There was a buzz in the air – a perfect mixture of excitement, anticipation and unbridled joy – and a Buzz on the ice.
Four members of the 1980 United States “Miracle on Ice” hockey team that stunned the world by winning the gold medal, were about to lace up their skates and play a game of pond hockey Saturday morning at The Rink at Burlington Creek.
Buzz Schneider, Dave Christian and team captain Mike Eruzione accepted an invitation from former teammate Ken Morrow to participate in a Miracle on Ice Weekend in the metro area that raised funds for KCIce and the UnCommon Community, two hockey-based charities that are near and dear to the heart of Morrow, a longtime Kansas City resident.
A handful of skaters who contributed to the charities to participate in the skating event got more than their money's worth as the Golden Boys of Winter turned in a performance for the ages. Their boyish enthusiasm soon caught the eye of a shopper who was strolling past the outdoor rink.
When he spotted Eruzione, the gentleman took his cell phone out of his pocket, frantically dialed up his daughter and said, “I don't care what you're doing. Get up here.”
She arrived a few moments later and met her father near the Northland rink that attracts large numbers of skaters four months out of the year.
“What's your favorite movie?” father asked daughter.
She replied, “Miracle,” the recent Disney bio-pic of the Miracle on Ice team that defeated the Soviet Union in the semifinals and Finland to win an unexpected gold medal.
“Do you know who that is?” the father asked, pointing to a chiseled skater who looks like his profile should appear on Mount Rushmore. “That's Mike Eruzione!”
She giggled with delight.
So did her dad.
The 1980 Olympic hockey team members still have that effect on us mere mortals 34 years after they joined the ranks of the icons by establishing a moment in time none of us will ever forget.
Although the former Olympians rarely strap on the skates these days, they seemed excited about participating in pond hockey.
“This is one of my great childhood memories,” said Morrow, who moved to Kansas City in 1990 to serve as a coach for the IHL's Kansas City Blades and now serves as a pro scouting director for his former NHL team, the New York Islanders. “With my bad knees, I don't get out on the ice as much as I'd like, but it's still fun to lace up the skates.”
It didn't take Eruzione long to school a defenseman who could only stare as the team captain slid the puck into the wooden slot of the makeshift net.
Later, when Eruzione missed a shot, he jokingly cried out, “Who moved the net! Come on, someone had to move that net!”
The large crowd circling the ice roared and clapped in approval.
When an opponent dropped gloves against Schneider, the Olympic legend joined the fun. Schneider “dropped” his insulated outdoor gloves – and accepted the challenge.
“Shirts or skins?” asked Schneider.
His opponent dropped to his knees in laughter.
As Eruzione left the ice, he quipped, “I have a nice glass of wine waiting for me inside.”
But he was back for his next shift and helped provide a lifetime of memories for the lucky fans who were able to relive their youthful memories through four former college kids who did the unthinkable.
“The Russian team was like a pro team,” Eruzione said. “They'd won four straight gold medals and no one gave us a chance.”
But one man believed the group of shaggy-haired college kids who took a while to become comfortable skating with each other because of their intense college rivalries.
There were the Boston kids and the Minnesota kids, and coach Herb Brooks made sure they hated him more than they despised each other. And his strategy was pure genius.
“Herb worked us hard,” Eruzione said. “But he knew what he was going. The harder he worked us, the more we wanted to go out and beat someone on the ice. The more we won, the more confidence we got in ourselves.”
To this day, Christian, who enjoyed a solid NHL career, can't believe the way the world thrust the spotlight on the group of kids who ranged in age from 19 to 25.
“We were a bunch of kids who loved to play hockey,” Christian said. “We just wanted to win a medal. My dad and uncles had medals (please see biographies) and I wanted one of my own.
“And the acclaim we received was totally unexpected.”
“We were kids playing hockey and we wound up on the cover of Sports Illustrated,” Schneider said, shaking his head and grinning. “Now, every four years we become famous – and it's fun. We love getting together and talking about the old days, catching up on our families, and answering questions.”
And no, there is not a question he has not been asked – no matter how hard you try to stump him.
However, Schneider had his own question, since he was in Kansas City.
“Does George Brett still live around here?” he asked about the Kansas City Royals Major League Baseball Hall of Fame third baseman.
“Remember that Baseball Academy the Royals had? I was a pretty good baseball player and I got invited to it. Did any of those guys make it to the big leagues?”
He seemed pleased when told that Royals Hall of Fame second baseman Frank White, former Royals shortstop U.L. Washington and current Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington all made it to the big leagues.
“I often wondered what might have happened if I had gone to the academy,” Schneider said, “but I think I made the right decision.”
After signing hockey sticks, photos and jerseys for a variety of charitable auctions, Eruzione and his teammates got ready to leave The Rink at Burlington Creek to attend the Missouri Mavericks game Saturday night.
When asked if there was a moment when he realized he had made a name for himself, he stopped dead in his tracks.
“I remember the exact moment,” he said. “We went to the White House to meet the president and when we got off the bus, all the fans – and there were hundreds of them – cheered and called each one of us by name when we got off the bus.”
His eyes a bit moist, Eruzione added, “All we did was play hockey. But do you know how proud we were to play while wearing a jersey with USA on the front? I guess we made a lot of other people proud, too.”
Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at 350-6333 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC