Jim Craig, goaltender for the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team, posed for photos during the unveiling of his image on U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame tribute at USA House in Vancouver on Monday.

Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

New Olympic upset makes Craig feel right at home

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • February 23, 2010 - 1:08 AM

VANCOUVER - Every day, someone tells Jim Craig where they were when his goaltending helped the United States beat the Russians in the 1980 Olympics.

Today, Craig can tell you where he was when the United States upset Canada on Sunday.

"I was there," Craig said Monday, meaning Canada Hockey Place, as the United States beat Canada 5-3. "I had some terrific seats that USA Hockey provided me."

Whether Craig is a talisman or a lucky man, he witnessed the two greatest hockey upsets by a U.S. Olympic team in the last few decades.

Thirty years ago Monday, a group of unknown amateur players shocked a feared Russian team near the end of the Cold War on American soil in the game that became a movie named "Miracle."

Sunday, a talented group of young, American NHL standouts upset Canada in Vancouver in a thrilling game that became the most-watched sports program in Canada's history.

Craig said you can't compare the events, only the way they made time stand still.

"In our game, we scored with 10 minutes left, and that seemed like an eternity, especially with how talented the Russians were," Craig said. "Those final minutes seemed like an eternity. In fact, when we scored in the fourth [Sunday against Canada], I was thinking maybe that was too early.

"Then some fans started chanting, 'U-S-A.' My reaction was, 'Oh, hold off on that. Let's not get them mad.'"

Craig spoke at the USA House before attending the USA-Sweden women's semifinal. He played in Lake Placid with U.S. women's coach Mark Johnson, who is hardly the only reminder here of the Miracle Americans who won the gold in 1980.

"On the way over today, Vladimir Lutchenko called me and said, 'Jimmy, I'm going to be here,'" Craig said. "He's here with his wife. I'm here with my wife. We coached our kids together for years.

"There's no Cold War. The Russians invited me to a party. This is wonderful. This is what sport is all about."

In 1980, Craig draped a flag over his shoulders and searched the crowd for his father. Monday, he wore a blue polo shirt and knew no wardrobe choice would keep him from being recognized inside a hockey arena. "It's fun," he said. "It made a lot of countries happy. A lot of countries were against communism.

"They remember something great about what they were doing and where they were, so I get to hear a story about someone's life. It's not the same thing, ever."

He also said: "I think the greatest thing about our victory was it was more than a hockey game to a lot of people. We didn't realize that as players, but as you get older, and you have children, you realize how much legacies in life become, it becomes more and more important to us.

"We're able to enjoy it because so many people were made happy. I've had people over the years tell me that they weren't talking to their dads, and after the event they talked to their father."

Current USA goalie Ryan Miller paid homage to Craig on Sunday with a brilliant performance against Canada, but Craig said the teams can't be compared.

"We were college kids playing against the best in the world," Craig said. "I think the late Jim McKay said it best -- it was like a high school team playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I agree with that not because I played on that team but because we were young kids. ...

"The other part is this team doesn't over-respect this Canadian team. They don't show them the respect that we did the first time we played the Russians.

"That was Herb Brooks' genius, to have us play them in Madison Square Garden, and to all of a sudden see them and play against them and all of a sudden not hold them in such [reverence]."

Craig was a consultant on the movie "Miracle." Does he ever get tired of hearing about the night that made him famous?

"That Al Michaels call," he said, shaking his head, "if that doesn't send goosebumps down your spine there's something wrong with you."

Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. •

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