Saturday, August 18, 2007

Miracle Men

The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team

By: Wayne Coffey
Publisher: Crown (January 11, 2005)
ISBN-10: 140004765X

Having seen the movie Miracle, documentaries and specials on the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team, and just being a normal red-blooded American Hockey fan; the story of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid New York is pretty well know. A bunch of college-aged kids from the U.S. went up against the Soviet Hockey machine and defied all odds and expectations by defeating them and going on to win the Gold Medal; pulling the United States out of the malaise that was the Jimmy Carter Presidency.

It too has also been documented over and over again that Olympics like the 1980 Winter Games are a thing of past now. The thin veil of "amateurism" that existed at that time has been lifted and now accomplished professionals are invited to compete in the marquee events such as Ice Hockey and Basketball.

However until reading this book, you never really got any kind of in depth look at the players that comprised the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team. Sure you knew the names of the players and where they were from. You knew that they were a collection of players who forced head coach Herb Brooks to overcome the regionalism that dominated and divided the U.S. Hockey Federation even to this day. You also knew that Brooks decided to make himself the common enemy of his players so that they would stand united with each other instead of worrying about Minnesota Hockey vs. Boston Hockey.

Wayne Coffey however goes beyond that and gives you a sample of each player's upbringing. Where he was from, what he was like, and how he got to the Olympic team. That is the real value of the book unless you're looking for more information about Minnesota's Iron Range. Not only do you find out their backgrounds, you get a good sense of what life after Lake Placid has been for the 20 players. Instead of focusing on the team as a whole, Coffey ironically pays direct attention to the players as individuals on what had to have been the closest knit team ever assembled.

Coffey writing shifts between a play-by-play of the February 22nd, 1980 game and narratives about the players upbringings. It begins to wear on the reader as the 263 pages marches on but I can't think of any better way for him to weave the personal stories of the players into the game that made them all famous.

Coffey also gives us insight into the minds of the Russians who were on the short end of the stick that evening. It is very easy to forget that there were two sides to the story and hearing about the background of the Soviet program and fallout and regret from the loss gives you a better picture of the overall story.

The big thing that I take away from the book is that if there is a player who regrets 1980, he doesn't make a big deal of it. 13 of the 20 players, Ken Morrow, Neal Broten, Mike Ramsey, Dave Christian, Mark Johnson, Mark Pavelich, Rob McClanahan, Steve Christoff, Dave Silk, Bill Baker, Jim Craig, and Steve Janaszak went onto play in the NHL, each with his own level of success.

However considering the long odds that they faced down and their accomplishments in Lake Placid, I don't think their NHL careers did anything to diminish what they did in Lake Placid. On the contrary, the lack of NHL success for all but a few players increases their accomplishment. Sadly of course, the book was written after the untimely passing of their Head Coach Herb Brooks in 2003 and while it now going onto 28 years, soon some of the players will begin departing in similarly shocking fashion. However, this book serves as fitting tribute to 20 individual players who pulled off the greatest miracle in the history of sports.

Thanks to Brenna for the suggestion and the Library of Congress for the book though I wouldn't mind owning my own copy of the book.

And with my vacation starting on Monday night, this will be the last book review until next summer as I don't think I'll have the time to get another book in before hockey games (well, preseason at least) start back up.

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