Saturday, 24 June 2017





 



 



 



 




by: Tony Mussari


Shrouded in a blanket of snow, Lake Placid, NY, is a beautiful town in February. Even more beautiful is the feeling of community pride that is palpable everywhere.



Lake Placid is an Olympic town, but not any Olympic town. It is a place where Eric Heiden did the impossible, five gold medals. We will never see that feat again.



Right next door to the skating oval that Heiden made famous, the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team did something that was both impossible and improbable. They beat the Soviets at their own game, and in so doing they earned the admiration of the world.



In Lake Placid, dreams become realities.



Together with seven seniors from King’s College, my wife and I returned to this sacred place to walk in the footsteps of the young giants who made America proud again.



Yes, it was 25 years after the fact. Yes, the crowds were small. Yes, the streets were passable, and the buses were running on time. But the atmosphere was just as infectious as it was in 1980.



Wherever we went we were reminded of the people, events and accomplishments of the American Olympians who trudged along Main Street peering their heads into the stores and restaurants that offered warmth and good cheer to everyone who entered in February 1980.



At the municipal parking lot we met Officer John Malcolm, a young man with a smile that is almost as big as Ireland. He was pleasant, accommodating, and oh, so helpful.



At The Bookstore Plus we met Nancy Beattie who was more than willing to permit us to record her big event. Wayne Coffey would be signing copies of his latest book, The Boys of Winter, and we were welcome to take pictures and talk with the celebrated sports writer from the NY Daily News.


In Lake Placid, the doors are always open to strangers.



We were told that Coffey was a pleasant person and a gentleman, and when we met him, we were not disappointed. If anything, the billing was understated. He took time with us before the event began, and he was charming to our students.






At one point as he was encircled by seven coeds from King’s College. He put his right hand over his face and exclaimed, “How can I make my wife believe that I was only here for a book tour when she sees this on TV.”


Our next stop was the Mountain View Pizza Shop. The old Burger King turned Italian restaurant was one of our favorite haunts. Here we were treated as if we were family.

That’s what is so enchanting about Lake Placid. People are kind to one another. They are helpful to one another, and they seem to genuinely care about one another and the guests who visit.


In Lake Placid, they know how to build community.

At the pizza shop, the owners could not have been nicer. A table for nine was waiting for us when we arrived, and three large trays of pizza were served less than five minutes after we got our drinks.

It was exactly the way Tracey told us it would happen. No hassles. No worries. The food was excellent, and the atmosphere was accommodating.


In Lake Placid, people keep their word.


Our next stop was the public beach at Mirror Lake and a party that we will remember for a long, long time. Music, hot chocolate, makeshift fires where people huddled to warm their cold hands, toboggan rides, ice sculpture and several of the members of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team entertained and inspired the crowd.


It was freezing cold, a soft snow covered the ground and everyone at the party. Then, precisely at the anniversary moment when the victory was recorded, Mike Eruzione stepped to the microphone to express his thanks to the hundreds of enthusiastic fans who were whip lashed between a brilliant fireworks display above the ground and the men on the makeshift stage who a quarter century earlier breathed fire into the American dream.

In the background between explosions one could hear the familiar Lake Placid chant: USA…USA…USA.


In Lake Placid, people do not hide their enthusiasm.


In the midst of everything I lost my scarf. To the world it was no big deal, just a piece of old clothing that had been in the family since my days at JP Morgan in NY. To me it was so much more. That scarf was more than a protection for my body, it was an heirloom. It was a connection to the past and a very pleasant and productive part of my life.



 




 



 

 











 






With no time to track it down, I had to put my head down and continue working. Life’s like that. You’re often buffeted between the demands of the moment and the pain of loss.

Kitch and I made our way up to the snow covered walkway in front of the stage. Once there, we positioned our camera in a spot that gave us a great shot of the speakers, and when the moment was right we pressed forward climbing the few stairs and there we were face to face with Team Captain, Mike Eruzione.


He was pleasant, personable, accommodating to everyone. He is a special person. After meeting him, I know why Herb Brooks chose him to be the Captain

of the team. He is a one of a kind man. He is impressive in every sense of the word.


And then it was over. Quietly, carefully, we made our way to the designated meeting place, the first ice sculpture that greeted people who entered this special place. Seven students from the college were waiting for us. Their faces were beaming with accomplishment and satisfaction. Their cheeks were red from the cold, but they were warm in all the places of the heart that mattered.


It was a great day, and everyone knew it.


Our procession made its way to the entrance of the public beach, and there, draped carefully and respectfully over a sign, was the green and orange Abercrombie & Fitch scarf that parted company earlier in the evening.


In Lake Placid honesty is important. People return what they find.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005, was a day of days. It started early at McDonalds, and it ended late after a three hour celebration in The 1980 Rink Herb Brooks Arena.


The moments in between were filled with player interviews at the Olympic Museum, a visit to the Tradewinds where big Lou opened his heart, mind and treasury of 1980 Olympic memorabilia to Angela, Lindsey and Cara.


A happenstance meeting with Mike, the collector and groupie, produced a great interview and a treasure trove of amateur pictures of the victories of the US Hockey Team over Sweden and the USSR.


While we mined the treasures of the past including vintage 1980 sunglasses that hung in their appointed places on the dust covered wall of the Tradewinds, four members of our group, Karlina, Katie, Stephanie and Stacey, made their way to the top of Whiteface Mountain to record the sights of that famous Olympic venue.






At 2:30 p.m., we met at our appointed place and from there we visited the public gathering on the oval in front of the high school where Eric Heiden worked his magic.


Covered with fans in all shapes, sizes, ages and genders, there were moments when only the bright yellow jump suit and its owner moving faster than the speed of light flashed through my memory. It was as if the oval cleared and the Olympic giant had it all to himself again.


Then the flashback was broken by the sound of a body, Karlina’s body, hitting the ice.


Even in Lake Placid, fantasy is always short lived.


Across the street the warmth and cuisine of the Jack Frost’s Casual Dining awaited. The food was excellent and the people were friendly.


Next stop, the main event, “A Night of Miracles, Memories & Magic: A Tribute to the Athletes of 1980.”


At precisely 6 p.m. we met our contact, Stephanie Ryan, at the Marketing Office of the Olympic Regional Development Authority. A most competent and very helpful person, Stephanie got the students past security and into the arena.


She promised she would get the students into the sold out performance, and she did.


In Lake Placid, your word is your bond.


Once inside, the students went to the press box high above the venue, and Kitch and I went to the players’ box where we set up our camera, made acquaintances with several of the media people who were working the event, and waited for the curtain to rise.


Actually, I was waiting for eye contact with Patti Brooks and her children, Danny and Kelly.


Occasionally I would look up to check the position of our students. Teachers are like that, they worry about young people, and they want to make sure they get what they are promised. I had no doubt that this night would be huge for the students, but I wanted to see it happening. From my position on the ice, that was impossible.


I could crane my neck all I wanted, but they were on their own and doing just fine.



































Then it happened.


Not more than ten yards away from my position people sat down at table 18, and I knew instinctively they where the honored guests from St. Paul, Minnesota.


My heart raced with excitement, but my mind slowed everything down. This was their special night. Not a time for cameras and impromptu interviews. Not a time for strangers.


They were back in the arena where Herb Brooks and his team made history. Theirs was a bitter sweet moment, and I intended to break all the rules and respect Patti’s privacy.


In the media world, my decision was a dumb decision. In my world, it was the right decision. After all, this was a woman who was married to a man who taught his children to do the right thing regardless of the consequences.


My decision was firm, if the opportunity presented itself, I would approach Patti Brooks for the introduction she requested in her e-mail, but there would be no interview. Not there. Not on that special evening.


In Lake Placid, it seems a lot easier to do the right thing.


As my Sony digital camera recorded the images of the evening, beautiful images of elegance and grace on the ice, powerful images created by words that described the rigors of the Olympic experience, I thought to myself how fortunate we were to be here in this special place of dreams.



Then it happened. The skating ended. Mike Eruzione’s face filled the two screens positioned high above the stage. His thoughtfully chosen words described a coach who was difficult and demanding…a coach who had a method to his madness…a coach who was like a father who made you do what you did not want to do…a coach who earned the right to be given a place of honor in what has become one of America’s sacred sporting shrines.



The moment everyone was waiting for came and went in what appeared to be milliseconds. Patriotic music filled the arena. Colorful balloons fell from the rafters. People clapped and screamed and cried, and then it was over.



Our students filed out of the press box and quickly made their way to the railing above the rink where they attracted Patti Brooks attention.



Kelly Brooks stopped to share some thoughts about her father, and then we were all united for a group picture and some introductions.





There was nervous laughter, and broad smiles on everyone’s face. The energy was positive and our hearts made contact, and it would not be the last time we would be together.


Our next gathering will be in St. Paul.


While Kitch collected our belongings, I asked our students to share what was in their hearts and minds.


Without hesitation, Katie replied, “This is the greatest day of my life. No doubt about it.”


For Angela it was a magical experience, and when that word rolled off her lips there was a smile that would light up the universe on her face.


For Stephanie, it was just incredible. Her face was beaming when she spoke.


It was obvious to all of us that this was a moment that would last forever in our hearts and minds. This was a moment when we were connected with greatness of heart, mind and spirit, and we knew it. This was a day when the accomplishments of our Olympians and their coaches, in particular one demanding coach named Brooks, opened our souls to possibilities we never realized were there.


In touching the past all of us had connected with the future, and we were better people because of that.


As we made our way into the cold Lake Placid night our hearts were filled with gratitude and dreams of a better tomorrow.


Thank you, Herb Brooks

Tony Mussari, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus
King’s College
Producer
Windsor Park Stories