1980 hockey team may light it up

A change of travel plans for members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that pulled off the "Miracle on Ice" might indicate who will light the Olympic cauldron at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

Originally the United States Olympic Committee's marketing department asked players on the 1980 team that won the gold medal to arrive in Salt Lake City on Feb. 9, the day after the Games open. They were to attend a fundraising dinner along with members of the 1960 U.S. hockey team that also captured gold.

But now 1980 team members have been told to arrive by Feb. 7 to rehearse for the Opening Ceremonies the next day, leading to speculation that they would light the Olympic cauldron to begin the events in Utah on Feb. 8.

Jack O'Callahan, a defensman on the 1980 team and a former Chicago Blackhawk, said he received a call from the 1980 team's agent Bob Murray last week and Murray told him "the USOC wanted at least 15 players from the team to be there by Feb. 7."

"Everybody's had to change their plans," O'Callahan said. "They said they wanted us to be involved in the Opening Ceremonies. How involved? 'Well, we can't tell you.""

Shannon McCarthy, media relations coordinator for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, said that such information traditionally isn't revealed until the actual lighting.

"A big element of the Opening Ceremonies is the element of surprise, so we don't release that," McCarthy said. "It's part of the excitement."

The 1980 team, which will reunite Friday during the NHL's All-Star Game weekend in Los Angeles for a game against a group of legends, won the gold medal in Lake Placid the last time the Winter Games were held in the United States.

In what is regarded by many as the greatest sports upset of all time, the fresh-faced American college players and minor-leaguers beat the Soviet Union, prompting ABC announcer Al Michaels to ask, "Do you believe in miracles?"

The United States came from behind two days later to beat Finland and clinch the gold medal, providing America with a much-needed national group hug as hostages were being held in Iran and the economy was foundering.

The coach of the 1980 team, Herb Brooks, also will guide U.S. team in Salt Lake City.

So there is a certain symmetry working in favor of the 1980 hockey team being the choice to take the Olympic torch and light the flame in Rice Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah.

"It kind of looks like that, but they never say that," said John Harrington, hockey coach at St. John's in the Woods College in Minnesota and a member of the 1980 team.

A fax from the USOC instructed members of the 1980 team to wear a black turtleneck, black pants and black shoes for the Opening Ceremonies Feb. 8. A jersey will be waiting for them when they are escorted to the floor of the stadium where they will be "introduced and recognized," the fax explained.

Another possibility is that the 1980 team could be given what an SLOC official called an "honor position" during the final stages of the Olympic flame relay.

"No one has said anything to us at all about lighting torches," O'Callahan said Tuesday. "They've only said something about being part of the festivities. (Team captain Mike) Eruzione doesn't even know."

"I know it's very secretive and very hush-hush. I'm not sure (SLOC members making the decision) don't even know."