Their skates may move a little slower than they did nearly 42 years ago in Sapporo, Japan, and there’s probably more silver and white in their hair, but talk to any member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team, and they instantly go back to that time like it happened just yesterday.
“I can still hear the crunch of the snow from our early morning runs around the Olympic Village and playing in those games,” said former defenseman Tom Mellor, a Rhode Island native. “What an experience it all was – just a bunch of amateur hockey players going out to take on the world one game at a time.”
An improbable run to the silver medal started with an upset of Czechoslovakia that some compared to the U.S.’s wins over the Soviet Union in the 1960 and 1980 Olympic Games. Team member and Minnesota native Craig Sarner credits the intense team bond to helping lift Team USA to its success that year.
U.S. Head Coach Murray Williamson demanded that the team stick together right away, beginning with practices and tryouts that began months prior to the Olympic Games. Sarner and Mellor both note that, “everyone had one another’s backs” and “it became one of our biggest and most important families.”
And it’s a family that hasn’t drifted, even though states and careers now separate them. The team chemistry still carries on today with the majority of the players that donned the Red, White and Blue all those years ago.
“The medal was important,” said Sarner. “But the friendships we developed and the lifelong bond we have is the biggest part of it all. We just enjoy the heck out of being together, and it was that chemistry that helped us prove that will does beat skill sometimes.”
After the Olympic Games, most of the team, which included the likes of a then 16-year-old Mark Howe, Henry Boucha and Mike “Lefty” Curran, went on to some sort of professional hockey career, still staying in touch every year via email and phone calls and trips all across the U.S. Sarner, Mellor and the rest of the squad get together frequently. Their last trip was to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the summer of 2012. Mellor said the team already has plans to meet up again this year, a reunion that everyone looks forward to.
The conversation is not always focused solely on hockey. Sarner is still involved as a scout for the United States Hockey League and North American Hockey League. Mellor hung up the skates and moved on to “life after hockey.”
They also update the hockey family on each player’s personal family.
“I’m a new grandpa with a granddaughter, Eve, so I am boring the guys with photos and information about her constantly,” said Sarner, whose silver-plated medal hangs in Eve’s room. “So I know they’re tiring of it, but we all update on family life and just everything that’s going on with one another. Never a lack of stories, some true, some fabricated, when this group gets together.”
Stories will be shared by the 1972 alums and their extended USA Hockey family for years to come.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to play with and meet than that team,” said Mellor. “Them and really everyone involved in the USA Hockey organization, from the 1980 team, and beyond, it’s neat to be a part of something like that – to be a part of that family.”