THW Remembers The Forgotten Miracle

The NHL and NBC missed a golden opportunity to celebrate not only the 35th anniversary of the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” team, but also the 55th anniversary of USA’s 1st Olympic gold medal hockey team.  Saturday night’s setting at Levi’s Stadium would have been a fitting place to honor the 1960 USA team which won the hearts of America just 200 miles away in Squaw Valley, CA.
Sunday was NBC’s 5th annual Hockey Day in America celebration.  As part of the festivities NBC set up their studio in Lake Placid, NY (where Team USA won gold in 1980).   Other than a brief mention of Tommy Williams there was no acknowledgement of the 1960 USA gold medal team.  Williams, the first American to play in the NHL, was a forward on the 1960 team.

Do You Believe In Miracles?

In 1980 I was 10 years old when Mike Eruzione buried the shot heard around the world.  I remember Jim Craig skating around the rink with an American Flag draped over his jersey searching for his Dad in the stands.  Like a lot of kids my age I was hooked.  Obviously it was a different world back then.  There was no Twitter, Facebook or You Tube to find out US or World events as they happened real-time.  We actually had to watch the ’80 game on tape delay.  That said, the USA-Soviet Union game is still the highest rated hockey game in US history at 23.9/37 average audience 34.2 million.  Conversely, 1960 was the first time the Olympics were broadcast on television.

Both teams had legendary coaches.  As documented in the movie “Miracle”coach Herb Brooks, the mastermind of the 1980 team, was the last player cut from the 1960 team.  Brooks used unconventional techniques to motivate and train his players.  He also believed in a team game compared to a team of all-stars.  Jack Riley played for the 1948 US Olympic team and went on to coach the 1960 team.  Riley also coached hockey at West Point for 35 years.


David vs. Two Goliaths

Ice hockey became a part of the Olympic Games in 1920.  From 1920-1960 Canada won gold 6 out of 8 times.  As mentioned in the Forgotten Miracle documentary, Canada was considered the biggest hockey power in the world.  Although going into the 1960 Games, the Soviets were also a dominant team and were the defending Olympic champions (gold 1956).

The 1960 USA team had a pair of brother combinations upfront in Bill/Bob Cleary and Roger/Bill Christian.  John Mayasich and USA captain Jack Kirrane were the top pair on defense.  Goalie Jack McCartan protected the net for the Red, White and Blue.

Similar to the 1980 games, the US would face their most difficult challenge prior to the gold medal game.  Canada and the Soviets would stand in the way of a date to play for gold.  First up was Team Canada.  The US jumped out to a 2-0 lead against Canada on goals by Bill Cleary and Paul Johnson.  They would hold on for a 2-1 victory with Jack McCartan stopping 39 of 40 shots on goal.  In the Forgotten Miracle documentary Jack Riley called it, “the best goaltending performance I have ever seen.”  Next, would be the semi final game against the Soviets.  Prior to 1960 the US had never beaten a Soviet team.  Again the home team jumped out to a 1-0 lead, but the Soviets quickly responded with 2 goals.  However, Roger and Bill Christian would combine for 2 goals to give the US a 3-2 win.  The US would play the gold medal game the next morning against Czechoslovakian.  After a sluggish start the US went on to win 9-4.




Hockey In The Bloodlines

Jack Kirrane’s older brother Bill Kirrane (Former Boston University hockey captain) is my grandfather.  Uncle Jack took an unpaid leave of absence from the Brookline Fire Department to play in the Olympics.  Later he would team up again with Bill Cleary at Harvard University.  Cleary coached Harvard’s hockey team for nearly 20 years.  During that time, Jack drove the Zamboni and sharpened skates as rink manager.  One of the players Jack bonded closest with was former NHL defenseman and current Boston Bruins Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney.  When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, Sweeney took it over Jack’s house as a surprise.


Jack Kirrane & Mike Eruzione
Jack Kirrane & Mike Eruzione

Ironically one of my friends from college, Rich Crossman, is a nephew to Mike Eruzione.  I later met Mr. Eruzione at Rich’s wedding.  When I introduced myself as Jack Kirrane’s nephew, Eruzione replied,”He’s one tough SOB”.

Meanwhile, the closest Rich or I would get to winning gold was an intramural street hockey championship with the “Clubhouse Boys” at Bridgewater State College.