ARIZONA COYOTES

Mike Eruzione: Team USA an underdog in Sochi? Try favorites

Feb 8, 2014, 2:11 AM | Updated: 2:11 am

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Hockey wasn’t really that big of a deal to Americans in the lead-up to the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.

After all, why should it be? The Americans didn’t medal in the 1976 games and everyone, and I mean everyone, knew the Soviet Union was going to win. How could they not? They had won 27 of their last 29 Olympic games since 1960 and had outscored their opponents by a total of 175-44.

The Americans, meanwhile, hadn’t medaled since winning gold in ’60 by beating the Canadians. Surely there were more important games for the United States to concentrate on, and a little thing called the Cold War.

Then it happened. Friday, Feb. 22, 1980, a team of young Americans dethroned an iron-strong Soviet team en route to winning a gold medal. All of a sudden, the entire country was a hockey fan. And thus began the growth of American hockey.

And if you ask some of the players on that gold medal team, they know they deserve some credit. After all, everyone knows Miracle Boys now. Few did then.

“There are more people here than after we won in 1980,” captain Mike Eruzione joked at the start of a press conference Friday.

But after that win, the entire nation celebrated some little-known players. After all, they had beaten the best team in the world, the “commie bastards” as one woman called them when writing to the team.

Since that win, hockey has exploded in America. The league is expanding. The fan base is growing. And the country is producing world-class players.

“We go into a tournament now, not as an underdog, but we’re a favorite and if we don’t medal in Sochi, it’ll be a disappointment (to the current American team),” Eruzione said

That sentiment began after Lake Placid.

“Back in 1980, there wasn’t that many Americans in the National Hockey League,” said winger Buzz Schneider. “I think we opened up a lot of doors to a lot of players and opportunities for young kids to play in the National Hockey League, so maybe we did have a little small part in that.”

Small part?

“I think that, in 1980, the NHL looked at now all of a sudden college players being able to play the game as well as Americans, but when you look at the players today, they’re good. And they’re talented,” said Eruzione.

Way more than a small part.

The current talent pool of American hockey players is up there with the best. Players like Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres garner international attention. They’re stars who walked through the door opened by Eruzione and his boys.

“In 1980, we might have opened the door, but I think today’s players knock the door down,” he said.

But could that team be even better? Eruzione thinks it may be.

“What I don’t like, and I’m still not convinced it’s conducive to the best team, and I say that because they don’t practice, they don’t spend any time together,” he said.

Coming from the captain of a team that still gels well, that’s a statement. Hockey is a team sport, embodied by the medal win when Rizzo was joined by his entire team on the podium.

And the Americans certainly won’t be without their challenges in Sochi.

“It’s an adjustment for North American teams to go over and get used to…a bigger rink,” he said. “I think Europeans have the advantage because they grew up on that ice.”

Advantage? Maybe. But didn’t the Soviets have the advantage when they took to the ice in Lake Placid against a young, inexperienced American team? I’m pretty sure we all know how that one turned out.

Panagiota Tsakiri of Greece carries the national flag as she leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Alex Pullin of Australia, front right, carries that national flag as he leads his team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) One of the rings forming the Olympic Rings fails to open during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) The flag of Russia is raised during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev) Russian President Vladimir Putin, second from right, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, centre, and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, third from left, attend the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Snowflakes hang on dancers during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. The five snowflakes were supposed to transition into Olympic rings, but one failed to open. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev) An artist performs during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Spectators watch the live broadcast of the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Fireworks are seen over Olympic Park during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Spectators cast shadows as they wait to watch the live broadcast of the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) An image is projected on the floor during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) Three women in traditional Russian costumes dance as they watch the live broadcast of the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Russian duo t.A.T.u. Lena Katina, third from left, and Yulia Volkova, second from left, perform on stage before the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) A Russian man reacts as he watches the live telecast of the 2014 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in downtown Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E) Athletes from Germany arrives during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev) Great Britain arrives during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev) Hayley Wickenheiser of Canada carries the national flag as she leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Armin Zoeggeler of Italy carries the national flag as he leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Russian families gather and wave their national flag during the national anthem as they watch the live telecast of the 2014 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in downtown Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E) Antonio Pardo of Venezuela carries the national flag as he leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Jaqueline Mourao of Brazil carries the national flag as she leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Peter Crooks of the British Virgin Islands holds his country's national flag and enters with his team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany carries the national flag as she leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Tucker Murphy of Bermuda carries the national flag as he leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Hanna Emilie Marien of Belgium carries the national flag as she leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Mario Strecher of Austria carries the national flag as he leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Athletes from Japan wave the Japanese and Russian national flags as they arrive during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) The United States team arrives during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway carries the national flag as he leads his team into the stadium the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky Jorien ter Mors of Netherlands holds her national flag and enters the arena with teammates during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) The Jamaica team is introduced during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) Hubertus Von Hoh of Mexico carries the national flag as he enters the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Todd Lodwick of the United States carries his country flag as the team arrives during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev) Dawid Kupczyk of Poland carries his country flag as the team arrives during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev) Simon Ammann of Switzerland carries the national flag as he leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Jason Lamy-Chappuis of France carries the national flag as he leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) The Chinese team members wave their national flag and walk in the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Sandis Ozolins of Latvia holds his national flag and enters the arena with teammates during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Adam Lamhamedi of Morocco holds his national flag and enters the arena with teammates during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Alexandre Mohbat of Lebanon wave his national flag and enters the arena with teammates during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Russian families gather at the Sochi port to watch the live telecast of the 2014 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in downtown Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E) Members of the Iranian team enter the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) A member of the Australian team cheers as he enters the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Conor Lyne of Ireland carries his country flag as the Irish team arrives during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) Athletes from the United States wave to spectators as they arrive during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) South Korean athletes wave the national flag as they arrive during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) People fish along the Sochi port where the Olympic rings are illuminated in the background at dusk, the evening of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in downtown Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E) Sarka Strachova of the Czech Republic carries the national flag as she leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Anders Soedergren of Sweden carries the national flag as he leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) A light show is seen during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) Enni Rukajarvi of Finland carries the national flag as she leads her team into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) Enni Rukajarvi of Finland carries the national flag as she leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Tomaz Razingar of Slovenia carries the national flag as he leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Zdeno Chara of Slovakia carries the flag as he leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Lone athlete from Paraguay Julia Marino holds her country's national flag and enters the arena during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Shane Dobbin of New Zealand holds his national flag and enters the arena with teammates during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Fireworks are seen over Fisht Stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Alper Ucar of Turkey waves the national flag as he leads his team into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) The team from Russia arrive during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev) From left, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, and Russian President Vladimir Putin applaud during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Russian athletes wave to spectators as they arrive during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Supporters wave the Russian national flag and scream "Russia" as the Russian team make their appearance during the live telecast of the 2014 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in downtown Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E) Nino Tsiklauri of Georgia holds her national flag and enters the arena with her teammates during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. Georgian athletes beat political wrangling to arrive at the Sochi Olympics a day ahead of the opening ceremony. An 11-member delegation touched down just after 11 a.m. local time (0700 GMT) Thursday on just the second flight from Tbilisi to nearby Sochi since Georgia and Russia fought a brief war in 2008. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Lui Pan To Barton of Hong Kong waves his national flag and enters the arena with teammates during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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Mike Eruzione: Team USA an underdog in Sochi? Try favorites