Amateurs could get another chance in '06

Updated: February 22, 2005, 12:05 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- The moment pushed an entire sport from the sideline to center stage and made Americans believe anything was possible. A quarter century after the Miracle on Ice, however, the stories being told about hockey aren't nearly so heartwarming.

The players who were part of one of hockey's greatest moments celebrate the 25th anniversary of their gold-medal victory at the Lake Placid Olympics, but part of the celebration included discussion of the sad state of the game today -- with the NHL in a lockout and the season canceled.

"Perhaps everyone at that level involved in the taffy pull between owners and players needs to go back 25 years," Jack O'Callahan, a defenseman on the 1980 team, said during a conference call with several other players last week. "They need to take a look at the landscape and be a little more thankful and humble and sit down and work to bring hockey back."

"It's too bad," forward Rob McClanahan said. "The guys have had a lot of opportunities, they're making significant amounts of money. I understand it's less than other sports, but they have to understand that TV drives the ability to pay players."

In 1980, the United States fielded a team full of amateurs and the Americans were prohibitive underdogs at the Olympics, where the Soviet Union brought a squad made up of its most seasoned stars. The United States' 4-3 victory over the Soviets in the medal round is still considered one of the greatest upsets in sports. The Americans defeated Finland two days later to capture the gold medal.

Many of the gold-medal winners went on to successful NHL careers.

"To make it to the NHL was a great feat for those guys," goalie Jim Craig said. "I think it helped USA Hockey and the sport overall."

In this era, the United States sends a team of professionals to compete at the Olympics. But given the number of games being missed because of the current labor dispute, the NHL might refuse to put its season on hold next year for the Olympics.

It would force the United States to field another team of amateurs. Members of the Class of '80 think that might not be such a bad thing.

"I think if we have a chance to let amateurs play, and let people play who really want to get there, I'm all for that and I think it would be great," Craig said.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press