DH: Welcome to keep on pushing radio. I am your host, Devon Harris and of course, you know what we do here. We share with you, ideas and insights that are going to challenge you and inspire you to keep on pushing and live your absolute best life. So, if that’s something you’re interested in then you’re in the right place. There are some people who enjoy their 15 minutes of fame and then there are others who are so remarkable that they go down in the annals of History. My guest today is one such person. He’s a hockey player, played at Boston University from 1973 to 1977. I was still in elementary school, but who’s counting.
During that time, he did a stint on Team USA, played in the Ice Hockey World championships in 1975-76. And then he played for the Toledo Gold Diggers where he won Rookie of the Year honors and helped lead this team to a championship. And then he was selected to, and named captain of the 1980 Miracle on Ice USA hockey team. You may have heard of them. Their extraordinary feat of toppling the Russians was depicted in the movie, ‘Miracle’ by Disney. In fact, our guest scored the winning goal and that is considered one of the iconic sports moments back in 2008.
ESPN viewers named it the greatest sports highlight of all time. He also worked as a color commentator for the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers, on Fox. He was a color commentator for the NHL on the USA Network and called 5 Olympic Games for ABC and CBS. Today he is Director of Special Outreach at Boston University and one of the top Olympic motivational keynote speakers out there. If you’re a hockey fan, you know I’m talking about Mike Eruzione. Mike, it’s awesome man, thanks for coming on.
ME: Again, thank you for having me on. This is the second time I’ve been on a podcast so this will be fun.
DH: Hey, it’s always good man. It’s wonderful actually, to be speaking to a legend like yourself and I have to say, it’s not every day I get to speak to a guy who has had a movie made about an important part of his life. So, I guess it’s my time to ask you some questions that people always ask me. So, let’s kick it off. The move ‘Miracle, how accurate was that Mike?
ME: It was pretty close. I tell people, it’s really the Herb Brooks story and we’re a part of it. I think the HBO documentary was spectacular, that talk more to us…..to the team, but I thought Hollywood did a good job. Kurt Russell, he was absolutely brilliant this Herb Brooks. In the movie, Kurt played a softer, friendlier Herb. Herb was a little more intense so they softened him up in the movie, but I thought what the movie got was what the moment meant. It captured the spirit of a country; it captured the spirit of our team and the closeness of our team and it captured I think what that moment was for a lot of people.
DH: How involved were you in the making of the film?
ME: I wasn’t involved at all. I had nothing to do with it and I didn’t want to be involved because I thought if I was involved and my role in the movie was different then the guys would have went “oh, no wonder why you did this and get that.” So, I stayed away and I think basically the whole team stayed away. I don’t believe they talked to any of us other than Herb telling what he felt the story was.
DH: So, in the end did you like it?
ME: No, I liked it. We won so it didn’t change it but I thought it was done well, and I enjoyed it.
DH: Awesome. So, what is it like though having a movie made about an important part of your life?
ME: It’s kind of scary in some ways because you don’t know what they’re going to do or say. I look at my role in the movie, I thought if anything it was maybe they had me a little more like a deer in the headlight sometimes. I don’t know if they showed my enthusiasm as much as I normally have but that’s Hollywood’s way of portraying you in whatever way they feel they want to portray you. I remember the kid who was playing me, he’s a local kid from Massachusetts and he came to a couple of our high school practices because he wanted to get to know me a little. I remember one day at practice…… my two sons were on the high school team at the time….. and I introduce Patrick, the kid who was going to play me in the movie.
I said Michael, Paul – Those are my two boys. I said, I want you to meet your father. They kind of looked at me like yes, that’s very funny dad. Again, it’s a little scary because somebody’s playing your life and sometimes when I meet young kids today and their parents will say hey, that’s the kid Rizzo from the movie Miracle. And they’ll go, that that’s not him. No, that’s the real person. So, it is a little bizarre when you see somebody playing you.
DH: Yes, I agree. I can attest to that. How about you and your teammates, how often do you guys get together?
06:19 ME: Once in a while. We do have a fantasy camp every five years. This was our fifth year of a fantasy camp and we get about 14 guys out of the 19 that are around. Bobby Suitors is the only member that’s passed away. Obviously Herb Brooks passed away, but Bobby is the only player. And we get about 14 guys once a year to come back to Lake Placid for a fantasy camp. We have done some of those memorabilia signing shows and we have an odd golf trip where some guys might get together. The Minnesota guys….. I think, 12 of them a living they see each other quite a bit.
I’m in Boston, Jimmy’s in Florida, Callaghan’s in Chicago, Genes is in New York, Kenny is in Kansas City so we’re spread out a little bit.
DH: The Boston guys are spread out a little bit?
ME: Yes, right.
DH: Let’s go back, Mike to the beginning. So, you’re born in Winthrop, Massachusetts. What was life like in the household?
ME: Well, it was a great household. As a matter fact, I lived next door to the house I grew up in and my mother-in-law actually lives around the corner so I’ve never left the neighborhood. I lived in a three-family house and we lived on the second floor. I have four sisters and a brother and now, you’re going to follow me here because my mother’s brother lived upstairs and he married my father’s sister.
DH: All in the family, huh?
ME: All in the family. There were five kids upstairs, and then my father’s other sister lived on the first floor and they were for kids in that family. So, I grew up in a house with about 15 kids and it was just a loving caring competitive atmosphere. It was just a great place and I thought everybody lived in a three family, I didn’t know people had their own homes. It was just a great way to live. My cousin’s that I grew up with, they all got married and now they have kids that are the same age as my kids and we all still live basically in the in the same town. So, it’s an extended family that I grew up with and still have that extended family today.
DH: That is awesome and a blessing. So, where did you fall in rank with your siblings?
ME: I have three sisters, then myself, then another sister, then a brother.
DH: All right, cool. I know you played other sports, you played football and baseball growing up?
ME: Yes. Well, football is we call it soccer as you guys call it.
DH: You played the real football?
ME: I played real football, we didn’t have soccer when I was a kid, but that was my passion. I played three Sports in high school. I love football, I probably played more baseball in my life than I played any sport but hockey was something you did around here in the winter time and my hometown is a small town so they really needed and rely on three sports athlete. So, you know all my friends played three sports some play basketball, but we didn’t have soccer, we didn’t have lacrosse in those years. So, you basically play football, ran track, golf, baseball, hockey, and that was about it.
DH: I got you. So, when I was saying you played real football, I thought you’re referring to soccer, no, you played the ball under the arm kind of game?
ME: Yes, tackle football.
DH: I forgive you, man.
ME: That’s okay.
DH: So, you’re saying that you played baseball more than any other sport, but you ended up as a hockey player?
ME: Yes. It’s kind of crazy and I’ll tell you the whole story. After high school I was about 155 pounds when I graduated high school and I didn’t have the greatest of grades and I wasn’t the smartest student – I shouldn’t say I wasn’t the smartest student. I didn’t apply myself as much as I should have and I decided to go to prep school for a year.
So, I went to a school in Maine called Berwick Academy as a postgraduate and I wanted to go to the University of New Hampshire, that’s where my goal was. I wanted to play football, hockey, and baseball. And the football coach and the baseball coach really like me, but the hockey coach wasn’t quite sold on me as a division one hockey player and the mistake I made was I put all my eggs in one basket.
I thought I’m going to UNH, and when they didn’t take me I had nowhere to go. So, I ended up going to a school called Merrimack College. Now, Merrimack at the time was a division to hockey school and he was the only hockey coach that really kind of watched me play. So, I decided that I guess I’ll go to Merrimack and play hockey and probably baseball because they didn’t have football then. Well, I didn’t play hockey in the summer, I played baseball all summer and I got a call from a friend of mine that was about July and there was a summer league game and they needed some players to play because a bunch of the guys went to Cape Cod for the weekend and they needed some hockey guys to play in the game.
So, they asked me if I’d play and I said, yes, you need a guy I’ll play. So, I played in the game and as it turned out the guy referee in the game was a guy named Jack Parker. Now, Jack Parker at the time was the assistant coach at Boston University and when the game was over Jack Parker pulled me aside and he asked me where I was going to school and I said I was going to Merrimack, he goes, well, I remember you from high school. Where’d you go last year? So, I told him I went to school in Maine and he said but we have a kid from Canada that decided not to come. We have one scholarship left would you like to come to Boston University? And I went yes, I mean BU at the time was coming off back-to-back national championships one of the best teams in the country.
So, I remember going home and telling my dad that Mr. Parker offered me a scholarship to BU and he said, well, what do you want to do? I said, I’m going to take it Dad. I know I can play there. So, I went the next day and sign my letter and ended up at Boston University.
ME: Now it gets even more interesting because the head coach had never seen me play before, and at the beginning of the season I was like playing on the fourth line and we’d only played a couple of games and I was playing but not playing a lot. And the head coach got fired right around Christmas time because of some recruiting violations. So, Jack Parker became the head coach and I went from centering the fourth line to playing left wing on the second line and ended up leading the team in goal scoring my freshman year. So, you talk about opportunities, you know, if I never played in the summer league game, I never would have gone to BU and if I’d never gone to BU, I probably wouldn’t have made the Olympic team. So, see how things work out.
DH: Yes, that’s very true. So, I read or saw a video where you started out skating in your sister’s figure skating skates?
ME: Yes. I grew up in a very loving caring family like I told you, my dad worked three jobs, my mother took care of six kids, and we didn’t have a lot of money in the house and they used to freeze the tennis courts down the street from where I lived and I used to get my sister’s white figure skates – I was like the first second grade and in those years, you could go down to the tennis courts by yourself. You didn’t have to have a police escort you know, I didn’t have to go, mom, I’m going down the skate and I’ll be home in you know, five or six hours, but I would go down there and you know learn to skate and eventually my sister would come down and I’d give her the skates and I would go home.
In those years you could save S&H Green Stamps and my mom saved up enough stamps and I came home one day and there was a pair of hide ice skates on the table. So, that’s how I started playing the sport of ice hockey.
DH: Wow. And so here you are. So, you’re at Boston University and you’re leading the team in scoring, you go off and you play in Toledo. Tell me about that experience?
ME: Well, I went to Camp with the New York Rangers. The Rangers had my rights and I went through the training camp with the Rangers and they called me in and said, look, they have a lot of players under contract, they’re not going to sign any new players, but they liked the way I played. So, they said if you go to Toledo, Ohio, you can play in Toledo, which is called the International League. I went in as an amateur, I didn’t have a pro contract, my contract with Toledo was every two weeks. I would get a paycheck and cover my expenses and my apartment and I think I made $3,500 my first year. And I went to Toledo and had a real good year and led the team and got rookie of the year and finished second on the team in scoring.
Again, how life is funny. I was going to sign with the New York Rangers and turn pro, if I had done that, I wouldn’t have been able to play on the Olympic team. But the general manager of the New York Rangers, John Ferguson got fired and a new general manager came in and told my agent that, we weren’t signing any new players and that Mike was free to do what he wanted to do. So, then I thought about maybe going back to Toledo, play as an amateur and with the opportunity of trying out for the Olympic team. So, I went back to Toledo, they gave me a few more dollars to help pay some more of my expenses because you can’t live on $3,500. I ended up, still signing an amateur contract with them, finish the year with them and then got invited to try out for the Olympic team. So, two years in Toledo and then the opportunity to try out the Olympic team.
DH: All right. So, tell us about that team selection for the 80 games?
ME: Well, there were 68 players that got invited to Colorado Springs and in the movie, they have the team picked in one day trust me. It was two weeks. So, two weeks we competed against each other and Herb Brooke sat in the stands and evaluated the players and select 26 of us. So, 26 players made up the ‘80 Olympic team but only 20 we’re going to Lake Placid. Of course, of the six months of training, six guys are going to get cut from the team.
DH: So, you guys started out as 68 you said and you’re competing and training together and living together I assume for what two weeks?
ME: Two weeks in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Festival.
DH: With the knowledge in the back of your head that hey, the vast majority of us, almost two-thirds of us aren’t going to be around.
ME: Well, that’s part of the process. That’s why you try out. That’s the way it worked. And actually, when you think about it, they were probably hundreds of people that try it out and they narrowed it down to 68 and then 68 went to 26 and 26 were going to go to 20. But again, you knew what the process was, you knew going in that this was the deal.
DH: So, it seemed that there was a bulk of the final team mostly between Boston and Minnesota?
ME: Well, I think there were 12 guys from Minnesota, four guys from Boston, two from Michigan, two from Wisconsin.
DH: So, Minnesota had the lion’s Share?
ME: Yes, and that’s where the coach was from and they had just come off a national championship so they had some pretty good players.
DH: So, in the movie, Miracle, it portrayed some tension between the Boston guys and Minnesota guys. And I know how movie are…. they have to create drama, they have to create conflict, but did any of that exist?
DH: Oh, yes. And I’ll explain it this way. My junior year in college, we played the University of Minnesota in the first round of the Frozen Four of college hockey and three minutes into the game we had a bench-clearing brawl with the University of Minnesota.
DH: So, you guys weren’t fans of each other is that it?
ME: No, not at all. And then two years later at the Olympic Festival in the warm-up, team Massachusetts and team Minnesota got in another bench clearing brawl. So, there was a lot of animosity between east and west and Minnesota and Boston but as soon as the team was picked that never existed, we never had an issue and even almost 40 years later we still kind of joke about it.
DH: So, talk to me then Mike about some of the lessons that you learnt from that experience about teamwork?
ME: Well, one thing about the sport of ice hockey is you learn at a young age how important your teammates are. Hockey is one of the most unselfish sports you’ll play, you really rely on everybody. So, you learn at a young age how important your teammates are and to respect your teammates and to work together. And us in 1980, we knew we had some really talented players, but as we used to say, individually you can be good but collectively we can win a championship.
And I think as a team, we bought into it right away. We trusted each other, we respected each other, we learned how important it was to continue to believe in I like to say old-fashioned values, you know hard work, determination, pride, respect, commitment, qualities that our hockey team had that made us a better team. And we bought into it from the beginning and I think that was a huge part of our success…… the love and respect that we have for each other day in and day out.
DH: So, you’re talking about an environment where each player came there obviously talented, gifted but came and worked and each of you saw the other guy working so that I guess caused you to respect them and then started to trust them?
ME: To use the word you used, we pushed each other. We pushed each other for six months every day in practice to be the best and nobody took a backseat, nobody thought they were better, bigger than anybody else. Everybody understand what their role was on the team, what their responsibility was on the team. I’ve always said Mark Johnson was our best hockey player but how good would Mark have been if the other guys weren’t doing their job as well? Herb used to call us a lunch pail hard hat group of guys and that’s what we were. For six months we came to practice every day prepared and focused to be the best and it proved out at the end.
DH: So, you came to work……yes, you’re right, I speak all the time about the fact that human beings, we push and Inspire each other when we work interdependently. It seemed that was an energy in the atmosphere that existed amongst you guys. Talk about Herb for a minute. What kind of leader was he and how did his leadership influence you as captain?
ME: Well, he was demanding but then again, you know, I tell people that’s how coaches coached in the 70s. I tell people Herb was like your dad. You love your Dad but sometimes you hate your Dad because he makes you do things you don’t want to do. And that was Herb, he pushed us, he pushed us hard but we respected him and that was important. Herb didn’t care if you like them and trust me, they’re a lot of times we didn’t like him but there was never a time where we did not respect him. The other thing was, we had great trust. We trusted Herb and what he was doing and we bought into it. You know, you can scream and yell at me for two hours that’s fine I can deal with it for two hours. Then practice is over and I go on my merry way and go back to practice and scream and yell again if you want, but he always used to tell us there’s a method to my madness and when the Olympics were over and we won there was obviously a method to his Madness.
He was a brilliant coach; he was a great motivator and somebody I truly admired and respected and it made it hard to go to practice every day but we knew we were getting pushed it to accomplish something that we were dreaming we could accomplish.
DH: Got you. So, how did you get selected as team captain?
ME: Well, it was a player vote but I’m still not convinced everybody voted for me because there were so many Minnesota kids, they probably would have voted for the kid from Minnesota. So I don’t know what happened. I know what it was, we voted the next day in practice after practice we were in a circle and Herb looked at us and said, “Guys we’re on the ice tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Mike, you’re the captain, see you tomorrow.” And that’s how it went down. Now, I’ve said this many times, Devon I was a captain amongst captains. You have 15 guys on my team that were either captains of their colleges or captains of their high school teams so we had a team of leaders. The important thing for me to be as Captain was to be myself and not change.
Sometimes people they climb the ladder and they become more successful to become a different person and that’s the worst thing you can do. The reason my teammates or Herb selected me to be captain was because of the person that I was and I think they knew that because I was the captain it wasn’t going to change me and it hasn’t changed me in 40 years. I’m still the same guy I was in high school and so I was honored to be the captain but it wasn’t that big a deal.
DH: So, character is an important trait in leadership?
22:26 ME: Absolutely. Because again, if you don’t have great character your teammates are not going to respect you and if they don’t respect you, then you have no authority and you have no command of the locker room or respect of your teammates. If you say something, they can just brush it off and say, what is he talking about? We don’t care. But I think when you show great character that’s part of being a great leader.
DH: And that’s true by the way, whether we’re talking about a locker room or a conference room, a hockey team or a sales team or you know, and any group of people, any team that we have to lead. So, 1980 you’re heading into the Olympic Games, you guys are basically amateurs; college kids, the youngest team ever fielded by the US and you are going up against like the Juggernaut, the Russians who some of them playing for 8/12 years together, extensive International playing time. So, it seemed as if you guys were outmatched certainly, in terms of experience. Were there any other teams that were even remotely close to the Russians, in terms of experience?
ME: Every team other than us. I mean every team was professional players. We were the youngest team in the tournament, the average age is mentioned was twenty-one, twenty-one and a half. We were the youngest Olympic team we had ever put on the ice before and other than Canada, the only two teams that were amateur was us and Canada and all the other countries, you know sent their best players, their professional. Although there were no Europeans really playing in the NHL and there were very few Americans that were playing in the NHL. So, the European players were their pros and we were our best amateur and that’s just the way that was.
We never thought about it, we never talked about it. It wasn’t we’re going against a bunch of pros, that discussion never even came up in the locker room one time.
DH: So, no matter how you slice it you’re playing behind the 8-ball. How does Herb, I guess, sell you guys on the vision that you could win?
ME: Well, I think it’s an old fashion statement that if you think you’re going to lose you probably will. So, our mindset going in the Olympic Games was we thought we had a chance to win a medal. We thought we could get to the medal round, that was our goal. We never once talked about the Soviets and it’s funny to this day people think we only played one game. The Soviets weren’t even a discussion, we had to worry about three countries that were supposed to beat us in our division, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and West Germany.
We thought Romania and Norway we should be able to handle those two countries. So, it really was one game at a time. It was like, let’s play Sweden, let’s see how it goes and the confidence Herb had in us, the confidence we had in each other. So, let’s go play the games and see what’s going to happen. There wasn’t a lot of raah raah, there wasn’t a lot of big speeches, it was, just go out and play and see what happens. And you know, we kept playing and winning so we didn’t want to change anything, we don’t want to alter anything. We didn’t take any different approaches from game to game, we just kept playing the way that we felt we were capable of playing in order to win and continue to play that style we would practice for six months and we did and each game it became successful.
DH: So, in the history of the Olympics the US had only won one gold medal in hockey and it was back in 1960 in Squaw Valley. And so here you are now the least experienced team, there’s nothing that would suggest that the results are going to be any different. What did Herb do to ensure that there’s going to be a different result this time around?
ME: I think he just kept preaching to us the belief to keep working, to keep playing and like I said, it was no long range plan other than game to game to game to game and as we were winning our confidence in the locker room was growing, Herb’s confidence and that’s was growing, his comments to us continue to press us and push us to you know, we can we can do this, we can keep winning. Let’s keep playing, let’s keep doing what we’re doing and you know, don’t take a step back and we never did we just kept advancing and advancing and playing. And there wasn’t much for him to say because you know, you can tell by the atmosphere in the locker room, the confidence and practices.
The way we were behaving that our mindset was let’s keep going, we got a chance here.
DH: So, talk me through the six months because if my research is correct in the past when the USA selected a team, a bunch of college players and you train for maybe two weeks and you go to the Olympics, right? But you got six months and you’re playing obviously here in the US on a smaller ice rink. So, what are some of the strategies, what was a process that that took you from that two-week trial to Lake Placid the 90s?
ME: The first thing like you said is we’re going to train for six months instead of few weeks. The second thing we’re going to do is change the way we play the game. The Olympic sheet of ice, it’s bigger, its wider, it’s longer. It’s a totally different game and in the past by the time you get used to the sheet of ice, by the time you get used to your teammates, the Olympics is basically over. But Herb felt we’re going to change the way we play, we were going to take a blend of the European game, which is a lot different…… a lot of crisscrossing….a lot of using the ice and the size of the ring to your advantage and change the way we play. People said you can’t teach in six months what the Europeans have done their whole life and typical Herbie said, “I can and we will.”
We learned a new style basically of hockey and it was fun, change is fun sometimes and you know, if you haven’t been successful in the past don’t be afraid to change and do something different. It was fun for us and we learned a new style of hockey, it was amazing how quickly we picked up what Herb wanted us to do and we were better team by playing that way and we kind of threw it right back at the European. So, when we go on the ice in Lake Placid, it wasn’t something that we were surprised for. We were already prepared for it.
DH: So, the lesson here is that you should never be afraid to step out of your comfort zone that as you said change can be fun, right?
ME: Herb said that you can’t be common, the common man goes no place. We had going to be uncommon, he said that many, many times.
DH: Yes. And that obviously worked in your favor. So, during that six months I know you guys ended up going to Europe because that’s where the ice rinks were, the bigger ones. And you were having good success playing I guess Club teams in Europe, weren’t you?
ME: Yes, we didn’t play many of the big teams. The Soviets were actually in the United States playing against the NHL teams and eventually, we did play back in the States when we did play the Soviet B team not the A team. We played the B Team seven games or six games, but in Europe, we were just trying to play as many Club teams or as many games as we could play.
DH: And then you ended up playing….. was it Norway a team that you’re supposed to beat and you drew the game?
ME: Yes. The game ended in a tie and heard wasn’t very happy with the way we play and you saw the scene in the movie Miracle. The scene in the movie was a little different, in the movie they had all 20 of us skating, but that night only 16 of us dressed. So, 16 of a skated and one guy got thrown out for fighting so they were only 15 of us that skated. And we did the Herbie’s for about an hour and 15……. hour and 20 minutes, we did them in waves of five…… not everyone at once and then we did them for like 15 minutes and then we stretched and then he blew the whistle and we went back and we did them again and then we stretched then they shut the lights off in the building and we continue to do them and finally we were done and we went in.
We had to play Norway again the next day and he said, if you play this way again tomorrow, you’re going to skate again. Well, we won eight to nothing the next day.
DH: Because you were not about to skate again. No more herbies for you.
ME: We learned.
DH: And in the movie he said something that I thought was important…. telling, it was that you were not talented enough to win just on talent and I think a lot of us lot of people regardless of their field, rely too much on talent. and talent will fail you If you don’t become skilled.
ME: I agree and you know, obviously we had talent but what good is talent if you don’t have the work ethic and the things that I talked about earlier the pride and respect…. those all go hand in hand. When you have intangibles that makes that talent that much better. And we had intangibles so our talent became better.
DH: Do you think the herbies and just the way Herb just pushed you guys to the point where I’m assuming every guy on the team hated him made the team closer and better?
ME: Absolutely. I mean that was part of the method to his madness, it was us against him. He made it clear that he didn’t care if we liked him, it was important that we respected him and by us being mad or pissed off at him it drew us as a team closer together because it would be like, “We’ll show you Herb, you can’t push us, we’ll fight you to the end.” And I think that was, something that he wanted to instill in us and it worked.
DH: Nice. So, you guys weren’t expected to even medal. I think all the pundits said hey, maybe they’ll finish somewhere 7th to 11th in the competition, but you go to the Olympics and you win the whole thing. Daunting task. So, what do you say to someone Mike, who is striving to achieve a major goal, but all the, I call them “the experts”, all the pundits tell them that is impossible?
ME: Well, it’s always fun to prove people wrong. I tell people this a lot, “if you work hard you aren’t always going to win but you’re going to learn how important it is to work hard.” And for us, the hard work paid off and we won and we accomplished something incredible, but when I walk away from it, I still realize that if we didn’t work hard, it never would have happened. So, we learned about the value of work and I always believed that if you understand the value of work, you know at some point in your life you’ll be successful. It might not be today or tomorrow or next month or next year, but when you’re the best at what you do – I bet it’s because of the time and effort work that you put in, you know, it wasn’t a miracle. Miracle’s a catchy phrase; it sounds nice but it was really about determination and hard work and perseverance and believing. And if we didn’t win, I still would have walked away understanding how important those values are and how important you have to work hard to be successful.
DH: Yes. You brought up the important point. Your accomplishment is described as a miracle on ice. But you’re right, a miracle is something that is kind of, supernatural, a superhuman feat and while you could probably describe what you did as superhuman it wasn’t supernatural. It came as a result of the hard work.
33:52 ME: Correct. I talk about miracles, we hear about it sometimes….. somebody goes into a burning building and save somebody, those are sometimes a miracle. Doctors perform surgeries and they saved lives, this was just a hockey game and a hockey tournament, but the lessons are what made it so special.
DH: We’re going to get into the tournament and the game in a minute, but let’s talk a little bit about Lake Placid, the village and the Olympic Games. I’ve competed in three, I’ve been to two or three other Olympics and I’ve obviously been to Lake Placid many times and almost every time I’m there I wonder to myself; how did they host an Olympic Games here twice? I mean the place is tiny and I’m just in my head, kind of playing out the scenes of all the other Olympic Games I’ve seen with hundreds of thousands of people. What was it like?
ME: The Olympics are very different now. I mean there’s more countries, there’s more sports, there’s more athletes. In the Lake Placid there wasn’t anywhere near the amount of skiers that they have with the aerials and everything. So, there’s way less athletes, way less countries but it was a great little Olympics. You’ve been to Lake Placid like you said, Pleasantville. It’s like going back in time, it hasn’t changed. The stores are the same, the people are the same, the venues are the same. I love going back there and again, in 1980, it was a quaint little village that hosted a small kind of Olympic Games that had a huge impact, but I’ve been to the other Olympic Games over the years and yes, there’s no way near they could compare.
DH: Where exactly was the Olympic Village?
ME: Well, the Olympic Village is where the prison is now, it’s a Maximum-Security Prison.
DH: I actually don’t know where that is.
ME: It’s in Ray Brook, it’s just outside Lake Placid. So, there’s a lot of murderers and so the village is not a village anymore.
DH: Well, it’s a villager of different kind.
ME: With different reasons, yes.
DH: So, what was life like in the village?
ME: It was awesome. The thing for us is we couldn’t go downtown Lake Placid because once people knew you were a hockey player it got to be a little crazy so we basically stayed in the village. And you’ve been in it, you meet other athletes, you hang around, you go to the video room, you go to the movies and watch a movie. I enjoy a couple of beers every once in a while, so it was hard to have a beer because you couldn’t go downtown. So, we used to put some beer in our hockey bag and bring it into the village and sit in a little………. we lived in a little trailer………. four guys to a trailer. We would sit in the trailer and spend time together as a team and just talking and being together, very rare did you go downtown other than to maybe watch, figure skating or speed skating and watching Eric Haiden was a trip. You know, five gold medals and you can watch him from outside the fence so it was a very different atmosphere but you really stayed more in the village than you did downtown.
DH: I can imagine. So, 1980 the world was very different than now, we’re at the height of the Cold War which is one of the reasons why the American win against the Soviet Union is so impactful. So, how did the athletes behind the iron curtain relate to those from the West and vice versa?
ME: We didn’t spend much time. The Soviets were very reclusive, they pretty much stayed to themselves and the Czechs and the Soviets didn’t get along really well, so those athletes weren’t bonding. You really spent time with your teammates, the only time you’d see some athletes like I said, if you’re in the arcade or the video room. You’d run into a Swedish Hockey player or a skier or something and you might chat with them or her. But it was, you know, again not a ton of mingling partly for us because we played like on a Monday then we practiced on Tuesday then we played on Wednesday then we practice on Thursday then we played on Friday where some of the other athletes they have one event, they competed and they were done.
We still had games to play and practices and curfews and things that we had to kind of keep in mind. So, it wasn’t it wasn’t the party atmosphere that I think probably some of the other athletes had because once they competed, they were done and they could just do whatever they want.
DH: So, for a while I felt bad as a bobsledder because we race at the end of both weeks of the Olympic Games so there’s no partying. So, now I know I feel your pain. So, you’re at the Olympics now and it’s go time, right? You’re there to get a job done. Was it Sweden you played first?
ME: We played Sweden before the opening ceremonies, the day before and there weren’t many people in the building because nobody is really going to hockey games and especially the Olympics hadn’t started yet. Billy Baker scored what was one of the biggest goals of the Olympics because he scored with 28 seconds left to go and we tie Sweden. Heck if we lose to Sweden, maybe we don’t get to the medal round. So, Billy’s goal was huge and you know, kind of got lost in the shuffle over the years.
DH: Yes, because I’ve never heard of it before. You’re absolutely right. So, Sweden and then they went on – how did the rest of the competition go before you get [39:36 inaudible]?
ME: Well, then we had the opening ceremonies and then we played Czechoslovakia. You know, the only team that anybody thought could beat the Soviets and we blew them out, we beat them 7 to 3. We were behind Sweden, came back in tied. We were behind Czechoslovakia, came back and won. The next game was Norway, we were losing one nothing, we came back and won. The next game was Romania, we were winning that whole game and the next game was West Germany and we were losing two to nothing and came back and won 4-2. So, our goal was achieved, we got to the medal round.
DH: And so now you’re facing the Soviet Union a team who only a week prior has throbbed you guys ten to three. Before we get to the game itself, talk to me about I guess your head space, the team’s confidence and what Herb said to you after that game and leading into this one?
ME: After the game in Madison Square Gardens that we lost? He didn’t say much to us except get on the bus we’ll go to Lake Placid; we’ll get ready for the Olympic Games. But he also told us that for two periods we played even with them. The first period we stood around and watched. So, we learned a great lesson about if we had played all three periods with the same intensity, you know, maybe we would have lost but maybe not 10 to 3. That was the last time we ever talked about the Soviet game, and now the Olympic Games we’re playing and because we finished second in our bracket because Sweden had a better goals for and against. One plays two, so we played the Soviets. We’re in the medal round, that was our goal, get to the medal round. And this is an opportunity of a lifetime.
DH: So, interestingly enough, to go back to that game at Madison Square Gardens. It’s a real whipping, you could see that as a negative, but it seemed like Herb took it and turned it into a positive by saying. Hey, yes, you did get a whipping but if you had just played the first third of the game the way you play the last two it would have been very different.
ME: Yes. He turned a negative into a positive. If you think negative things probably nothing but negative thoughts will stay in your head. So, he wanted us to build off something and as small as it was, we built off of that mindset and I think we went to Lake Placid with a different mindset. Plus, I think we were totally different team when we got to Lake Placid than we were for the last game. The last game was at the end of a long grinding six-month season, and I think everybody was just really anxious to get to Lake Placid and get the Olympic Games going.
DH: Got you. So, you’re in this game with the Russians and they go up one as I guess everybody expected and then you guys came back and tied it?
ME: Yes. They made it one nothing, we made it 1-1. They made it 2-1 and then Mark Johnson scored that unbelievable goal with one second left on the clock to end the period and tied 2-2. We didn’t play well in the first period but it was only 2-2 and we were in the game and again the mindset was totally different, we were excited it’s 2-2 and we haven’t played well.
DH: So, what advice do you have for the rest of us mere mortals, you know when you are…….. I’m going to say in the field of competition, you’re trying to hit those sales numbers like right in the middle of that sales period and you’re in the intensity of it as you guys were when you were playing the Russians and they weren’t willing to yield anything. How do you gather yourself; how do you collect yourself and push forward?
ME: Well, I just think its confidence; you have confidence in yourself, have confidence in the people that you work with or play with, your teammates, your co-workers. And again, everybody’s got to push each other. There was never any negative talk in the locker room after the first period, we were excited it was 2-2. So, I think being positive and staying upbeat, you know, I use the word all the time believing. Believe in yourself, believe in what you’re doing, have faith in what you’re doing, have confidence and that’s what we had. There was never any negative communication, it was all positive, go out there and do your job, work hard.
DH: So, you guys are positive and then in my mind the Soviets made a surprising change when they took the number one goalkeeper out. It seemed as if in my head they took you guys for granted perhaps because they figured they could win with anyone?
ME: Well, the goalie they put in was the same goalie that was in goal when they beat the NHL All-Stars, six to nothing. So, I mean, he’s the second-best goalie in the Soviet Union so he’s not bad.
DH: He’s no scrub?
ME: Yes, right. And you know, the interesting thing was Tretiak let in 2 goals in the first period. The other goalie let in 2 goals in two periods, maybe Tretiak was having an off night we’ll never know. We’ve seen athletes sometimes not perform at their best for whatever reason being so the story wasn’t Myshkin in the goal, the story was they only scored three goals. If they scored five, we lose.
DH: It’s a different story?
ME: Yes. So, I think for us as a team the game went exactly the way we needed it to go.
DH: So, you guys eventually tied it up and you’re in the third period talk me through. How did that play build up that led to you scoring the winning goal?
ME: Well, Buzz Schneider was on the ice, he was a line in front of me, my line was up next. Buzz, he shot the puck in the zone, came off the ice so I was up, he’s my winger. I jumped over the boards and the puck went in the corne, John Harrington fought for it and tipped it over to Mark Pavelic who deflected it over to me just inside the blue line. It’s amazing how many things can go through your head in a short period of time but I had a defense man in front of front of me and I said to myself if he comes at me, I’m going to pass it by him. Billy Baker and John Harrington were going to the net to my left and I said if he stays, I’m going to use him as a screen.
He stayed and I had the whole far side and the only problem I had was I was going across my body so I pulled the puck just a little and instead of it going where I intended it to go, it went just a little more inside but still found the inside of the net because the goalie, I don’t think really saw the shot because of the defenseman and it went under his arm.
I just thought it gave us the lead, you know, it’s 4-3 with 10 minutes left to go. It’s probably the longest 10 minutes of our lives but I just felt that I had an opportunity to help and I was able to do something with it.
DH: So, it goes in though and at least you have the lead. How did that feel, what was that moment like for you?
ME: I was excited. But still, you can’t get too high when something like that happens. You have to keep cool, keep controlled, keep playing the way you have been playing all year, don’t do anything crazy, don’t do anything stupid, don’t make a mistake. So, it really didn’t feel like anything other than we have the lead and it wasn’t till the game ended that I kind of thought about, wow, I had the winning goal. You know, if I didn’t score maybe someone else would have but I’m glad it was me.
DH: It’s very fitting the captain led the way.
ME: Yes. So, I don’t know it’s ironic maybe but I was just proud that when I had an opportunity to help my teammates, I did.
DH: Now, as you alluded to earlier and I didn’t realize this until I watched the movie Miracle. I think most people think that the final game, the gold medal game was that game against the Russians, but you guys had to go play Finland afterwards?
ME: We had to play Finland on Sunday and a lot of people didn’t know this that if we lost or tied, we could have come in fourth place and not even medal. So, as great as the Soviet game was, we needed to win this one to win the whole thing.
DH: And you are trailing during the break, aren’t you?
ME: Well, we were losing 2-1 going into the third period the last 20 minutes of the biggest game any of us have ever played in our lives and this was all rolled up into 20 minutes of hockey.
DH: But you pulled it off and you won the goal. How do you go from achieving so greatly but it’s only…. I want to say halfway or part way to the big goal? How do you motivate yourself? How do you bring yourself back up to be able to get over the hump and achieve the ultimate goal?
ME: Well, again, we didn’t go there to just participate. We went there with the objective of winning the whole thing and now you’re in an environment and you’re in a position where you can win the whole thing. And again, that’s where all six months of practice, six months training, six months of being with your teammates, everybody pushing each other and striving to be the best. I’ve said many times, if we don’t beat Finland and don’t win the gold medal – I mean the Soviet game’s a nice victory, but it’s not that big a victory.
DH: Right. I agree.
ME: So, we didn’t go there with the hope of winning one game we went there with the dream of winning the whole thing. So, you could never take a backseat to that goal and what you’re striving for just won one game. We didn’t want it to end and a matter of fact after we beat Finland, some of us would like to have played in other game just to play together as a team again.
DH: In deed. So, this was an amazing accomplishment, Mike and I know that yourself and perhaps the rest of your teammates weren’t really looking at this through the political lens, it was a hockey game. But your accomplishment transcended the game, right? This was 1980 when all kind of things were happening geopolitically. The Soviets were in Afghanistan, in fact, for the ‘80 Summer Games the U.S. boycotted those Olympics in Moscow and some stuff was going on in Iran and so on. So, I guess the national mood was taking beating and this win just kind of joined the nation?
ME: Yes. It’s funny because we didn’t know that until after the Olympic Games. To us it was a hockey game but to a lot of people in the United States it was more than a hockey game. And we realized it after you know, as a country looking for something to feel good about and it turned out to be us. And people waving flags, people were proud to be Americans again. It was like we showed the world that this is why this country is a great country because look what our hockey team did and like I said, we never looked at it that way but, you know 39 years later I still get letters from people who felt that game was a turning point of our country at a difficult time.
We didn’t solve the world’s problems, but for a few weeks or a few months, we made a country proud again to wave a flag and that’s pretty special when you can think of a moment like that, but I also said many times that’s what the Olympic Games are. I live in Boston so I’m rooting for Boston teams. When Boston wins, I’m happy, people in Chicago aren’t happy….people in other places they don’t care.
DH: People in New York don’t care either.
ME: New York doesn’t care, right. When it’s the Olympic Games, the nation feels a part of it and I think that’s what made our moment so special for a lot of people, they took great pride in being an American.
DH: You’re right. Indeed, a really special moment for the team and for the nation on a whole. So, talk to me I know your motivational keynote speaker, you spend time sharing your experience and pearls of wisdom at corporate events across the country and across the world. What’s the premise, what’s the basic message that you share?
ME: Well, sometimes it might depend on the theme of the meeting. I spoke at a meeting last week where the theme was, One Team One Goal. That was us, one team one goal and our goal is to be the best and kind of compared what our team did in 1980.
I think the goals and objectives of our team are the same goals and objectives of people in business, it’s to be the best and to be successful. And I kind of tell the story of how we did it. I start almost like we talked about today from the beginning to the end to give people a better sense of what took place and I do stress it that it wasn’t a miracle and it wasn’t a fluke and we weren’t lucky. Corporations and teams are successful because they work hard and that’s the message basically that I have.
And again, have some fun, tell the story, tell what it was like, you know do a Q&A with the audience. I’m actually in the process, I have a book coming out next February. We haven’t got a title yet but we’re working on the title, the book is almost finished. The book will be about my life and how I grew up in that house that I told you about, the stories that led me to be on that team and to be the captain of that team. So, I’m excited about the book mainly because and I’m not trying to digress here, but I never wanted to write a book until I talked to my wife and I thought I wanted my grandkids to know that their grandfather did more than just two weeks in Lake Placid. A lot of the time people kid me and say, hey, you scored one goal, I laugh and say, it was a big one.
I had a couple of others during the Olympics, but I want my grandkids to know that there was more to me than two weeks in Lake Placid. So, I’m excited about that opportunity for the book.
DH: Indeed. I think that’s a story that the world needs to know as well. And we’re looking forward to that book coming out and perhaps you can come back on the podcast here on keep on pushing and share and tell us about your book. But if someone wants to find you to invite you to come speak for them, where do they find you?
ME: I work at Boston University. I’ve been there in the athletic department for 25 years and my title is Director of Special Outreach. So, I do a variety of things for the University. It’s almost an ambassadorship role in some way. I meet with recruits, I meet with students, I meet with alumni, and meet with high-end donors. It’s fun for me to be there but you can also reach me at my email, my last name it’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
DH: So, folks, this is one of the great icons in sport. The guy who scored what turned out to be the winning goal in 1988. What is dubbed the ‘miracle on ice’ against the Russians and who is voted as the greatest sports highlights of all time. But more than that, just an amazing story about hard work, about teamwork, about vision, about believing in yourself, about leadership. All lessons that all of us I think need in our lives because we’re all part of a team and so that we can contribute to our teams and to our countries or our nation on a whole.
Mike, it’s been awesome. Thank you so much for turning up and sharing with us on keep on pushing.
ME: Thank you. And I appreciate your story as well my friend and hopefully someday we’ll get to have a pint of beer together.
DH: Yes. I would absolutely love that.
ME: Take care.
DH: Keep on pushing.
ME: Okay. Bye now.