42 years ago, 8,500 fans gathered at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York to witness what became “the greatest sports moment of the 20th century”. A team of college kids, led by head coach Herb Brooks, did the impossible by beating the Soviet Union, who were four-time defending gold medalists. The heavily favored Soviet Union was beaten by the United States by a final score of 4-3.
Out of the 20 players on Team USA’s roster, 13 moved on to play in the NHL, and three of them moved on to play for the New Jersey Devils. The first player I am going to highlight appeared in 1,099 games, and played 88 with the Devils, where he earned the first and only Stanley Cup of his career.
Neal Broten scored two goals and had three points in seven games during the Olympics. Throughout the tournament, he played on the third line, alongside team captain Mike Eruzione. To this day, the 5-foot-9 forward is the only hockey player ever to win an NCAA title, Olympic gold medal, Hobey Baker Award, and Stanley Cup. Coach Brooks knew Broten was something special, and was quoted saying that he was the best ninth-grade hockey player he had ever seen, and would send his assistant to watch Broten for three years before the young forward signed with Minnesota. Brooks would later say Broten was the best player he ever coached at the University of Minnesota.
Broten’s NHL career began with the Minnesota North Stars, as he made his NHL debut during the 1980-81 season. On Feb. 27, 1995, The Devils received Broten via trade from the Dallas Stars in exchange for Corey Millen. At 35 years old, he was towards the end of his career, but still felt like he had something to prove, and put up 28 points in 30 games for New Jersey after going scoreless in 17 for the Stars.
The former Olympic gold medalist was one of the Devils’ best forwards in the playoffs, registering 19 points in 20 games, second-best on the team behind Stephane Richer. During the Stanley Cup Final, he led all skaters with three goals and three assists in four games. While his former linemate Eruzione scored the most important goal of his career in Lake Placid, Broten scored his at Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Minnesota native notched the series-winning goal for his team in Game 4 in the second period to win the Stanley Cup.
Mark Johnson solidified himself as coach Brooks’ number one center during the tournament, and was the team’s points leader with 11 in seven games. It was his late first-period goal that led to the Soviet Union replacing their top goaltender, Vladislav Tretiak, with backup goaltender Vladimir Myshkin. The Minnesota native scored a second goal in the third period, and set the stage for Eruzione’s game-winning goal and Al Michael’s famous call.
Like Broten, Johnson was sent to the Devils as part of a trade. The St. Louis Blues traded the 5-foot-9 forward to New Jersey in exchange for a fifth round draft pick and Shawn Evans on Sept. 19, 1985. This marked his fifth NHL team, and at 28 years old, had 364 games under his belt. His experience and leadership led to him being introduced as one of the Devils’ first alternate captains during the 1986-87 season.
Out of the five NHL teams he played for, most of Johnson’s time was spent in New Jersey. The 5-foot-9 forward did an interview with Peter Robinson from the Devils, and reflected on how great it was playing in the garden state.
“New Jersey was great for me,” said Johnson. “The playoffs in 1988, Sean Burke coming back from the Olympics and we went on that run just to get into the playoffs…losing to Boston in Game 7 (of the Conference Final). I’m not sure we could have beaten Edmonton that year, but I think we could have taken a game or two (compared to the Bruins being swept).”
Johnson played 305 games with the Devils scoring 89 goals and earning 229 points. He finished his NHL career in New Jersey and hung his skates up for good 1992 after playing for a couple of teams overseas.
Chances are that if you watched the 2004 movie “Miracle” you were a fan of Jack “O.C.” O’Callahan. He was portrayed as a physical player who was the heart and soul of the team, which was an accurate depiction. The 6-foot-2 defenseman actually missed three games of the tournament due to an injury, but battled back to play against the Soviet Union, even if it was a more limited role.
“My role was limited when I came back, and it was difficult not to play as much as I used to,” said O’Callahan during an interview with ESPN. “I had to figure out other ways to contribute in the locker room and on the bench, being supportive of my teammates, being a leader that way.”
O’Callahan was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks with their 96th pick in the 1977 NHL Draft. He played on their blue line for five seasons scoring fifteen goals and 393 penalty minutes. He played a physical game and was skilled in moving the puck up to his forwards.
On Oct. 5, 1987, the Massachusetts native was claimed by the Devils from the Chicago Blackhawks. He made his New Jersey debut four nights later at Brendan Byrne Arena, where he was reunited with his former Lake Placid teammate Mark Johnson, and earned two assists in the Devils’ 6-3 victory. During his final NHL season, he found himself on a three-game goal streak for the first time in his career, and finished the season earning 26 points in 36 games.
In 1982, the Colorado Rockies moved to East Rutherford, New Jersey, and became the Devils. There is plenty to marvel at In the team’s 40-year history including three Stanley Cup Championships, and seeing three players from the greatest sports moment of the 20th century wear the Devils’ crest simply adds to the organization’s already rich history.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.