Hockey weekend focused on Duluth, Saint Paul

John Gilbert

Babbitt's Buzzy Schneider (25) was congratulated by teammates after scoring against Vladislav Tretiak to tie the USSR 1-1 in the first period, 40 years ago, at Lake Placid. Buzzy liked my photo so much he signed it! Photo credit: John Gilbert
Babbitt's Buzzy Schneider (25) was congratulated by teammates after scoring against Vladislav Tretiak to tie the USSR 1-1 in the first period, 40 years ago, at Lake Placid. Buzzy liked my photo so much he signed it! Photo credit: John Gilbert
Before Mark Johnson was known as an outstanding coach of the Wisconsin women's team, he was leading Team USA's gold medal charge at Lake Placid. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Before Mark Johnson was known as an outstanding coach of the Wisconsin women's team, he was leading Team USA's gold medal charge at Lake Placid. Photo credit: John Gilbert

We all have our own ways to celebrate historic things that are important to us, and this weekend gives all hockey fans in Minnesota the opportunity to show their appreciation for the most spectacular event in sports history — the 40th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice,” when Team USA, made up mostly of Minnesota college standouts, upset the powerful Soviet Union 4-3, and went on to beat Finland two days later, also 4-3, to capture the 1980 Winter Olympics gold medal at Lake Placid, N.Y.

The celebration will take many forms, and will be biggest both in Duluth and in Saint Paul, where the celebration will engulf from Friday through Monday.

Where were you, 40 years ago?

I was in Lake Placid, covering the Olympic hockey tournament in as much depth as I could muster for the Minneapolis Tribune, and I’ve already celebrated the event, and the memory of the event, with a new book, “Miracle in Lake Placid,” published by Skyhorse Publishing of New York, a subsidiary of Simon and Schuster. The book is just out, and I’ve done a few book signings, as well as being the subject of two or three national satellite radio interviews.

The book will be a focal point for The Bookstore at Fitger’s “Author Talk” on Sunday, from 1-3 p.m. in the Spirit of the North Theater up on the third floor of Fitger’s. The bookstore conducts such events every once in a while, when an author of a recent book is either local or available, and I’m working on doing my best to make it a memorable event, with exclusive and previously unseen photos from those games, that will provide a fitting backdrop while anybody who wants to come, free, can join in for a free-ranging discussion of the inside happenings that led up to that incredible two-week undefeated run that led to the most astounding gold medal triumph in Olympic history.

It will be fun, and I’ll sign books for as many as we can sell as well.

But there are an amazing array of significant events that either tie in with the celebration, or happen to be going on at the same time in a convenient juxtaposition of events. In fact, I never thought I would use that phrase in print, but it works here, because the U.S. victory in 1980 could be written off as magic on one hand, or as an incredible juxtaposition of amazingly lucky events, both planned and unplanned, that worked out for Team USA. It’s free to attend, of course, and if you have any questions about the team, or the movie “Miracle,” bring them and we’ll talk.

 

Let’s go chronologically through the weekend:

First, the UMD women’s hockey team kicks off its final weekend of WCHA play against first place and top-seeded Wisconsin on Friday at 7 p.m. at AMSOIL Arena. Then the women take Saturday off, and come back at 2 p.m. Sunday for the second game, which will be the last single game of regular-season play for the league, and all that’s hanging in the balance is first place, and third place.

Going into last weekend, Wisconsin was first with the Gophers second, then there was a drop to third, where UMD and Ohio State were battling. In the Women’s WCHA, remember, the league champ gets a quarterfinal bye, while second place faces seventh (St. Cloud State), and third place faces sixth (MSU-Mankago), while fourth plays fifth (Bemidji State). Last weekend, while UMD nearly blew Friday’s 5-2 lead before winning 5-4 at Mankato, then played a 1-1 tie Saturday before escaping with a second-overtime goal to gain the WCHA’s extra point.

Four points for the weekend would have been sufficient, except that Ohio State beat Wisconsin 3-1, then tied the Badgers 1-1 before Wisconsin escaped with a goal in the second (3 on 3) overtime for the extra point. That leaves Wisconsin first at 16-4-2 for 51 points, and Minnesota second at 15-5-2 for 48 points. While the Gophers face lowly St. Cloud State, they will be pulling, hard, for UMD to beat Wisconsin, because a split of that series, coupled with a Gopher sweep, would leave the Gophers and Badgers even at 17-5-2.

At the same time, UMD needs to beat Wisconsin for its own sake, because at 11-7-4 for 40 points the Bulldogs are exactly even with Ohio Stat’s 11-6-5 for 40 points. St. Cloud State plays at Ohio State this weekend, so the likelihood of a Buckeyes sweep adds pressure to the Bulldogs. The significance there is that in the 5-at-4 playoff scenario, if UMD drops to fourth, they would face Bemidji State, which is locked into fifth, and even though they struggled mightily at Mankato last weekend, the Bulldogs would have a much better chance of reaching the league Final Face-off at Ridder Arena by facing Manketo, rather than Bemidji. Losing that first-round best-of-three series could end UMD’s season, short of NCAA playoff participation.

Appropriate though it may be for the second Wisconsin-UMD game to bring a climax to the regular season Sunday, the reason they are playing Sunday is because Super Saturday takes over AMSOIL for a four-game marathon involving the semifinals in both boys 7AA and 7A, with the Double-A playing at noon and 2, and the Single-A getting the prime night slots at 6 and 8.

Quarterfinal AA games were Tuesday night, with top-seeded Andover pounding outmanned Marshall 9-0, but there will be no rematch with Duluth East, the team that upset Andover in an overtime 7AA thriller last season. The Greyhounds, who had to go on the road as the No. 5 seed, lost 1-0 at Forest Lake, so it will be the Rangers who face Andover Saturday.  No. 2 seed Grand Rapids was heavily favored against Anoka and won 4-0, and the Thunderhawks are the only remaining Northern team in 7AA, after their semifinal foe, Elk River, came to Cloquet and tripped Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 5-4 in overtime.

In 7A, the overwhelming favorite is Hermantown, and the Hawks, after feeding off some potent AA foes, spotted North Shore the first goal before romping 12-1. The Hawks next will face Eveleth-Gilbert, which eliminated International Falls Tuesday, and Saturday night’s other 7A semifinal puts Denfeld, with its best team in two decades, up against defending 7A champ Greenway of Coleraine. Denfeld beat Proctor 4-1 and Greenway blanked Virginia-Mountain Iron/Buhl 6-0.

Meanwhile, back at the Wisconsin-UMD women’s finale, don’t forget Badger coach Mark Johnson was one of the star performers for Team USA at Lake Placid, where his prolific goal-scoring helped the U.S. to beat the USSR, and throughout the whole Olympic tournament, before embarking on a glittering NHL career.

If you are heading to the Twin Cities, time it so that you get to downtown Saint Paul by 1 p.m. Right there, next to the bigger-than-life stature of Herb Brooks at the East entrance to Xcel Center, and adjacent to the classy restaurant-lounge named “Herbie”s,” you will find a unique tribute to celebrate 1980.

It is called “Remember the Day,” and it is all focused on the Team USA victory, choreographed by Brooks. Herbie’s brother, Dave Brooks, has created an amazing day of activity.

“We’ve got a parade with 50 groups in it, and John Mayasich and [Wild owner] Craig Leopold are grand marshalls,” Dave Brooks said. “We’ve got 27 former North Stars and Fighting Saints and NHL players, and we’ve got 2,000 Peewees, Bantams and Midgets who are separated onto 12 different teams — each one wearing uniforms the colors of one of the 1980 Olympic teams.

“They’re all in a parade that goes from Herbie’s statue, through Saint Paul to CHS field, where the St. Paul Saints baseball team plays. When we get to the field, the players will find that we’ve installed a hockey rink on the field, and we’re going to have a tournament, with all 12 teams playing a 30-minute game. It’s all for fun, and it will lead up to the U.S. team playing the Russians in the finale.”

The youth hockey players will mingle with former Olympians and ex-pro hockey players, and later be the prime guests at a party at the ballpark.

“In the parade, we’re going to be tossing foam pucks to the crowd, and we’ve got 5,000 replica gold medals to give out. At the ballpark, we’ve got the suite all set up for a party for the kids and adults. We’re going to have an Olympic opening ceremonies with a torch carrier coming down a slide, and we’ve go a singer to perform the U.S. and Russian national anthems. It should all be over by about 3 p.m., and then we’re going to have celebrities and former players signing autographs up in the suite.”

It sounds like a fantastic day, and best of all, it’s all free to the public. Dave Brooks, who spends his winter alternating between his new part-time home in Florida and running various business ventures in Saint Paul, put the whole thing together, and it sounds like the perfect tribute for the 1980 Team USA. As usual, Dave Brooks will be in the background as much as he can — the perfect venue for the guy who refers to himself as “HLB” — Herbie’s Little Brother.