As Velta Nagobads watched the 1980 Olympic hockey semifinal on television, she noticed something odd. Every time the cameras focused on the U.S. bench, she saw her husband, Dr. George Nagobads, standing next to coach Herb Brooks. And every time, the doctor maintained the same posture: arms folded across his chest, staring down towards his hand.
When he returned to his home in Edina, Velta asked him why he stood like Napoleon during the Americans' landmark victory over the Soviet Union. George explained that the day before the game, Brooks told him he had figured out how to challenge the seemingly invincible Soviets. "Herbie said to me, 'The only way we can survive and maybe even beat them will be if we can keep fresh legs,' " Nagobads recalled. "'And that means short shifts. I've got a stopwatch. You take it and stay next to me, and you clock the shifts.'"
Last week, Nagobads joked that he didn't see a minute of the Miracle On Ice because his eyes were glued to the watch. His role with that memorable team -- and with the 29 others he served as U.S. team physician -- will be celebrated again Thursday, when he is inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Nagobads, who will turn 89 next month, has been making plans for a two-day celebration in Buffalo, N.Y. Dozens of the players he aided with medical care, friendly advice and unceasing support during a 54-year career will be there, as will a posse of family members. Though he was inducted into the Hall in 2003 as part of the Miracle On Ice team, Thursday's award recognizes his 34 years as team doctor for Gophers hockey, his tenure with the North Stars and Fighting Saints and more than a quarter-century of work with USA Hockey and its teams.
"To get in with the  team was nice and fine, but it's not the same," said Nagobads, a native of Latvia. "This is the thing, the personal induction. I was very surprised and very proud. It's been many years of good times."
Just recently, Nagobads retired from the International Ice Hockey Federation's medical committee after 20 years. He continues to travel the world to speak about health and safety in the sport, and his bottomless good cheer has endeared him to several generations of U.S. players.
Nagobads landed in Minnesota by chance in 1951. His family left Latvia in 1944, when the Soviets occupied the country for a second time, and moved to Germany. After finishing medical school in the Black Forest town of Tübingen, he was working with an international refugee organization in France when he ran into an old university acquaintance.
That friend was accompanied by a man from Minnesota, who suggested Nagobads come to Minneapolis. Though Nagobads didn't speak English, Velta did -- and she didn't want to stay in France. Once they arrived, Nagobads worked as a hospital orderly while he learned the language, but he quickly moved into an internship and surgical residency at Swedish Hospital.
He was working at the University of Minnesota's student health service when he was asked to look after the hockey team in 1956. A former player in his youth, Nagobads' love for and knowledge of the game made him the perfect choice. By 1967, he was joining Gophers players and coaches at international tournaments, including five Winter Olympics.
Nagobads had known Brooks since his playing days with the Gophers, and Nagobads served as friend and confidante to both the coach and players at the 1980 Games. The doctor helped break the self-segregation between Midwestern and East Coast players by suggesting that Mike Eruzione -- who had impressed Nagobads with his leadership in a 1975 tournament -- be named captain. Goalie Jim Craig, who wanted to live with a family while the team trained in the Twin Cities, stayed at Nagobads' home.
And he stood like Napoleon during the game against the Soviets, clicking the stopwatch as Brooks had instructed.
"He didn't want them just to be out there for 40 seconds," Nagobads said. "He wanted them to play for 40 seconds, so I was stopping and starting the watch all the time. I was next to him, and I would say, 'Herbie, 30 seconds! Herbie, 35 seconds! Herbie, 40 seconds already!' [The Soviets] were not expecting us to keep up with them in the third period, but we did."
Through his role in keeping those legs fresh, Nagobads became part of the sport's lore. Still, he's found gold in every one of those 30 U.S. teams he served, with 50 years of memories as his reward.
"All those years, we had glory, and we had defeats," he said. "But we also managed to have many days of fun and laughter. Those things, you always remember."
Rachel Blount • firstname.lastname@example.org