Like most American hockey fans, I remember it clear as day.
I was 13 years old, sitting cross-legged on the floor of our family room in suburban Detroit and I was glued to the TV watching the 1980 men’s U.S. Olympic hockey team shock the Soviet Union, as well as the rest of the sports world. It was a Friday night and the game was being televised tape-delayed on Detroit’s ABC affiliate WXYZ. In fact, I remember the station doing a news break between the second and third period and the anchor basically giving up the result that we weren’t yet aware of. There was no internet, no immediate 24/7 news cycle. The tape-delay telecast was the only way I had to find out who won.
The Americans, of course, defeated the Soviets, 4-3, that day and two days later knocked off Finland, 4-2, to win the gold medal. The U.S. economy wasn’t good at the time and Americans were being held hostage in Iran. The American hockey victory was a huge boost to our country’s morale and, for a hockey nut like me, remains a great memory. I could name you that team’s entire roster back then and still could today.
So, it was a real thrill to be involved on Tuesday with helping the folks from USA Hockey while they were in town to announce Mark Johnson’s appointment as head coach of the U.S. women’s Olympic team for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. They couldn’t have made a better choice.
You may have seen the news conference on UWBadgers.com or maybe you caught Mark being introduced at our men’s basketball game last night. A smaller number of people, mostly friends of Mark’s and UW Athletics staff, attended a reception inside Camp Randall Tuesday afternoon. All you need to know about Mark can be summed up in one simple gesture at that reception.
Brian Posick, the voice of Badger hockey on the radio, had introduced a number of speakers, including representatives from USA Hockey, UW Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez and UW Chancellor Biddy Martin. They all spoke before Mark. Brian finally introduced Mark, who was on the other side of the room from the other speakers. Instead of walking right to the podium to start speaking, Mark proceeded across the room to personally thank and shake the hands of the other speakers. Then he approached the podium to speak.
Again, a simple gesture. But I’ve talked to several people who saw it and each person noticed it and followed with a comment something to the effect of, “that’s Mark.” Even in a huge personal moment, it wasn’t all about Mark. USA Hockey chose an excellent coach and even better person and, from a visibility standpoint, women’s hockey will get a boost having the leading scorer from the “Miracle on Ice” team at the helm.