draft pick who became the first of four 1980 Olympians to play for the Blueshirts.
"They certainly meant a lot to USA Hockey," said Drury. "And the four B.U. guys have meant a lot over the years at B.U., too."
When Drury arrived at B.U. in 1995, Eruzione was two years into his role as a volunteer assistant coach for the Terriers while also working in the school's athletic department. By the time Gilroy got to Boston in 2005, Eruzione was still at the school and had one of his sons, Mike Eruzione Jr., enrolled as a student.
Of course, none of Gilroy's Boston University teammates were alive when 1980 happened, but Gilroy said it isimpossible to play hockey at that school without appreciating the magnitude of that Olympic moment.
"We had Craig, Silk, O'Callahan and Eruzione. They all went there. Actually, Rizzo's kid was a grade above me, so I was close friends with him," said Gilroy. "Everywhere he (Eruzione) went, and everywhere he goes, it comes up. What those college kids did. It was unbelievable and it caught the attention of the nation, which was pretty cool."
Gilroy said one of the most impressive things about Eruzione is his undying eagerness to give back to the fans who made him such a legendary figure.
"He's great if you have benefits and stuff," Gilroy said of Eruzione. "He comes and gives autographs and jerseys anything you want. He's got tons of it, and he loves doing it. And it couldn't happen to a better guy. ... He's such a good guy."
Both Drury and Gilroy won NCAA titles during their careers at Boston University, and Eruzione was right there to share in the moment. Drury won as a freshman with Eruzione on the coaching staff. Fourteen years later, Gilroy was a senior when he won his championship. Eruzione was no longer coaching by then, but he was very much around the program. In fact, Boston University's 2009 run featured input from both Eruzione and O'Callahan, who came back to his alma mater several times that season to help motivate the players.
"At the beginning of the (2008-09) season, Jack O'Callahan came into our locker room," said Gilroy. "I had never met him until my senior year, but he comes in and he's yelling and screaming at us about what it means to be a B.U. hockey player. He was turning red, and you saw just how intense this guy was. Every story you ever heard about intense he was and how he was full of fire, it's totally true. And how much he cared about us was pretty cool. He's been gone from there for more than 30 years, but he still cares so much about the program."
O'Callahan's talk was inspiring enough to help propel Boston University to one of the best seasons in its history in 2008-09, one that ended with an emotional run to the national championship and a Hobey Baker Award for Gilroy.
"Having those guys around was the best," said Gilroy. "Coaches can tell you until they're blue in the face about how one guy did something or another, but when they actually come in and tell you their own stories, it makes it that much more special. To have them e-mailing us through our run last year. Each championship we won, O'Callahan would send something or Rizzo would come down and say congrats. And then when we won it and they were all there with us, that was pretty cool."
In their own day, Eruzione and O'Callahan were two of the greatest players in Boston University history. Eruzione, a left wing, still ranks among the school's all-time leading scorers. He was a Terriers co-captain as a senior in 1976-77 and graduated one year before the school won the NCAA title with O'Callahan as a co-captain in 1978. Both men were eventually named to the Boston University Hockey Hall of Fame and they would be there even if neither had played on the 1980 Olympic team.
"As I get older, I learn more and more about how special it (1980) was," said Drury. "It was an amazing accomplishment. It was men vs. boys and it was also a kind of crazy time in the world. It was just a great story."
Winning gold at Lake Placid is what forever sets Eruzione, O'Callahan, Craig and Silk apart from so many other Boston University hockey stars. O'Callahan, Craig and Silk would all go on to play in the NHL, but nothing could ever top the experience at Lake Placid, which is one reason Eruzione opted to hang up his skates following the gold medal victory.
"In the hockey world, it doesn't get much bigger than the things he (Eruzione) has done," said Drury.
Thirty years removed from their moment of destiny, Eruzione is 55 and O'Callahan is 52. They might no longer look like the youngsters who shocked the world and helped define what Sports Illustrated named the greatest sports moment of the 20th Century, but the two men are stil larger than life in hockey circles and on the B.U. campus.
"They come into the locker room, and everyone's still in awe when they walk through," said Gilroy.