1980 'Miracle on Ice' team reunion gets gray but never old

USA's 'Miracle on Ice' team to gather in Lake Placid to celebrate 35th anniversary of gold-medal performance

We picture the members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team as they were captured in photographs and portrayed in the movie "Miracle," exuberant college kids who stunned the powerful Soviets before winning the gold medal at Lake Placid, N.Y.

Although the moment was frozen, time has marched on. Team captain Mike Eruzione, who scored the winner against the Soviets, is 60 and the grandfather of two, soon to be three. Many of his teammates are grandfathers.

"God, we're old," Eruzione said with a laugh during a phone conversation. "What's even funnier is the letters I get today. They almost always start out, 'Although I wasn't born in 1980...'"

Their story is timeless, the triumph of underdogs whose young legs and resilience allowed them to rally past a machine-like Soviet team and formidable Finland in the finale. This weekend the 19 surviving players will gather in Lake Placid to celebrate the 35th anniversary of a victory that has transcended hockey to symbolize the rewards of hope, diligence and teamwork.

Their reunion will be the highlight of Hockey Weekend Across America, an event that promotes the sport. They will laugh Saturday but also will mourn the absence of gritty defenseman Bob Suter, who died of a heart attack last September. Suter's jersey will be raised to the rafters of the arena, then called the Olympic Fieldhouse and since renamed Herb Brooks Arena for the coach who died in 2003.

"We had a maniac for a coach," Mark Johnson, the team's top scorer, said during a conference call with reporters Monday, "but he knew what he was doing."

The last time all 20 players were together — including the reclusive Mark Pavelich — was at the 2002 NHL All-Star game in Los Angeles. "The Bobby Suter situation was kind of a wakeup call that we're all getting older," Eruzione told The Times. "We saw Bobby a few months ago at one of our signings. He looked great and talked fine and everything was good. The next thing you know, he's gone. The older you get the more you appreciate your friends and family, and he was part of our family."

Eruzione is the director of special outreach for Boston University and in demand as a motivational speaker. He never played in the NHL but 12 of his Olympic teammates played a total of 6,035 NHL games, according to USA Hockey. Among the most successful were Ken Morrow — who won the first of four consecutive Stanley Cup titles with the New York Islanders three months after Lake Placid — Johnson, Neal Broten, Mike Ramsey and Jack O'Callahan. They inspired a generation of great players, who in turn fed the game's growth. "We might have opened the door," Eruzione said, "but today's players knocked it down."

Eruzione sold his Olympic memorabilia, except his gold medal, after deciding his three children would benefit more from the proceeds than from dusting his old souvenirs. He also made donations to charity and endowed a scholarship in his parents' names at BU.

You'll never find him sitting on bar stool talking about who he used to be. "I was very happy with who I was before the Olympics and there's no reason that I have to change and become something different," he said. "Who is more blessed than I am? We could have lost and nobody would be talking to me and who knows what I'd be doing?"

We know what he'll be doing this weekend: reliving memories alongside teammates who are grayer than they were 35 years ago but will always be his brothers. "It will be fun," he said. "And let's hope we talk again in the 40th year, and the 45th year and the 50th."

Amen.

Gone too soon

Former teammates remembered Steve Montador as a good friend and kind-hearted person after hearing he had died Sunday, found unconscious at his home in Mississauga, Canada. Authorities attributed his death to natural causes and said the investigation into his death isn't a criminal investigation.

"We were in shock," Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf said of Montador, 35, who played 65 games for the team in 2008-09. "We feel for his family. He was a great guy and it was unexpected to us when we heard the news. ... He was awesome around everybody."

Montador had suffered a debilitating concussion in 2012 and played briefly in Russia before retiring. Rick Westhead of Canada's TSN reported Montador was a plaintiff in a concussion-related lawsuit filed against the NHL

"He had spoken about concussion issues and some depression, especially after being done with hockey. It's a really tough time for some guys to transition to the next phase of their life," Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr, Montador's teammate in Calgary, told The Times' Lisa Dillman on Monday.

"Steve was a great teammate. He loved life and was very passionate for whatever he was doing at that time and he had endless amounts of energy to pour into whatever he chose to do."

Montador lived in Southern California for a while and sometimes had coffee with Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, who coached him in Calgary. "He was a real popular guy, a real smart guy," a somber Sutter said. "Real good person."

Slap shots

Defenseman Marc Methot will stay in Ottawa after signing a four-year, $19.6-million contract Monday. The $4.9-million cap hit is reasonable for a steady defender who's a good complement to Erik Karlsson. ... The Philadelphia Flyers have moved within reach of an East wild-card playoff spot by earning standings points in nine straight games (6-0-3), but they still have an uphill battle to make the top eight.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

Twitter: @helenenothelen

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