The Near-Miracle on Ice: An Oral History of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team

Defenseman Moe Mantha and goaltender Ray Leblanc in the game against Sweden at the 1992 Winter Olympics. [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
Expectations were not very high for the United States Men’s Ice Hockey Team during the 1992 Winter Olympics, but for a two-week span, the group of college players and minor leaguers captured the hearts and minds of Americans watching back home.

After the U.S. rocked the hockey world at the 1980 Olympics with its “Miracle on Ice” win over the Soviet Union and subsequent gold medal victory, Americans hoped for a repeat. It wouldn’t happen that decade, though, as the U.S. finished 7th out of 12 teams in 1984 and again in 1988.

While the U.S. team may have been projected to be a doormat at the 1992 Olympics, the team proved the world wrong. Led by goaltender Ray Leblanc, an unlikely hero between the pipes, the ’92 team was the U.S.’s “Near-Miracle on Ice” – a team that was unstoppable in its first six games, only to be halted by the tournament’s eventual champion.

Part I – The Long Road to Méribel

Narrowing down the 1992 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team to 23 players was a six-month process. [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
The 1992 U.S. Olympic Team was a bricolage of college standouts and minor pro players, with a few NHLers mixed in. Building the team was an ongoing process that started in the summer of 1991 and went until a few weeks before the Olympics started in February of 1992.

Bret Hedican | #24 | Defense
I had a really good junior year at St. Cloud State University. I was on spring break, of all things, and I got a call from my parents. They said USA Hockey called, and that they wanted me to represent the Americans in Russia for a tournament called the Pravda Cup. I was blown away. I never – not once – had been asked to represent the United States in any national tournament. I had four of the best games of my life. I gave everything I had, because I knew it was my chance of a lifetime. The coaches were Dave Peterson and Dean Blais, and they asked me to try out for the National Team. I left college my senior year to make the National Team, in hopes to make the Olympic Team.

David Emma | #10 | Forward
After I won the Hobey [Baker Award, as the NCAA’s best player], I went right to the tryouts.

Shawn McEachern | #15 | Forward
We had tryouts in the summertime. That’s the way it worked with the Olympic teams back then. You went to tryouts for the National Team, and then you played for the National Team. And then you’d play a season against some NHL teams and some college and minor league teams. And then, just before the Olympics, they cut it down. We traveled around for about six months with the National Team.

Keith Tkachuk | #17 | Forward
This was before I was a professional. Because I was so young, 19 years old, I wasn’t expecting to make the team. I guess I had a good tryout. I was already enrolled to go back to school that fall, but luckily, I made it, and kept on making it, and got to go play in the Olympics.

The U.S. National Team played an exhibition tour of nearly 60 games against NHL teams, as well as minor league and other international squads like Sweden and Canada. Players were constantly being added – and cut – as NHL and minor league players became available.  

Tim Sweeney [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
Tim Sweeney | #21 | Forward
USA Hockey said they were interested in having me join the National Team. But the Calgary Flames management said that I had a good chance of making the team because I had a big year in the minors the previous season. I made the Flames, but I was in and out of the lineup. I could see the writing on the wall, so I asked if they could lend me to the National Team. The Flames agreed, and USA Hockey said they’d love to have me.

Hedican
It was a difficult time, because we were all playing to make the team. So, in some ways, it was a little bit cutthroat, but we were still on the same team. There were a lot of guys who got cut after leaving school to try and make the Olympic Team.

Steve Heinze | #11 | Forward
If you can imagine living out of a suitcase for six months. You’re 21 years old and can get cut any time. I had a crack in my lower back called spondylolysis. It’s a crack in your vertebra. I was living on anti-inflammatories and was afraid that I’d get cut every day. So, you’re on the first line one night, the fifth line the next. It was a roller coaster. I was just trying to survive every day and prove that I belonged there.

Hedican
All those exhibition games against the NHL teams were memorable. There were a couple where Bill Guerin (who was one of the National Team’s last cuts) and Keith Tkachuk dropping the gloves with some of the NHL guys. We had a competitive group of men.

Keith Tkachuk [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
Tkachuk
Yeah. Those were the NHL players that I wanted to play against. If they were pissed off and in a bad mood, that was back when the rules were different, where you could fight. It was fun. We got to travel around all of the U.S. and play all of the NHL teams, and be in all the buildings that I used to watch on TV as a kid. It was a great year. It was a grueling year, because of the travel.

Heinze
We played exhibition games across Canada against the Canadian National Team, when Eric Lindros was on the team, a big angry 18-year old. It was miserable playing against him. He was just a man-child. We’d do everything to try and contain him, and hit him, and run him over. We’re just bouncing off of him. He’s was just like a Baby Huey out there. So, it got a little heated. We had some fisticuffs. Guys on our team, like Keith Tkachuk who weren’t afraid to mix it up. And Billy Guerin. So, it made for an interesting exhibition against those guys.

To bolster the team’s leadership, Coach Peterson brought aboard Guy Gosselin, Clark Donatelli and Jim Johansson. All three played for the 1988 U.S. Olympic Team. He also reached out to 31-year old Moe Mantha, a 12-year NHL veteran who was winding down his career with the Winnipeg Jets.

Guy Gosselin | #5 | Defense | Alternate Captain
I played the prior year in Sweden [with Skelleftea]. I had a couple of offers. I had a wonderful offer in Sweden, but I had something over here on the table. Then I had the rug pulled out from under my feet. And at that point, I just thought to myself, I really don’t like the way this thing works. I decided to go back to school. I was thinking about hanging ‘em up. That was the plan. Then I got a call from Dave Peterson and things changed. I joined the team in December.

Moe Mantha | #22 | Defense | Alternate Captain
I played on three World Championship teams. I played on one for Coach Pete, so there was a connection with him. When this thing was going on, I got a call from Coach Pete asking me to play for the Olympic Team, and the rest is history.

Clark Donatelli | #44 | Forward | Team Captain
I joined the National Team when they came back from an exhibition in Europe, after I went to the Boston Bruins training camp.

“Guys got cut, guys got added, and that was the soup that came together at the end.” – Steve Heinze

Heinze
Guys got cut, guys got added, and more guys got cut, and more guys got added, and that was the soup that came together at the end. I think it is one of the reasons we ended up doing fairly well, is that they put together a good group of guys: some older guys with experience, and us younger guys trying to do our best.

Hedican
I think early on, there was probably some resentment, because, like any Olympic team, you had amateurs who were all playing for our lives out there every day, every game, every practice. And then, all of a sudden, these guys with pro experience come in at the end and make the team. That being said, when you have NHL experience, you’re used to playing against men. And we were all just kids, essentially boys trying to become men. These guys were seasoned veterans and brought a calming force to the team.

Tkachuk
Seeing some guys getting cut was tough. It was an emotional year.

Heinze
During the camp and exhibition, I wore number 12 because that was my number in college. As it got closer to the Olympics, I asked if I made the team, can I wear number 57, because of “Heinze 57.” They said if I made the team, sure. I show up at the Olympics, and there’s no number 12 jersey, and no number 57 jersey. But my college buddy, Ted Crowley, who wore number 11 the whole time, got cut at the last minute. So, I became number 11 for the Olympics. I don’t know if they were planning on cutting me, but the equipment guy was like, we can’t make any more jerseys. That’s how I got number 11.

Another surprise late addition to the roster was goaltender Ray Leblanc, who played for the Chicago Blackhawks top minor-league affiliate, the Indianapolis Ice.

Ray Leblanc | #1 | Goaltender
In 1990, I was invited to the Goodwill Games, and I made the team with Guy Hebert. We won the silver medal, and that’s where the scouts of the National Team knew me from.

Tkachuk
Ray didn’t look like your typical goalie. He was tiny, he talked like Mike Tyson. He went on a heck of a run in the Olympics.

Ray Leblanc [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
Leblanc
The Indianapolis Ice were cool. At the time, they had enough goalies, so they loaned me to the U.S. National Team. They gave me a two-game tryout. The first game was against the Philadelphia Flyers, and I had a 1-1 tie and was named star of the game. The second game was against the San Jose Sharks, and we beat them 6-2, and the coaches said they were keeping me (laughs). There was nothing written in stone. I wasn’t even planning on it. It was a surprise. 

Sweeney
Ray was a funny dude. I didn’t really know him before the Olympics, and quite frankly, Scott Gordon had played more games during the tour than Ray. Even in the pre-Olympic tour over in Sweden, we had a couple of games, and Scott had played really well. So, we were completely surprised that Ray got to start the first game, because we always thought Scott was going to. That was an interesting turn of events, but Ray ended up playing great. He couldn’t have played any better.

Leblanc
My teammates played very well in front of me. They let me see every shot, and it makes the goalie’s job a lot easier when you don’t have to worry about tips or screens a lot in front of you. They communicated well with me, and I think the team was just gelling at the right time.

Part II – The Unbeaten Streak

Scott Lachance and Ray Leblanc in the game against Germany at the 1992 Winter Olympics. [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
The day before the round robin tournament began, the U.S. team participated in the Opening Ceremony, held in Albertville, France. For many, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, even for players who skated on prior or future Olympic teams.

Emma
The opportunity to walk in the Opening Ceremony was probably the highlight of my life. The Opening Ceremony, to me, is the epitome of being an Olympian.

Defenseman Bret Hedican, in a pre-Olympic National Team game against Canada. [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
Hedican
The Opening Ceremony was one of the greatest moments that I had in my life. When I was 10 years old, I was sitting on the carpet, leaned up against the couch with my dad, and we were watching the 1980 Olympic Team win the gold medal. I remember saying to myself at that moment, I want to become an Olympian. Walking in the Opening Ceremony, to this day, still makes me emotional. The Opening Ceremony represented that reality, I actually made it, I am actually here, holy cow, this is true. That’s the moment it all hits you, that you are really there at the Olympic Games.

Leblanc
The Olympic flame being lit; you’d never dream you’d actually be there to see it.

Gosselin
The Opening Ceremony was a new experience for us, because the team didn’t march in ’88 in Calgary, because of traffic. We had a game that day.

Tkachuk
I played in three more Olympics as a pro, and we never walked in the Opening Ceremony. But I did in ’92 and it was a lot of fun meeting the other U.S. athletes, meeting the other countries’ athletes, walking into a huge stadium where all the spotlights are on you. I’m glad I got to do that.

Game 1 – February 9, 1992 – USA 6, Italy 3: The next day, it was all business, as the U.S. Team opened the tournament against Italy. Games were held in Méribel at the Méribel Ice Palace, an 8,000-seat rink that opened in 1991.

Heinze
In the exhibition season, it wasn’t like we were beating teams up; we were getting beat up. And then, we changed our forecheck in our last exhibition game. We didn’t forecheck unless we had a full-on chance to get the puck. Otherwise, we played a 1-2-2 or even a 1-3-1 when we’re really going to passive forecheck. That’s what we did going into the Olympics. We said, OK, these guys have such speed, and play in the bigger rink, so let’s not just play that straight-ahead North American style of chasing the puck around and then get caught deep and give up odd man rushes.

“We went in there with an attitude of nothing to lose, everything to gain”
– Moe Mantha

Mantha
Everybody figured we’d be 8th in the whole thing. We went in there with the attitude of nothing to lose, everything to gain. We had a lot of young guys who turned out to be pretty good hockey players. We went there as underdogs, and we surprised a lot of people.

Heinze
Moe Mantha scored our first goal in the tournament. He wouldn’t be the one that I picked [to do that].

Mantha
I don’t remember scoring that goal. Too many concussions, I think (laughs).

Heinze
It went off of his skate. We thought the refs were going to call it back. He sort of looked around, like yeah, I scored. But I don’t think he actually shot the puck.

Game 2 – February 11, 1992 – USA 2, Germany 0: Two days later, the U.S. faced Germany and was outshot 46-27. It was at this point that Leblanc’s play really started to heat up.

Heinze
Ray was unbelievable. He was the best goalie I’ve seen play for two weeks that I’ve ever experienced or seen. That guy stood on his head, and it was magical. He stopped everything. We were a pretty good team. We played OK. But he just stood on his head. 

Leblanc
The game that stands out to me the most was against Germany, because of the 2-0 shutout. I made 46 saves. It was a lot of fun, it was a lot of shots, and all the craziness.

“Ray played out of his mind. I don’t think he was bothered by how big this was”
– Guy Gosselin

Gosselin
Ray played out of his mind. I don’t think he was bothered by how big this was. He just played hockey. He was focused. He had an outstanding tournament. Scott Gordon was a fantastic goaltender, too. We just happened to have Ray, and he happened to be hot at the time, and he did a great job for us.

Leblanc
I just played five minutes at a time. I broke down the game that way and kept it simple. I wasn’t thinking about that I was on national TV. I was just thinking about what was in front of me for five minutes at a time. To me, it was the easiest way to deal with any pressure. And I just made it as simple as I could.

Game 3 – February 13, 1992 – USA 4, Finland 1: Next up were the Finns, a team bolstered by former NHL players Petri Skriko and Villie Siren and led by a future Hall of Famer.

Sweeney
I think the game that really stands out – where we were finally saying, hey, we got a pretty good chance here – was against Finland. We were the underdogs in that game. They had Teemu Selanne, they had a good team. I think that was our game where we collectively thought we could do some good here. We beat a really good Finland team, so I think we thought we could play with anybody after that game.

Clark Donatelli, in a pre-Olympic National Team game. [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
Donatelli
We didn’t have any nights off. All the games were really important. We took them one at a time, obviously. We went through the same approach whether we were playing Sweden or Finland or Poland. It didn’t matter. If we didn’t play the right way, we were going to be in trouble. We just focused on the task at hand and whoever we were playing that night.

Mantha
Clark Donatelli did a good job as captain. He deserves a lot of credit with our team, too, helping these kids out. Clark did a lot of good things as a captain. I’m not surprised that he’s coaching now. He’s a good man, and he was a good leader. I used to call him “Dude.”

Donatelli
Mantha would call me “Dude.” But some of the guys on the team called me “Stubby Lamar.”

Game 4 – February 15, 1992 – USA 3, Poland 0. The U.S. Team won its fourth straight game in the Olympics, shutting out Poland. By this point, everyone back home was excited about what could happen. The whispers of another “Miracle” were getting louder and more frequent.

Heinze
By those last round robin games, we were America’s team. That was the energy we had. It was like, oh, we’re going to be like the 1980 team. It was just a crescendo. We’re getting letters and are we are on TV. The whole country was rallying around us. There’s really people watching, and hockey is a big thing again, and people back in the States care. The letters just kept coming and coming.

Emma
I remember our trainer walking into our locker room and bringing us letters. We got hundreds and hundreds of letters every day. Someone who had written from Idaho, or Iowa, or wherever, just saying that we are rooting for you, we are here for you.

Leblanc
One thing that I do remember, that made me laugh, is that the French fans were shouting my name in French: Leblanc! Leblanc! Leblanc! And I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I just thought that was funny.

Donatelli
Ray played phenomenal for us. He was there at every turn. He made that timely save whenever we had a breakdown.

Leblanc
Our coaching staff invested so much time to prepare us for each game. They explained really well to us how to counter other the other teams’ systems, and what to do in certain situations. They’re really the unsung heroes, because they made my job easier.

Moe Mantha [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
Mantha
I had a crack in my ankle. I had to put my foot in a damn five-gallon pail to freeze my ankle before I could put my skate on and play. The IOC knew about my ankle. They’d call me in after games to go for drug testing, to make sure I wasn’t on any banned pain pills. I didn’t mind it, because they’d give you beer to drink before going to the bathroom. It was nice to have a couple of beers, sit back and enjoy the win with your teammates, then go to the testing, you know?

Game 5 – February 17, 1992 – USA 3, Sweden 3: In the fifth and final game of the round robin, the U.S. played Sweden, who had won the World Championships the previous spring and were heavily favored to win the Olympic tournament. Two minutes in, former NHLer Mats Naslund of Sweden viciously boarded U.S. defenseman Greg Brown, injuring him for the game. Naslund was given a major and ejected. The U.S. scored on the power play, and early in the third period had a 3-0 lead.  

Heinze
We needed to beat or tie Sweden to win our pool. The Sweden game was really the true test. Do we belong here? Are we really this good? Are we going to be able to do something in the medal round?

Donatelli
When Greg Brown got hurt, it kind of hurt us in the Sweden game.

Sweeney
Tying Sweden was our only blemish in the round robin.

Heinze
I took a really dumb penalty, trying to punch [former NHLer] Borje Salming in the head. He was the elder statesmen for Sweden. That’s a vivid memory of mine, I regret.

Sweden scored on the ensuing power play to pull within two goals, then scored another two in the closing moments of the game to tie the U.S. 3-3. The Swedes outshot the U.S. 48-19, with Leblanc making 45 saves. But win or tie it did not matter; the U.S. would play the host country in the Quarterfinal Game.

Game 6 – February 18, 1992 – USA 4, France 1: Ted Donato scored a pair of goals for the U.S., while Leblanc turned away 35 shots. But the host country wasn’t going to go down without a fight – literally.

Mantha
We were in their country, with all their countrymen waving their flags, and all the chants. It was just a really good environment. That game there was why you play the game; the atmosphere, the electricity in the air. The intimidation of their fans cheering their countrymen on, and then us winning the game. It was special for our team.

Heinze
We were like, all right, we got this far, we now believe in ourselves. We should win this game, let’s go out there and win it. Of course, we had nerves and whatnot. But we believed in ourselves then, and believed in the system we were playing, and the guys we were playing with. I did know that we were going to win this game, and that we needed to just go out there and do it.

McEachern
I remember the game because it was in France, so the fans were pretty vocal for the French team.

Donatelli
It was a spirited game. They had a lot of Canadians on that team. The game was pretty physical at the end. It was close. I know it ended up 4-1, but it was a nitty-gritty game. It was tough. Our goaltender played really well, and had a good game.

“We knew that we were going to face serious competition as we got deeper into the medal rounds.”
–  David Emma

Emma
We were pretty confident going into the France game in the quarterfinal. They were a team we were looking forward to playing, to get going into the medal round. We had great goaltending, but played a very solid game. We knew that we were going to face serious competition as we got deeper into the medal rounds.  

Sweeney
France always played really tough. They weren’t a very skilled team, but they were always a very difficult team to play. Yeah, we beat them, but it wasn’t an easy game. They always played really hard and made it difficult on teams to play against.

Gosselin
Got a little chippy. We were a better hockey team. They were trying to take us off our game. But, I can remember it being a chippy game. It started getting out of hand. But, fortunately, we came out on top.

Seconds after the end of the game, tempers flared. The U.S. and French teams flooded off the benches in what looked started to look like a Bruins-Flyers game from the 1970s.

Leblanc
A couple of the French players were frustrated, and they were taking cheap shots. It happens in sports; you pour your heart out and sometimes it doesn’t work out. Our players don’t back down from anything. I think it was Guy Gosselin, and he’s going to fight back.

Gosselin
Yeah, I was [in the middle of it]. There were a couple of guys who were doing some things that weren’t very sportsman-like out on the ice, and we took exception to it. It was building up throughout the game. I’m sure somebody said something after the game. That’s hockey. But you can’t fight in the Olympics. We came close to it, but the referees finally got control of it.

Part III – Hitting a Wall

Unified Team goaltender Mikhail Shtalenkov makes a save as Steve Heinze races for the rebound. [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
Game 7 – February 21, 1992 – Unified Team (Russia) 5, USA 2: In the semifinal round, the United States played the Unified Team – a squad mainly comprised of Russian players, with a few players from former Soviet bloc countries mixed in. On the roster were future NHLers Alexei Zhamnov, Darius Kasparatis, Sergei Zubov, Igor Kravchuk, Dmitri Yushkevich, Alexei Zhitnik and several others. The Unified Team scored 38 goals in its first six games, which was more than any other team that year.  

McEachern
Throughout the round robin, we played a trap. I think we decided to go a little more aggressive against Russia, and I think that probably hurt us a little bit, because they were so talented. The Russian team had a lot of great players, a lot of guys who went on to play in the NHL for a long time. At the end of the day, maybe the better team won there, but they were very good.

Gosselin
They had just had so much firepower. I think we were starting to run out of steam at that point.

Hedican
I remember the Russian game being really close. I’ve never seen tape of it. I’d really love to go back and watch that game, because I thought we were right there.

Heinze
There wasn’t anything went wrong with our team. I just think the Russians were an unbelievable team. I think we started chasing them around a bit instead of staying in that controlled game that brought us success. We reverted back to just chasing them around, and maybe trying too hard in some instances. We were still in the game by the end of the second period, but they outshot us by some ungodly amount. Ray Leblanc stood on his head, again.

In the first period, the Unified Team outshot the U.S. 10-8 and led 2-1. But in the second period, the Unified Team took it to another level, outshooting the U.S. 20-3. Still, the U.S. tied the game 2-2 heading into the third period.

Mantha
The Russians were just so much more experienced and used to playing with each other. I remember us talking after the period, about settling down and focusing on the game.

Tkachuk
We kind of hit a wall there. We couldn’t keep relying on our goaltender to make the big stop and win us a game. It was a tough game. It was close. It came down to the wire. But it was a good game.

The Unified Team didn’t let up in the third period, outshooting the U.S. 25-7. But with 10 minutes left in the third, it was still possible for the U.S. to win and go to the gold medal game.   

“We had 10 minutes left in the third period. It was 2-2. Anything could have happened.”
–  Ray Leblanc

Leblanc
Penalties killed us in the third period. We had 10 minutes left in the third period. It was still 2-2. Anything could have happened. But we just kept getting penalties, and penalties and penalties. If you gave the Unified Team that much opportunity, they’re going to score. And unfortunately, they did. That was what killed us.

Donatelli
The Russians took advantage of some power-play goals, and that was it. But I thought we played well. Looking back, we could have probably been a bit more disciplined. If we don’t play well, we don’t win, right? So, we had to be an emotional team, and that’s who we were out there.

Heinze
I remember Clark, our captain, yelling at the ref, and everybody else, that we’re getting screwed on the calls. We were getting flustered, and we were seeing our chances of a gold medal slipping away. I would say that game sort of got away from us mentally. Ray gave us a chance, but I think that team was a better team. I wouldn’t call it “The Miracle” all over again, but for us to have beaten them would have been a big stretch.

Three penalties by the U.S. Team during the last 10 minutes of the third period led to three unanswered goals by the Unified Team, who won the game 5-2. Two nights later, the Unified Team beat Canada to claim the gold medal.

Sweeney
I thought Russia was the best team in the tournament, no question. We knew it was going to be a really, really tough game. And I think on that day, they were just better. They outshot us pretty good. Ray played really well.

David Emma [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
Emma
In the round robin games, we played very well, but we had some incredible goaltending that kept us in the games. But Russia was an unbelievable team. They outplayed us. As Russia always did, they tend to control the puck more, tons of puck possession. You can’t take penalties against a team like Russia, or they’re going to put the puck in the net. You give a team like that a lot of opportunities, and they’re going to cash in. And they did. That was the end of our run.

Hedican
I really think a guy like Bill Guerin, who got cut before the Olympics would have been a difference-maker in a game like that against Russia. I wish he had been on our team. I’m really sad about that. To this day, it still affects me, to be honest. We were right there, 10 minutes to go. I feel like that game was a game that could have went either way. And it might have been a player or two that could have been the difference. Billy, I think, would have been one of those guys,

Game 8 – February 22, 1992 – Czechoslovakia 6, USA 1: The very next day, the United States played Czechoslovakia for the bronze medal, but were emotionally drained from the prior game. The Czechs led 2-0 after the first period, and 4-0 after two en route to a 6-1 win and a bronze medal.

Mantha
I remember losing the game the day before, we all had our sights on winning a gold or silver, and it was a mental letdown. We just never regrouped to get back on track and try and win a bronze. We weren’t mentally sharp in that game.

Tkachuk
We were down in the dumps from the game before, and it kind of just carried over. Nothing good came out of that game at all.

Heinze
We tried to win. We absolutely tried to win. Which is so unfortunate, because what I wouldn’t do to have a bronze medal sitting in my closet right now. That’s one of my biggest regrets.

“I just want another crack at that game”
–  Bret Hedican

Hedican
Yeah, that haunts me to this day. I don’t have an Olympic medal. I have a Stanley Cup, but I tell you, I have always wanted an Olympic medal, and I just want another crack at that game.

Donatelli
It was tough for us to get going after an emotional game against the Russians. The Czechs got off to a really good start, and they blitzed us. They came out flying. It was one of their better games. They were on all cylinders. They jumped out to a lead. We just couldn’t catch them.

Sweeney
Because of that loss to Russia, we had such high hopes to get in that gold medal game, I think it kind of deflated us, and that’s pretty much how we played against the Czechs. We just didn’t have a lot of punch.

Leblanc
Well, after we had the first loss…I don’t know. We just started out kind of rough, we didn’t get any of the breaks or the bounces, either. And they were playing really well. They were flying. And every opportunity, they made it count. We ended up losing that game, unfortunately. But that experience, being in that position, it was kind of surreal, but frustrating, because you didn’t come away with anything, you know?

Part IV – Hands Empty, Hearts Full

Left to right: Clark Donatelli, C.J. Young, Scott Young and Greg Brown. [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
There is no medal for fourth place, and the U.S. players skipped the Closing Ceremony to head home and get on with their hockey careers. Many went on to play in the NHL that season, including Heinze, McEachern, Hedican and Tkachuk, among others. The U.S. Team may have come home empty-handed, but their hearts were full from the experience of a lifetime. 

McEachern
I was 22 years old. It was a great experience, playing for your country. Being there, because it was at a small village, it felt like a small tournament. On the flight home, they made an announcement that there were Olympians on the flight, and people clapped. When we got home, I understood the magnitude of it.

Heinze
It was one of the best experiences I ever had in my life. How can you beat playing for your country? The French Alps were just breathtaking. A bunch of young guys having a good time together. The fact that you’re an Olympian, it almost defies description. You’re so full and so happy that you got to do that.

Gosselin
Watching the Olympics as a kid, you always thought it was in some faraway country, in some mountain town or whatever. It was exactly how I had envisioned being in the Olympics as a kid. And I really took it all in, and it was just a fantastic experience. It’s really hard to explain, to convey the whole experience. And we really enjoyed it. And it was an honor; it’s always an honor to represent your country.

Tkachuk
The experience helped me prepare for the National Hockey League.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life. I made a lot of friendships from that team.”
–  Tim Sweeney

Sweeney
It was one of the best experiences of my life. We had a great team over there. I made a lot of friendships from that team. I still see a lot of them to this day. Very disappointing that we didn’t medal, because we thought were good enough. We put the U.S. back in the forefront after two down Olympics.

Donatelli
I thought it great. It was a close-knit bunch of guys. We fell short, but we were very proud.

Mantha
It was priceless. To this day, I tell people I hope you can put on the red, white and blue and represent your country in the Olympics. I got my sweater hanging in my mancave. I got all my NHL sweaters, but one of the sweaters that I’m proud of is that red, white and blue sweater.

“The experience of playing so many games helped me prepare for the NHL.”
–  Shawn McEachern

McEachern
The experience overall of playing so many games with the National Team, and being on the road, learning how to be a pro hockey player, not going to school anymore, having practice, travel, practice, travel, play games. It was a grind. But I think it helped prepare me for the NHL.

Leblanc
It’s a blessing to see the players that I played with do well in the NHL. It always made me smile to see the players who went on, like Keith Tkachuk and Ted Donato and Tim Sweeney. To say, yeah, I played with that guy, and it was pretty cool.

Hedican
I met my wife [American figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi] at the Opening Ceremonies. She didn’t remember meeting me (laughs), but I remember meeting her. I was just one of a bunch of hockey players she was introduced to at the Opening Ceremony before we walked out as a country. A lot of Americans were taking photos of each other and with other athletes. But then I met her again three years later, when I was playing for the Canucks. She skated at the opening of GM Place that night. I re-introduced myself. She went home and looked at her photos from the Opening Ceremony, and there I was in one of them. It’s kind of a fun story, the fact that we met at the ’92 Games originally, even though she didn’t remember meeting me.

Emma
The best experience of my life was being part of the Olympic team. It was the epitome of my career to have an opportunity to wear that jersey.

Leblanc
To play in the Olympics is an experience that you can’t really say or put down on paper. All those things you take away, those are experiences you never forget. It’s just cool to wear your country’s name across your jersey. And representing your country, especially on foreign soil, is pretty amazing.

Hedican
I’m proud to be an Olympian. I’m proud of taking fourth. But man, would it have been nice to have a medal. ■

Sal Barry cut class in high school to watch the U.S. Team in the 1992 Olympics, and has the games on VHS in a box somewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @PuckJunk

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Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

10 thoughts on “The Near-Miracle on Ice: An Oral History of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team”

    1. Thank you for reading, Al. And yes, it took many, many hours, but some things are worth it. Glad I could teach you a new word 🙂

  1. Ray is my son in law. I recorded every game only to find that our vcr did not work and I wonder if there is any way to get a copy of those games. I saved all the newspaper clippings and magazine articles and just recently passed them off to Rays children. Great recap..good reading..brought back wonderful memories.

  2. Loved reading this. Brought back memories of watching the tournament. Thank you! While no current NHLers played at the Pyeongchang Olympic games, the journeymen/college players/etc who played for the USA brought back that nostalgic feeling of when just the amateurs were sent to the Games. The NHL can have their World Cup tourney, but I vote to keep ’em out of the Olympics.

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