The Boys of Winter

Is it just me, or does anyone else own movies and rarely watch them, but freak out in excitement and glue yourself to the couch if they're on TV?

That's what happened to me early in my holiday break. One night I stumbled across Miracle airing on AMC. It was almost halfway through, but I hadn't seen it probably in years and I LOVE it, so I settled in for the night. It aired again the next three nights in a row, and I watched parts of it each time. And each time, I got goosebumps when Mike Eruzione yelled, "I play for the United States of America!," cried when Ralph Cox got cut, and found myself nervous, sweaty and on the edge of my seat during the game against the Soviets.

This is a big part of the reason why I can't watch Miracle too often; it requires a certain mindset. It's not just a mindless movie I can pop in at any time. It's a pretty emotional process. But watching it reminded me how utterly obsessed with it I am, which spawned my current quest to learn as much about the 1980 US hockey team as possible. So I hit Amazon and ordered The Boys of Winter by Wayne Coffey. It's a book written by the co-author of RA Dickey's autobiography, about America's greatest Olympic moment ever. How bad could it be?

Not bad at all. In fact, pretty spectacular.

When you watch the movie, you kind of forget that there are 20+ guys on the team, because we only really meet Mike Eruzione, Jim Craig, Jack O'Callahan, Rob McClanahan, and Ralph Cox. All other names are mentioned in passing, faces shown in montages. You don't pay attention to "Mark Pavelich, UMD Bulldogs," or "Knocked away by Morrow!" But in this book, each player gets the focus. It might just be a paragraph, or it might be an entire chapter (only Jim Craig was bestowed that honor), but suddenly all those background boys became real people.

Buzz Schneider was the only guy on the 1980 team that was also on the 1976 team, and very well could've been voted team captain over Eruzione. Mark Wells was sent down and spent months playing in the minors before being called back up to the team only days before the games. Bah Harrington kept a little spiral notebook where he recorded all of Herb Brooks's sayings. Steve Janaszak was the only hockey player in Lake Placid to not play a single minute in a game. Mark Pavelich accidentally shot and killed his best friend when they were out hunting together. Jack O'Callahan was accepted to Harvard but chose to go to Boston University because he thought it gave him a better chance to win a national championship. Mike Eruzione was very nearly cut from the team in January before the Olympics.

What's also really cool is watching Miracle and being able to notice character traits that I hadn't before. When they're all at the bar doing their psychology tests, Phil Verchota finishes first; he was a decorated student. The first shot of Rob McClanahan is of him meticulously taping his stick, then unraveling it and doing it again; the guys on the team apparently teased him about "the fastidious manner in which he prepared his sticks." When Herb calls the Conehead line into his office, Buzz and Bah chat away while all Mark Pavelich says is, "Yeah. Pass, shoot and score"; he was extremely introverted and quiet, even around his closest friends. We almost never see Jim Craig interacting with the team in a chummy sort of way; making friends wasn't his priority, and he was very self-sufficient and a bit of a loner.

Unfortunately, though, I now also know which aspects of the movie are nothing but Hollywood. I won't ruin the illusion for you (because a lot of it is massively disappointing), but I will say this: would it have killed them to tell the guy playing Ken Morrow to grow a beard?

All in all, it's a really fantastic read. It blends the boys' stories in with play-by-play from the Soviet game and includes some really cool insights into the Lake Placid Games. I highly recommend it if you're interested in learning more about the individual people that made up the most famous team in American sports history!


  1. Definitely going to take you up on this recommendation. This is the next book I'm going to read after "Battle on the Hudson." Kind of on a hockey book kick right now. :)

    1. Awesome! Let me know what you think of it! :)