Craig reflects on Miracle anniversary

Feb 23 2010 - 5:56pm

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Jim Craig celebrated the 30th anniversary of the "Miracle on Ice" hockey game Monday morning by helping to unveil his image in a three-dimensional art exhibit at USA House.

"Who would think you'd be back after 30 years," he said, "doing something like this?"

Craig was just a 22-year-old kid on Feb. 22, 1980, the goaltender on the U.S. hockey team that shocked the mighty Soviet Union in one of the greatest upsets in sports history.

He and his teammates, a collection of wide-eyed college kids taught to believe in magic by the legendary Herb Brooks, went on to beat Finland and win the gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Thirty years later, Craig is gray at the temples and more than a few pounds over his playing weight. Still, he can't help but remember every detail of those 12 magical days in upstate New York. They are memorialized in books and movies and the foundation of his business in marketing and promotions.

When Craig travels around the country to give motivational speeches, nobody asks about his three-season, three-team, 30-game career in the National Hockey League.

They all want to know about the "Miracle." What was it like to beat the Soviet Union? How did he and a bunch of kids, mostly from Massachusetts and Minnesota, topple the invincible Red Army team and win the gold medal?

Though it was the victory over the bigger, stronger, more experienced Soviet team that everyone remembers--the "miracle" in the "Miracle on Ice"--Craig said the memory would have faded if not for the Americans' 4-2 victory over Finland in the final.

"If you don't win the gold medal, nobody remembers you," he said. "It would have been a nice win for hockey fans and that would have been about it. We had all the pressure against us in that (final) game. If we don't win, we probably don't win any medal at all."

Craig was at Canada Hockey Place the other night, watching the U.S. upset Canada thanks in large part to a magnificent game in goal by Ryan Miller. Talk about bringing back memories.

"I was so nervous," Craig said with a laugh. "I was wondering how and why anyone would ever watch their son play hockey. I remember my dad watching me and now I don't know how he did it."

Craig and his U.S. teammates opened the 1980 Olympic tournament with a 2-2 tie against Sweden, but their confidence grew with successive victories over Czechoslovakia (7-3), Norway (5-1), Romania (7-2) and West Germany (4-2).

Before the U.S. played the Soviet Union, Brooks gave his famous "destiny" speech, telling his players they were born for this moment.

One of the keys to the victory was Mark Johnson's goal with one second left in the first period that resulted in the Soviet coach pulling legendary goalie Vladislav Tretiak.

Johnson, who played for his father, Bob, at the University of Wisconsin, now coaches the U.S. Olympic women's team, which will face Canada or Finland for the gold medal Thursday.

"Mark was bound to be a coach," Craig said. "His dad was a coach. He's been doing great things with young people all his life. He has a great makeup for coaching and the girls on his team love him. I would be very surprised if they don't have a lot of success."

Tretiak was replaced in goal by Vladimir Myshkin, a move that bolstered the Americans' confidence. Craig and Myshkin would become lifelong friends; a photo taken recently of them is on Craig's Web site.

"Well, it's funny you mention that," Craig said. "Several players on that team became great friends of mine. As a matter of fact, I'm invited to a big party Thursday night with the Russians. Everything has come full circle."

Years later, the players on that Soviet Union team are well aware of their contribution to hockey history, even though it came in defeat.

"Remember, they didn't lose another hockey game after that for four years," Craig said. "They learned something from that game. Ultimately, the quality of their lives became better because of that game, too."

One of the lasting images of 1980 is that of Craig, holding the American flag and looking up into the crowd to find his father. That flag is on display at the Sports Museum of America in New York City. His goalie gear is displayed in the International Hockey Hall of Fame.

"I'm watching the kids play now, and you know time has passed," Craig said. "I'm old. I've got white hair."

Time flies, but miracles last forever.

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