The Miracle’s effect on college hockey – 25 years later

By DJ Powers

Twenty-five years ago on February 22, 1980, the U. S. Olympic Team achieved the near-impossible task of beating the mighty Soviet Union before going on to beat Finland for the Olympic gold medal.

The game and the men involved had, to varying degrees, a profound effect first on collegiate hockey in the United States and later on the NHL. This article will take a look back at the team and how they have impacted and influenced the prospects pipeline between the American collegiate ranks and the professional ranks.

The team’s later impact

The 1980 U. S. Olympic Team was a collective of 20 collegians representing six NCAA schools. Not surprisingly, the University of Minnesota had the most representation with nine players along with head coach Herb Brooks. Boston University and Bowling Green State University, each had four players, the University of Minnesota-Duluth and the University of Wisconsin each had two players, while the University of North Dakota had one. Of the 20 players who played for Team USA in 1980, 16 were drafted by NHL teams, but only 11 actually went on to play in the NHL. Some had short-lived NHL careers while others continue to be a part of the NHL to this day as scouts, members of coaching staffs, etc. Two members of the 1980 Olympic team, forward Mark Pavelich and goaltender Steve Janaszak, went on to have NHL careers as undrafted free agents.

Of all the players who played for the 1980 team, forward Neal Broten and defensemen Ken Morrow and Mike Ramsey enjoyed the greatest success in the NHL. In terms of winning championships, none had more than Morrow. He enjoyed four excellent years at Bowling Green State University before going on to play his entire professional career with the New York Islanders. He was a member of the famed Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s that won four consecutive Stanley Cups. Today, Morrow continues to be an integral part of the Islanders organization, serving as the director of pro scouting.

Despite playing just one season at the University of Minnesota, Mike Ramsey forever left his mark in the annals of Golden Gophers Hockey history. He was instrumental in helping to lead the University of Minnesota to the 1979 NCAA Championship before going on to play for the 1980 U. S Olympic Team. He enjoyed an 18-year NHL career with the Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings. After his playing career ended in 1997 Ramsey moved to the coaching ranks. Like his playing career, his coaching career began with the Buffalo Sabres. Today, Ramsey serves as an assistant coach with the Minnesota Wild.

Neal Broten enjoyed two outstanding years at the University of Minnesota prior to playing for the 1980 U. S. Olympic team. He became the first recipient of the prestigious Hobey Baker Award in 1981. Broten enjoyed a 17-year NHL career with the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars and the New Jersey Devils. He won his only Stanley Cup in 1995 as a member of the New Jersey Devils. Since 2000, Broten has served as a consultant for the Minnesota Wild organization.

Head coach Herb Brooks, who coached at the University of Minnesota as well as St. Cloud State University, went on to coach in the NHL with the New York Rangers, Minnesota North Stars, New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins. Brooks passed away on August 11, 2003.

Assistant coach Craig Patrick played his collegiate hockey at the University of Denver, where he was a member of their back-to-back national championship teams in 1968 and 1969. Today, he serves as general manager and executive vice president of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The collegiate impact

Nowhere was the success of the 1980 U. S. Olympic Team felt more than in the collegiate ranks. One constant from 1980 to today is Boston University head coach Jack Parker. Prior to 1980, the now legendary Terriers head coach had U. S. Olympic team players Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione, Jack O’Callahan and Dave Silk under his tutelage. Twenty-five years later, he has Chris Bourque (WSH), Brian McConnell (CGY) and Dan Spang (SJ) among his list of current NHL prospects under his wing. In between them, current NHL players Tony Amonte, Chris Drury and Shawn McEachern were among the many players to go on to play professional hockey prior to playing for Parker at Boston University.

While the members of the 1980 U. S. Olympic team have left their respective schools as student-athletes long ago, players such as Mike Eruzione and Mark Johnson continue to make significant contributions to their alma maters today. Eruzione is the director of athletic development at Boston University, while Johnson is the head coach of the University of Wisconsin’s Women’s Ice Hockey team. Furthermore, some of the young players of 25 years ago have produced a second generation of outstanding hockey players. Bob Suter’s son Ryan is currently in the Nashville Predators organization as a member of the team’s top minor pro (AHL) affiliate Milwaukee Admirals. Suter’s younger son, Garrett, is headed to the University of Wisconsin in the fall of 2005, following in the footsteps of his dad and older brother Ryan. John Harrington’s son, Chris, is currently a junior defenseman with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and could be a future NHL free agent signee.

The NHL Draft

Before 1980, NHL teams drafted many collegiate players but few were considered blue chip prospects at the time of the Entry Draft. Defenseman Mike Ramsey became the first American collegiate player to be taken in the first round of the NHL Draft, when he was selected 11th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 1979 Draft. Up to that point, the number of former U. S. collegiate players becoming household names in the NHL were far and few in between.

That began to change after the success of the U. S. Olympic team in 1980, though it was not immediate. It would be another several years before collegiate players began to make their presence well known at the annual NHL Entry Draft. In 1986, former Michigan State University forward Joe Murphy became the first NCAA player to be taken first overall in the NHL Draft.

The first draft year after 1980 that began producing successful future NHL players coming out of the American collegiate ranks was 1985. That year saw the drafting of players such as Craig Simpson (Michigan State University), Joe Nieuwendyk (Cornell University) and Mike Richter (University of Wisconsin). Five years later, the 1990 Entry Draft would produce the next wave, with players such as Keith Tkachuk (Boston University), Doug Weight (Lake Superior State University) and Craig Conroy (Clarkson University).

By the mid 1990s, American collegiate hockey had a firm hold at the NHL Draft and every NHL team had begun to scout there, particularly those such as the University of Minnesota and Boston University, schools that to this day continue to attract some of the most talented young players available.

The 2000 NHL Entry Draft was unprecedented in that the first two selections were both current NCAA players. Boston University goaltender Rick DiPietro and University of Wisconsin forward Dany Heatley went first and second overall to the New York Islanders and Atlanta Thrashers respectively.

Three years later at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the NCAA achieved another feat when nine current and soon-to-be collegians were taken in the first round. The group was led by University of Minnesota forward Thomas Vanek, who was selected fifth overall by the Buffalo Sabres.

Free Agency

The NCAA has also contributed significantly to the NHL through free agency. The 1980 U.S. Olympic team had two such players and the trend was just beginning. It would continue to grow over the next quarter century as more and more undrafted collegiate players were being signed in great numbers with each passing year. Current NHL players such as Martin St. Louis (University of Vermont) and John Madden (University of Michigan) are two examples of former collegiate players who reached the NHL as undrafted free agents.

Then and Now

To fully understand just how far American collegiate hockey has come in terms of producing high quality players for the NHL, one could look at a comparison of seasons nearly 25 years apart. During the 1979-80 season, the season during which the 1980 Olympic Games were taking place, the NHL had approximately 675 former collegians that had made an appearance in at least one game. They accounted for roughly 14 percent of the entire league’s players that year. Fast-forward to the 2003-04 season and the number goes up significantly. During the most recent NHL season, approximately 1,000 players appeared in an NHL game. They accounted for nearly one-quarter of the league’s players that year.

Today, there are well over 200 players currently at 40 Division I schools that have been drafted by NHL teams. Since 1980, the numbers have grown steadily and continue to do so today. Better and more aggressive recruiting and the high level of competition that exists among the collegiate ranks every year have contributed to the numbers.

All six schools that had players represented on the 1980 U. S. Olympic team continue to have thriving programs to this day. All have produced some of today’s NHL elite. Players such as Rob Blake (Bowling Green State University), Ed Belfour (University of North Dakota), Brett Hull (University of Minnesota-Duluth) and Chris Chelios (University of Wisconsin) all continue to leave their indelible marks on the NHL landscape.

In addition to the National Team Development Program (NTDP), the USHL and the various U.S. junior “A” and “B” programs as well as high school/prep schools, players are also coming to the NCAA in vast numbers from Canada’s Junior “A” and “B” leagues. No longer is the Canadian Major Junior route the only option for top players to reach the NHL. In addition, the NCAA has experienced its own small yet growing wave of Europeans entering the league. In a report released by the NCAA on ethnicity and national origin of student-athletes (by sport) in Division I and III, Ice Hockey had more non-Americans participating in it than any other sport as of 2003 (the most recent year available of the report). The rise of the NCAA route is thanks in no small part to the “Miracle on Ice”.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.