Last crop of U.S. no-names pursues hockey dream of own.


NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- The post-game celebration became part of a movie and history.

U.S. players tossed their sticks in the air, as chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A" reached a crescendo. Captain Mike Eruzione collapsed in tears. Goalie Jim Craig, wrapped in an American flag, looked into the crowd and asked, "Where's my father?"

Tim Taylor remembers America's "Miracle on Ice" in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

He still feels the pressure.

He wants his own magic moment.

"Down the line, it's probably going to happen that we have all NHL stars," said Taylor, the coach of America's 1994 Winter Olympic hockey team. "Philosophically and romantically, I believe the traditional Olympic ideal. I feel a player has to make a sacrifice to be an Olympian, especially in a team sport. These kids have been bleeding together, crying together, laughing together.

"These kids were 10 or 11 years old when the 1980 miracle happened. They were all affected by it. We talk about it all the time," he said. "Personally, I think it's time we had a new miracle."

This will be America's last chance, one more college try. The players, several of them NHL rookies, come from the university hockey havens -- Maine, Harvard, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The average age is 22.

They have a charismatic coach, a set of twins, an excellent goalie and veteran defenseman Peter Laviolette, who knows every good back-road diner on the minor-league circuit.

Great stuff for a sequel?

"The beauty of what we're trying to do here is have six months to take some young hockey players as far as they can go, and this sort of romantic image is one thing we use to motivate our players," said Taylor.

Added Laviolette, the U.S. team captain, "I think we've got the players, the system, the weapons and, no doubt, we have a great coach."

Taylor, 51, has coached the national team for five years, and was an assistant on the 1984 Olympic team. He has spent the past 17 years coaching at Yale, where he easily could be one of the university's professors.

Taylor was an English major at Harvard, modern literature his specialty. He comes from a wealthy newspaper family; at one time, his father was president of the Boston Globe. He has a thin face, neat gray hair and a scowl that can be very intimidating, especially to 22-year-olds.

Teacher, not tyrant

"He's an extremely intense individual," Laviolette said of Taylor, who was one of two final cuts for the 1964 Olympic team. "If it were up to him, we'd practice 10 hours every day. But he's not a ranter or a raver. He doesn't come into the locker room and lose it and start throwing chairs around. He believes the best way to correct something is to fix it."

Taylor is a teacher.

"He knows every system in the world, and he makes adjustments very well," said U.S. goalie Mike Dunham. "He can call a timeout early and change his entire game plan in 30 seconds. He seems to have this knack for developing players, and I think everybody has responded well."

Taylor also seems to have learned from his experience. Soon after he was named head coach, he met with Dave Peterson, the Olympic coach in 1988 and 1992.

"I think we [previously] spent too much time playing NHL teams during exhibitions," said Taylor. "So what I did was just play a couple of NHL teams, and try to go against as much international competition as possible."

Translation: Taylor has withdrawn from the dump-and-grind style and built this team on speed and quickness better suited for the larger international rinks, which are 15 feet wider than NHL rinks.

The results: The United States is 36-16-5 during the five-month tour with four exhibitions remaining. The United States was 28-12-2 against international competition.

"I can live with that," said Taylor.

But Taylor said he knows the tour does not produce Olympic-type pressure. Ever since the "Miracle on Ice," American hockey has been held to high standards.

"Obviously, we are striving and struggling to win a gold medal, but you have to deal with a lot of naivete, too, among the Olympic-watching U.S. public, which has little or no working knowledge of international hockey and the quality of the European opposition," said Taylor.

The elder statesman

That's one of the reasons Taylor kept defenseman Laviolette. He's 28, and spent most of his six-year playing career in the AHL. He was also a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team.

"He's the rock, the elder statesman of our group who gives us stability," said Taylor.

"Sometimes, I feel a little out of place, but everybody has accepted me," said Laviolette. "Actually, I never thought I would be a grandfather at 28. Some of these young players, though, can really play the game."

Such as Dunham and fellow goalkeeper Garth Snow. And forwards Todd Marchant, Peter Ferraro and Jim Campbell.

The team could have been stronger at this point, but defensemen Matt Martin and Travis Richards, forwards Campbell, Ted Drury, Peter Ciavaglia, Jeff Lazaro, David Sacco and Brian Rolston and all three goalies have missed time during the tour because they had to play with their respective NHL teams.

The United States will be without two high-scoring forwards in Derek Plante (Buffalo Sabres) and Jim Storm (Hartford Whalers).

"I had no idea we'd lose Derek Plante when I took this job," Taylor said of the Sabres' failure to give him clearance to play for the U.S. team. "That was a sure-fire thing. He could have been a national hero. The kid could've been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It would've been great for Derek, great for hockey in America, great for NHL-USOC relations.

"At this point, the NHL [with each team making its own decisions] isn't doing us any favors. Both of those guys would have been great on the power play. It would have been one of our strengths."

Net assets

Instead, the strength is goalkeeping, where it should be for the Games.

The only two U.S. gold-medal teams were led by their goalies -- Jack McCartan at Squaw Valley, Calif., in 1960, and Jim Craig in 1980.

Dunham was Ray LeBlanc's and Scott Gordan's backup in the 1992 Olympics, but he has plenty of international experience, which could be the overriding factor in making Dunham the starter.

Dunham has been waiting to start in the Olympics for the past 13 years.

"I know I have to set the tone. It's a short series, and you don't have time to work out a lot of problems," said Dunham. "I was 7 or 8 when I saw us win the gold medal at Lake Placid. I would practice on roller skates in the basement. I was always Jim Craig."

They were all young then, part of a nation that was excited by a bunch of baby-faced collegians and failed minor-leaguers who captured the hearts of millions and gave America some self-esteem back.

"Young, but old enough to dream the dream," said forward Chris Ferraro, Peter's twin, who could be the last player cut from the roster. "Wouldn't it be great to have a final Miracle On Ice?"


Tomorrow: Russians Maia Usova and Alexander Uhulin, a married couple favored to win the gold medal in ice dancing, have been training in an unusual location: Lake Placid, N.Y. site ,, of the 1980 Winter Games


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