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On the 35th Anniversary of the Miracle On Ice, fond memories remain

Todd Walsh of Fox Sports Arizona speaks to us about the time when American hockey shocked the world.

Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

On February 21st, 2015, a group of men will gather in Lake Placid, New York, to celebrate something so incredible, so improbable, so unlikely, that were it not for the TV broadcast, millions around the world might assume it had never happened at all. 35 years ago, on February 22nd, 1980, the United States Men's Olympic Hockey Team stepped onto the ice at the Olympic Center to play the vaunted Soviet Union. They stepped off the ice as giant-slayers.

For the first time, all living members of the 1980 team will be gathering together to remember their 4-3 victory over the USSR in Lake Placid. Serving as master of ceremonies for this incredible event will be Fox Sports Arizona's own Todd Walsh. We were privileged enough to speak with Todd about his memories of the tournament. Here's what he had to say.

FFH: The game has seen dramatic changes in the 35 years since the Miracle On Ice. For those that may not have been old enough to remember, what did hockey look like in 1980?

Todd Walsh: First of all, this was International hockey, on the bigger sheets of ice.  It takes a minute or two to adjust to the room. The first, most dramatic change you will notice if you ever watch the game, and let's just say, thanks to some enterprising folks, you can, is goaltending. It's the old school, traditional stand up style of goaltending. It just doesn't "look" right now, even though I grew up watching it. You are just begging for Jim Craig to drop down into a butterfly.

You won't see any Neutral Zone traps, or 'system' play in this one. But you will see speed. And skill. And a team skating with wings like eagles generating strength from the ten thousand plus fans who are chanting "USA USA USA" for 60 minutes.

FFH: What was it about the Soviet Union that made them such a better team than everybody else?

TW: The Soviets were trained professionals. They played together, as a team, and were paid for it as a member of their "Army" year round. When they didn't have ice, they trained on land. They were innovative beyond belief in terms of what they did and how they went about doing it.

They didn't skate "north-south" as we had come to know in the NHL. They were innovators. They changed the game as we knew it and some of their style is integrated into the game we see today. To beat them (US head coach) Herb Brooks had to in a sense have his team become them.

FFH: Everybody remembers Jim Craig and Mike Eruzione, but what other player really stood out to you for Team USA at the time?

TW: There are several guys that stood out above the notable names that you mentioned. Mark Johnson was the college player of the year and team's tried to stop him, but really couldn't. His "never quit" play at the end of the first period may have changed the course of international hockey history, as his goal prompted the Soviet Head Coach to impulsively pull the great goaltender Vladislav Tretiak.

Buzz Schneider played on the '76 Olympic team that nearly medaled in Austria and provided some timely goals and a veteran  presence. Mike Ramsey was a human wrecking ball on the blue line.

But, the guy that I want to give extra credit to in our ceremony is the one player you never really ever got to see at reunions and gatherings over the years. Mark Pavelich was a force.

Game 1 vs. Sweden: Game tying goal? Assist Mark Pavelich.
Game 2 vs. Czechs: Go ahead goal in 1st? Go ahead goal assist in second? Mark Pavelich.
Game 3 vs. Norway: Insurance goal assist in second? Mark Pavelich.
Game 4 vs. Romania: Opening goal assist in first? Mark Pavelich.
Game 6 vs. Soviet Union: Assist game tying goal in first, assist game winning goal in the 3rd? Mark Pavelich.

FFH: Was there a moment during the game where you personally thought that the United States was going to win? Or did it take the final horn sounding before that thought could occur?

TW: I knew the score of the game before it aired.  The game was taped delayed if you can believe it, so if could air in prime time. Walter Cronkite spilled the beans for me. But, I will say this, there were several moments with under ten minutes to play that I was CONVINCED he was wrong.
Imagine not knowing who won that game, nowadays? I didn't think to listen on the radio, as it was broadcast live.  But I recall rocking back and forth on the couch in the first period when it looked like we were going to get crushed.

FFH: Do you think there will ever be another USA National Team in any sport that will have the same unifying power that the 1980 Hockey Team did?

TW: I don't believe we will ever see the convergence of events that created the shroud of "The Miracle on Ice" ever again.  The world is too small, now.  The news cycle is in minutes, not hours or days. This simmered for months and months before the Cold War played out on a sheet of ice. Never again.  Although it would be nice to settle a few scores with goals and saves rather than knives and smart bombs.

FFH: As a bit of a postscript, the Miracle on Ice is obviously one of the great historical moments in ice hockey lore, but it wasn't even the gold medal game. What do you remember about the USA/Finland contest? And why do you think it's such an afterthought, given it's the last time Team USA has won gold at the Olympics?

TW: I remember clearly waking up with great anticipation for the Finland game, on a late Sunday morning, if memory serves.  It was the perfect "trap" game. And it almost played out that way, as they trailed in the third period.  But in the end, they listened to their coach who reminded them that if they lost, they would take it "to their expletive deleted grave."

I remember seeing the team rush to the medal stand after the anthem which felt like the perfect post script. There was an empty feeling that went along with that, however.  It was "over." A two week run of emotions that had never before been felt. I was fortunate enough to live in the AHL town of Rochester and remember when Rob McClanahan and John Harrington and others came to play for the "Americans," my team growing up. I went down to see them and got autographs and was in awe of these kids and what they accomplished. I tracked them and celebrated it for the next 35 years.  It all comes full circle on Saturday night in Lake Placid.

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Thanks to Todd for sharing his thoughts with us. It should be a truly moving and memorable experience in Lake Placid this weekend.