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.

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

An Interactive Look at Men’s Olympic Hockey Records, 1920 to 2014

The Men’s Ice Hockey tournament at the 2018 Winter Olympics starts on Wednesday. Want a crash course on some Olympic hockey records to impress your friends — or just need a refresher? Then take a look at these interactive charts, which give a snapshot of the most important records in men’s Olympic ice hockey over the past 98 years. 

 


While compiling this information, I found two records particularly eye-opening. First, the United States has been the runner-up in men’s Olympic ice hockey more than any other country. The U.S. lost the gold medal game — thus earning the silver — eight times in 23 Olympic tournaments. Six of those losses were to Canada, and two were to the USSR. 

Speaking of which, the other stat that gave me pause was that goaltender Vladislav Tretiak of the USSR has played in 18 games at the Olympics — and won 16 of them! Both of those marks are records as well. 

Did you find any of these records surprising or interesting? Leave a comment and let me know. ■

Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk

 

Interview: Randy Walker, Rob Lowe’s Hockey Double in Youngblood

Randy Walker (left) and Rob Lowe on the set of Youngblood in 1984.

Randy Walker had the best summer job a 16-year old boy could hope for. Back in the summer of 1984, MGM was filming the hockey movie Youngblood in his hometown of Toronto. Walker went with some of his friends to the audition because they wanted the free ice time, but he may have skated off with the best part – as one of the hockey doubles for the film’s star, Rob Lowe.

Remember that scene when Dean Youngblood scores a sweet wraparound goal and then gets clocked by Racki during the Mustangs’ tryout? Or when Youngblood gets crushed into the boards by teammate Derek Sutton during practice? Or when Youngblood streaks down the ice and flips a backhander over the outstretched leg of the Thunder Bay Bombers goalie? That was all Walker. Obviously, we see shots of Rob Lowe’s face – usually from the chest up – in those scenes. Walker was one of the people who made the hockey action believable. 

Randy Walker in 2018.

But as a double, Walker had other, less glamorous tasks that you did not see. Many times, a double must stay in place – sometimes even lying under a championship figure skater — while the crew sets up the lights and cameras and frame the shot. Then the real actors step in when the filming starts.

Today, Walker is a police dispatcher and 911 operator in Spotswood, New Jersey. He is a scout for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL and for the Amarillo Bulls of the NAHL, and was a youth hockey coach for 16 years. Working on the set of Youngblood may have been his summer job from over 30 years ago, yet Walker remembers it like it was yesterday. He spoke with me recently so we could geek out over his memories of working on the greatest hockey movie from the 1980s.

Sal Barry: You were pretty young when you worked on Youngblood. How did you get the job?

Randy Walker: I was 16 and played on a really good midget hockey team called the Toronto Red Wings. We won the championship. And there was a Junior B team called the Henry Carr Crusaders. They were also champions in their league. I don’t know how, but the movie found this guy named Charles Rosart.

SB: You mean “Masher?”

RW: Yeah, we called him Masher. I don’t know how they found Masher, but he called our coach and Henry Carr’s coach and got all our numbers. He called us and told us to go to the Lakeshore Arena because they were shooting some movie. Nobody in their right mind would ever believe anything Masher said, but the thing that got us to go to the rink was that we were going to play shinny with guys on the [OHL] Toronto Marlies, like Peter Zezel and Steve Thomas. We looked up to those guys. We were midget players, and those guys were in major junior.

So, it was June, school’s out, and we were going to get on the ice and play shinny with the Marlies. We thought this was going to be for a hockey instructional video. Masher told us it was for a movie, and we thought he was full of crap. When we got there, the buzz started going around that it was a Hollywood movie.

Continue reading “Interview: Randy Walker, Rob Lowe’s Hockey Double in Youngblood”

Top 10 Hockey Collectible Stories of 2017

What can I say? 2017 was a bit of a slow year for hockey collectibles, especially when compared to 2015 and 2016. It took me and three friends a while to brainstorm, but we finally came up with a list of the 10 most-significant hockey collectibles stories for 2017.

Continue reading “Top 10 Hockey Collectible Stories of 2017”

Puck Junk’s Top Articles of 2017

Happy 2018, party people! As is my annual ritual, here is a look back at the most popular Puck Junk articles from the previous year. 

Well, almost. I gotta make a small confession here. The most popular article on this site during the 2017 calendar year was actually “Every 1990-91 Hockey Card Set Ranked,” which was published in 2016. It just goes to show how significant the 1990-91 season was for hockey collectibles if people are still reading about those cards more than 25 years after they were made. 

Anyway, here are the top 10 most-read articles on Puck Junk that were actually published during 2017.  Continue reading “Puck Junk’s Top Articles of 2017”

Interview: Hockey Documentary Filmmaker Dale Morrisey

Dale Morrisey shoots footage for his new film, “Only the Dead Know the Brooklyn Americans.”

Dale Morrisey is a filmmaker with a passion for hockey documentaries. His latest work, entitled “Only the Dead Know the Brooklyn Americans,” takes a long look at a long-forgotten NHL team. The Americans pre-date the “Original Six” Era and contributed more to the long-term success of the NHL than most would credit them for. At the same time, the Americans were a horrible team, struggling for years, first in New York City and then finally Brooklyn.

Morrisey, 45, was born in Oshawa and is, in his words, “a long-suffering Maple Leafs fan.” He previously wrote and directed documentaries “The Father of Hockey” (2014) and “Hockey’s Lost Boy” (2016). Recently, he spoke about his newest work, and why anyone should care about a team that’s been dead for over 75 years.

Sal Barry: Please explain the meaning behind your film’s title, “Only the Dead Know the Brooklyn Americans.”

Dale Morrisey: That’s from Thomas Wolfe’s short story “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn,” which appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 1935. The gist of the story is that it takes an entire lifetime to know Brooklyn, and even then, you wouldn’t know all of it. So, we played off of that, because the Brooklyn Americans area forgotten team, and only someone who was around back then would really know and understand who they were.

SB: The Americans have been gone for how long now?

DM: About 76 years.

SB: Why would anyone care to know about the Americans today?

DM: That’s a good question; I’ve been asked it a lot. Continue reading “Interview: Hockey Documentary Filmmaker Dale Morrisey”

Hockey Hall of Fame Inducts 2017 Class

(Note: I am now a contributing writer for Sports Collectors Digest. Here is an excerpt of my first article for SCD.)

The Class of 2017 received hockey’s ultimate honor November 13, when seven new members were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Inductees included: Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya, Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi and Danielle Goyette. Those five were 2017’s additions to the Hockey Hall of Fame’s player category. Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and longtime collegiate coach Clare Drake were this year’s addition to the builders’ category.

Excerpt from Sports Collectors Digest, Vol. 46, No. 26, December 22, 2017. Article also published online here.

Selanne, who retired at the close of the 2013-14 season, was inducted in the first year of eligibility, while Kariya, Recchi, Goyette and Andreychuk had to wait some time before getting their due. All of these players had long and successful careers, either on the professional or international stage – and sometimes both. Here is a look at each player’s accolades that make them “Hall-worthy,” as well as some of their earliest hockey cards. 

Slow as molasses

“Nobody thinks I want to be a Hall of Famer,” said Dave Andreychuk at the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “You think about just trying to play in the NHL, you think about just trying to make your team better. Lots of it is about who’s with you.”

Andreychuk’s coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning, John Tortorella, once said that Andreychuk was “slow as molasses, but for some reason he gets it done.”

Tortorella may have been describing Andreychuk’s play – especially in his Tampa Bay years, when he was at the close of his career – but it could describe his wait for the Hall of Fame; it took a while, but now he’s in. 

Read the full article at Sports Collectors Digest

Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk

Best of the Worst: 2017-18 Upper Deck Series 1 Hockey

You can smell the turkey cooking, you’re already gearing up for the assault of family members you haven’t seen in a year and still don’t want to, the air is getting crisp even in Carolina, and there’s a collective groan out of the Windy City as the Blackhawks are announced as participants in yet another outdoor game. Must be time to make fun of Upper Deck’s latest flagship set of hockey cards!

UD made it tough for me this year; almost every pack I opened had one card I could laugh at. I doubt they read these posts for the sake of tossing me a softball, but I piled up 36 cards out of one hobby box to poke fun at and I’ve pared it down to a baker’s dozen.

We’ll start with three really candid shots:

Continue reading “Best of the Worst: 2017-18 Upper Deck Series 1 Hockey”

Antti Niemi should own the white mask

Antti Niemi’s stay with Florida didn’t last long. [Photo credit: NHL]
Antti Niemi joined his third team this season when he was picked up on waivers by the Montreal Canadiens earlier this week. He started the year with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but after three weeks and three bad games was put on waivers and claimed by the Florida Panthers. Three weeks and two bad games later, Niemi was again put on waivers and was picked up by the Habs, whose top two goaltenders are currently injured.

So short was Niemi’s stay in Florida that he didn’t eve have a chance to customize his goalie mask. Instead, he just wore a plain white mask — the mask that simultaneously states “I’m new around here,” and “I won’t be here long.”

Niemi needs to own that mask.

Seriously. And by own I mean embrace it and make it his trademark, Continue reading “Antti Niemi should own the white mask”

The End of ‘Birth Year Numbers’ is Here

..and for that I am glad.

The trend of birth year jersey numbers in the NHL will go away this season. What I am referring to is when a player elects to wear a number on his jersey that the same number as the year of his birth. Sidney Crosby popularized this trend when he decided to wear 87 because he was born in 1987. 

This continued for more than a decade, but it will finally come to an end. 

Good.

What was maybe a novel concept of an NHL player wearing the year of his birth on his back has long wore out its welcome, becoming as lame as adding “er” or “ie” to make a nickname, i.e. “Kaner” or “Sharpie.”

Just look at the following examples of Millennial creativity at work:  Continue reading “The End of ‘Birth Year Numbers’ is Here”