Mike Eruzione, Miracle teammates remember Bob Suter, recall 1980 memories

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — One by one, 15 members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team walked past a white No. 20 USA jersey, took their seats and then reminisced about 35 years ago.

Mike Eruzione assumed his role of captain in a press conference with more questions from fans than media, drawing laughs with stories he’s told hundreds of times in appearances and speeches across the country since the Miracle on Ice. The U.S. beat the Soviet Union 4-3 on Feb. 22, 1980, en route to gold.

What was different on Saturday, and more so what will be different on Saturday night, was that Eruzione cracked jokes among all of his living teammates at the site of their Olympic triumph. That hasn’t happened since the Lake Placid Winter Games.

The team began to gather here on a crisp, snowy day to pay tribute to Bob Suter, the first member of that team to pass away. Suter, a Wisconsin defenseman, died of a heart attack at age 57 in September.

“He did a lot for hockey,” Eruzione said. “We all realize at some point we’re going to move on. But nobody thought Bobby, at 57, would not be with us.”

More about reunion during Hockey Day in America, Sunday at noon on NBC and online

Eruzione then lit up the room of about 100 people. The 15 players — four were still on their way, including goalie Jim Craig — were asked if any were visiting Lake Placid for the first time since 1980.

Nobody spoke up. Dead silence. Eruzione cut in.

“Ask the bartenders,” he said. More laughter.

“We are the most immature people that you will ever, ever meet,” Eruzione, whose name means “eruption” in Italian, went on. “You think we’re grown men? Not happening.

“Can you imagine that atmosphere in the locker room when we were playing?”

Several players visited that locker room on Saturday morning. For many, they couldn’t remember where they sat 35 years ago. So small, it’s hard to imagine 20 young men, plus coaches and trainers and all their equipment squeezing in there.

The room shown in the 2004 film “Miracle,” with coach Herb Brooks‘ famous speech, looked luxurious in comparison.

The players were asked what they were thinking before Brooks gave that speech, as they waited to play the Soviets.

“It definitely wasn’t let’s go out and try not to embarrass ourselves,” said Eruzione, who ended up scoring the game winner in the third period, after Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak was infamously pulled by coach Viktor Tikhonov.

“The real story shouldn’t be Tretiak,” Eruzione said. “The real story is why they scored three goals and not six or seven.”

Before the press conference, many team members gathered on a stage at what would normally be center ice at Herb Brooks Arena, formerly the Olympic Fieldhouse where the 1980 Olympic games were played.

“We continue to be amazed that it has carried on and lived on in a lot of respects,” forward Dave Christian said. “It gave people a sense of feeling good. When you think about it, you can’t help but smile.”

It touched the nation, Eruzione said. Sports Illustrated dubbed it the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.

“When the Patriots won the Super Bowl, people in New England are happy,” Eruzione said. “People in Seattle are not. People in California couldn’t care less. When it’s Olympic Games, it’s a nation.”

Neal Broten, who would later score 923 NHL points, most among Miracle players, recalled the pre-Olympic game against the Soviets in Madison Square Garden. The U.S. lost 10-3.

“We were setting them up,” Broten said, eliciting more laughter, before coming down to earth. “If you go on a scale from one to 10, we were two and they were 10.”

Longtime NHL defenseman Slava Fetisov was a young star on that Soviet team. Fetisov recently starred in two documentaries chronicling the Soviet perspective of the Miracle on Ice.

Mike Ramsey, a 19-year-old defenseman on the Miracle on Ice team, remembered Fetisov discussing the Miracle on Ice when they were teammates on the Detroit Red Wings in the mid-1990s.

“You were on drugs,” Ramsey said Fetisov joked, flabbergasted the U.S. looked so different from the 10-3 rout two weeks earlier.

The final laughs Saturday afternoon were about Brooks, who died in 2003, led by Eruzione. The players went back and forth about their favorite “Brooksisms,” the coach’s odd lines that were also used in the “Miracle” film.

“Weave, weave, weave, but don’t weave for the sake of weaving.”

Eric Strobel‘s playing with a 10-pound fart on his head.”

Steve Christoff was playing worse and worse every day, and right now you’re playing like next week.”

“[Brooks’] jokes were terrible,” Eruzione said. “He thought they were funny.”

Later Saturday, the players were scheduled for a reunion ceremony called “Relive the Miracle,” which will climax with Suter’s jersey being raised to the rafters in the 1980 arena.

“It’ll be kind of sad when you see his jersey up there,” Eruzione said.

How the Miracle on Ice reunion came together

U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new uptempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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