Team USA is making a run at gold medal glory in the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi. When you talk about U.S. Olympic hockey—especially when it’s being played in Russia—it inevitably leads us back to one of the great Olympic moments of all time, when Team USA won the 1980 gold medal with a massive upset of the then-Soviet Union as the lynchpin victory.
The state of Massachusetts did not lack for participants on the 1980 Olympic hockey team. Mike Eruzione was the team captain and Jim Craig was the goalie. Both were born and bred in the Bay State, and went on to play college hockey at Boston University. That’s why they’re fitting choices for a salute as BST&N’s Vintage Athletes Of The Month.
Mike Eruzione grew up in a blue-collar Italian-American family, the son of a bartender, where a large portion of the extended family lived under the same roof. In that environment, you learn to be a competitor and Eruzione was certainly that.
The legendary BU head coach Jack Parker, just recently retired after a forty-year head coaching career, called Eruzione “Pete Rose on skates.” Note that Parker said this in the mid-1970s when the listener would presume it meant Eruzione was an intense hardworking player, rather than one who had action on the game.
Eruzione averaged 20 goals a year in four seasons as a Terrier, but this blue-collar player would continue to have to fight for everything he had—no NHL opportunity was forthcoming, in spite of Eruzione playing on Team USA at the Ice Hockey World Championships in 1975-76, so he settled for starting his career in the International Hockey League. Eruzione promptly won Rookie of the Year in 1978 and helped his team win the Turner Cup, before duty beckoned him back to Team USA.
Jim Craig was a little younger than Eruzione, not finishing school at BU until the spring of 1979. Craig also had more of a pedigree. The goaltender was the key to a national championship run for Parker in ’78 and then made All-American a year later. Craig was a natural choice to be in net for Team USA when the Olympics began in Lake Placid, NY.
The Soviet Union was the dominant force in international hockey at this time, and by a lot. Simply playing the Russians respectably was often seen as a moral victory. But there was more the U.S. had to overcome than just the Soviets. The Scandinavian countries all played good hockey, and of course you could never overlook Canada. To even predict a medal for Team USA—much less the gold—would have required a high degree optimism.