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1980 Men’s Olympic Hockey Captain Speaks at Eisenhower Auditorium

When you think of American athletic heroes, you think of guys like Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, Carl Lewis, Babe Ruth, Joe Montana, etc. Rarely, do you associate hockey players with that elite group of athletes, but when you do, you’d probably think of someone who played on the 1980 men’s Olympic ice hockey team.

If you agree with that assessment, Mike Eruizone is, for all intents and purposes, as much an American hero as anyone.

Eruzione, the captain of the the team that defeated the Soviet Union, 4-3, in a game that came to be known as the “Miracle on Ice,” spoke at Penn State on Wednesday evening in Eisenhower Auditorium as the final member of the Student Programming Association’s Distinguished Speaker Series.

Prior to his speech, Eruzione spoke to and answered questions from reporters for 45 minutes.

Of course, the first question Eruzione received was a question about…Penn State hockey?

“I think that it’s outstanding that hockey’s coming to Penn State,” Eruzione said, “I’ve always said any time we have more new colleges of the stature of Penn State that have college programs, it’s more opportunities for our young men and women to play the game.”

“I thought (Pegula Ice Arena) was spectacular,” Eruzione continued, “I liked that it was a hockey rink, it’s not built for basketball, nothing like that.”

Eruzione proceeded to answer questions pertaining to the Miracle on Ice team, the 2004 Disney movie “Miracle,” Penn State and the current landscape of hockey across all levels before leaving to prepare for his lecture to a half-full crowd in Eisenhower’s auditorium.

Eruzione’s lecture began with a four-minute video chronicling the Miracle on Ice and ending with Eruzione lighting the Olympic flame with his teammates at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, which Eruzione jokingly called, “my life story,” and, inevitably a “U-S-A!” chant from a small contingent of people.

Eruzione told the story of what led to the Miracle on Ice and, eventually, the team’s gold medal win against Finland. He detailed late coach Herb Brooks’s plan to train the team for six months as opposed to the “one-to-two weeks” that the team usually got to train to learning the European style of hockey (European rinks were bigger, so as Eruzione said, “by the time you figured out how to play on their rinks, you were a week into the tournament”) and the importance of intangibles on the team.

“You wanna surround yourself with people with great character, with great work ethic, with great commitment, and we had those people,” Eruzione said, “We realized that in order to be successful, you had to have an incredible work ethic.”

Eruzione recalled the pre-Olympics process, from playing the USSR’s B team (“We didn’t play the Soviet A team, they were busy playing professionally, playing against NHL teams) and playing exhibitions across Europe and abroad, including this scene from the movie “Miracle.”

“We skated because we forgot about the value of respect,” Eruzione said of the team’s famous late-night practice where they ran “Herbies” after a disappointing 3-3 draw against Norway. “Respect yourself, or you will not be successful. Respect your opponents, or you will not be successful.”

Eruzione then recalled the Olympics and how the team was projected to finish 7th-10th before blowing through group play with wins over Czechoslovakia, Norway, Romania, and West Germany. He then spoke of the team’s matchup with the mighty Soviet Union (who, according to Eruzione, “had just beaten Japan 18-0”) and the championship game against Finland (“I don’t know how my dad snuck beer into the locker room”). After, he took questions from those in attendance.

On being named the team’s captain: “I was the only Italian, have you ever seen ‘The Godfather’?” Eruzione explained that it was put up to a player’s vote, and that he was a “captain among captains” due to most people on the team being a captain at one level of hockey or another.

On getting back together with his teammates: Twice since 1980. “It’s tough to get 20 guys together.”

On the best player in the NHL: “Sidney (Crosby).” Although he did say that Crosby’s may be 1A to his teammate Evgeni Malkin’s 1B.

As Eruzione was leaving, freshman Tyler Feldman asked him one last question that is familiar to anyone who has seen “Miracle”: “Who do you play for?”

Eruzione’s response, like all his others on the night, was quick, hilarious and perfectly timed: “Tonight? I play for Penn State.”

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