It’s all in the book, Miracle revisited

John Gilbert

The first edition of "Miracle in Lake Placid," a revisiting 40 years later of Team USA's 1980 Gold Medal performance.
The first edition of "Miracle in Lake Placid," a revisiting 40 years later of Team USA's 1980 Gold Medal performance.

This was a big week around the Gilbert Compound. On Monday, two things happened. First, I was told that the “publication date” for the book “Miracle in Lake Placid” would be Tuesday, and when I asked what that meant, the nice woman at Skyhorse Publishing Company in New York said, “That’s the day the book becomes available at all its outlets, like Amazon, Target, Barnes & Noble, and others.

That was pretty exciting, and my feeling was compounded when both a single copy of the puck and a box containing five of them appeared separately on my doorstep.
It was quite an adventure, but when a potential author backed out of doing the project in time for the 40th anniversary of the 1980 Miracle on Ice gold medal won by Team USA at Lake Placid in the Winter Olympics, the publisher was in a bind. Lucky for Skyhorse, I’m a packrat. Packed away in frighteningly random fashion are all my notebooks from the last 50 years of my sports and auto writing career, which includes all of my carefully kept notes from covering Team USA as the legendary Herb Brooks put together a team of college guys and that team became the ultimate David who would go to Lake Placid and slay the Soviet Union’s Goliath in the game that made the final U.S. game, against Finland, become a game for the Gold Medal instead of for a Bronze.

You had to be there, as the saying goes, to appreciate it all. But I also had an incredible circumstance, because I had covered Brooks throughout his University of Minnesota 7-year coaching career — with three NCAA titles in the last six of those years — and Herbie, who died tragically in a single-vehicle rollover in 1991, had taken me into his confidence about all his hockey ideas and thoughts.

So after a tense selection process, and a season-long exhibition tour of the world, the U.S. opened with former Grand Rapids and Gopher defenseman Billy Baker whistling in a shot from the right point to tie Sweden 2-2 with 27 seconds remaining. That was a huge upset, although the U.S,. players were unaware of the true significance. Brooks had been relieved to learn that the Soviets refused to bring two players to post-game press gatherings, because he didn’t want to either, as his an act of unifying his players more. When he met the press himself and handled it well, Mike Lupica from the New York Daily News ripped him the next morning, saying the young U.S. coach was on such an ego trip he wouldn’t let his players share in whatever achievements they earned.
Of course, nobody expected the No. 7 seeded U.S. to earn anything much, but Brooks fumed at the rip, and said if anyone thought he was coming without players for his ego’s sake, from then on, they could ask their questions of his assistant, Craig Patrick, because Brooks wasn’t coming to any more, either. He also said no reporters were allowed to speak to his players on game days, although he had no intention of enforcing it.

I walked out of the auditorium with Herbie and asked him why he was giving up the world stage, and he said I didn’t have to worry because over in the arena, there was a blockaded door to keep the media from reaching the dressing rooms, and just outside that barricade there was an unmarked door to the arena manager’s office, and Herbie said he had already arranged with him to hide out in there. He added that I could meet him in that office after every game.

So I did, getting exclusive interviews with Brooks throughout the rest of the tournament. When we were through, it was just about time for the players to be through showering and dressing, so I ran outside, crossed the driveway, and waited by the player exit to interview a dozen or so players every game. Now, I had an advantage because I had gotten to know every U.S. player while the team trained at Met Center in Bloomington, and while covering all levels of hockey for the Minneapolis Tribune, Team USA was included. The rest of the hundreds of journalists from all over the country and the world didn’t know and couldn’t recognize the U.S. players in street clothes.

As a journalist, I would include pertinent quotes from Brooks and the U.S. players in my game stories, but there would only be room for three or four paragraphs of quotes. The rest of them rested comfortably in my stashed notebook — and the comments had never seen publication. Until now.
OK, I used some of them in a book I wrote shortly after Brooks’s death, entitled, “Herb Brooks: The Inside Story of a Hockey Mastermind.” But the vast majority of comments by the players immediately after the games are seeing their first light of day in the new book.
The fascinating part of it for me was reliving that fabulous time while researching it in may own notes. I had lengthy interviews with some of the Minnesota players who came away from Team USA and have lived through varying careers — most notably Billy Baker, David Christian, and Mike Ramsey, and I had a wonderful conversation with defenseman Jack O’Callahan, who had a strong career in finance in Chicago. But all of them agreed that rather than trying to get the players from reaching back into their foggy memories about how it all happened, their spontaneous comments and the documentation of my notes would be far more accurate, and more interesting to hockey zealots.

It looks great, if I do say so myself, and interested readers and hockey fans can check with Barnes & Noble, Target, Amazon, or get on the website Skyhorsepublishing.com, and seek out ordering information on how to locate a book. Or 10, if you have friends or relatives who need to learn what really went into the greatest single sports achievement in history.

If I can work it out, I will go anywhere for book signings, including college, high school and NHL hockey games, bookstores, and any other location where hockey fans gather. Maybe even “Herbie’s,” located adjacent to his statue at the east end of Xcel Center. It is an exciting time at the Gilbert Compound. When I wrote the book about what made Brooks the best hockey coach on the planet, I was disappointed at the lack of promotion by the publisher, and I bought cases of books and sold them myself. I am deeply flattered that people seem to enjoy things I write, and the exclusive information in Miracle in Lake Placid can’t be found anywhere else.

The 40th anniversary of the monumental gold medal comes in February, and that is the pinnacle for historical relevance of this year. Same with it being the 20th year since UMD started women’s hockey with its stunning WCHA league and playoff championships in its first year.

And it is the 25th year since three-time world champion race driver Ayrton Senna was killed in a freak racing crash at the Italian Grand Prix. He is the best race driver I have ever seen, and I watched him closely in Formula 1 races in Italy, and Canada, and I was even part of a too-large group interview with him at Monza, before an Italian Grand Prix in 1989. His tragic death was memorialized during last Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix, because Senna was Brazilian and has some foundations that help young people in his home town of Sao Paolo to this day. Current champion Lewis Hamilton was a devoted follower of Senna since his youth. An interesting aside is that when Senna won his three World Championships, he was driving a McLaren with Honda engines — a first for Honda at that level of racing. And in Sunday’s race, Max Verstapen won, driving a Red Bull car — with the newest generation of Honda engine, which has overtaken the Mercedes and Ferrari engines for durability and speed. Hondas were 1-2 at Brazil, and would have been 1-2-3 except Hamilton took out the second-place car on the nect-to-last lap, and was penalized from third to seventh in the process.

And this week is also less than a week from celebrating the incredible second-half comeback by the Vikings, who were down 20-0 to a lowly Denver team, in a game that would have fried Vikings hopes for a division title or a playoff. The Vikings were awful, then great, by halves. Same with the Gophers, who rose to a euphoric high by beating Penn State, and then floundered at Iowa to lose last Saturday. That makes the upcoming Northwestern and Wisconsin games enormous for P.J. Fleck, who hopefully has learned not to run out on the field if it could cost his team a pivotal penalty in the fourth quarter.

Another question mark for the UMD volleyball team, ranking in the top six all season, but who crashed to earth with a season-ending thud in road losses at Upper Iowa and Winona State. They will still make the playoffs, and could even stay ranked high enough to make an NCAA regional spot, but come on, Bulldogs — what’s going on?

Same with the St. Scholastica football team, which was stunned 35-20 by MacMurray at Public Schools Stadium last Saturday. Down 21-7, the Saints rallied to 21-20 but missed the extra point. MacMurray then took off for two touchdowns, and after one of them, the kicker drilled a low line drive that hit the crossbar square.

The ball bounced straight up, and toppled just over the crossbar on its way down. The kick was good, and we pretty well knew it was MacMurray’s day.