So, if you know anything about the Miracle on Ice or have seen Miracle even once, you probably know who Mike Eruzione is. (You also probably know that he's from Winthrop, Massachusetts and plays for the United States of America.) History and circumstance have turned him into the face of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, and hey, that's fair. But it does him a disservice to assume that one goal against the Soviet Union is the only reason he's awesome!
+ Rizzo grew up in a huge Italian family in a town with no discernible hockey tradition. He first started playing in his sister's figure skates (complete with pom poms!) on frozen flooded tennis courts and sand traps on a nearby golf course. It took him two winters of teaching himself to skate before his mom bought him a real pair of hockey skates and he started playing real games, in a league in a nearby town (since his town didn't have its own). He actually played three sports growing up and was better at football and baseball than he was at hockey.
+ While the world was introduced to Rizzo's heroics during the Olympics, he'd actually been pulling that kind of stuff off his entire life. He was always the guy on his teams with the most heart, never shying away from anything, reliable in the clutch and often providing the spark behind offensive rallies (and his last name is Italian for "eruption," which is quite fitting!). He initially wasn't planning on playing Division I hockey, but Jack Parker spotted him playing in a summer league and offered him a partial scholarship. After his first tryout at Boston University, he was put on the B team... but within two days he'd worked himself onto the A team. Y'know, casual! And though he'd be the first to tell you he wasn't a particularly sparkling hockey player, don't think that means he wasn't talented! He was a top scorer at BU, never missing a game in four years (uh, hey, Cal Ripken Jr. status right there!), scoring 208 career points and being named co-captain his senior year. In those four years, BU won its division four times and made four trips to the NCAA Frozen Four. Jack Parker actually called Rizzo "Pete Rose on skates."
+ Rizzo played on the U.S. national team for several years, including at the 1976 world championships. Well, he didn't actually play in that tournament, but interestingly it still may've helped get him onto the 1980 Olympic team. On the flight overseas, the coach passed around a pad for the players to write down what position they wanted to play, but Rizzo had fallen asleep and nobody woke him up. He never wrote himself onto the list, so he never got into any games. However, he was his usual positive self, keeping guys motivated on the bench. This caught a few eyes and had him immediately pegged as team captain material!
+ Undrafted by the NHL, Rizzo spent two years playing in the IHL before making the Olympic team. His road to the Olympics wasn't easy, as Herb was well aware that Rizzo lacked the skill of some of his teammates. A few weeks before the Olympics Herb actually almost cut him from the roster, planning on saying it was due to an injury so he could keep him on as an "assistant coach" and not lose his off-ice contributions. Like Miracle showed, the rest of the team rallied around him, flat out telling Herb that this wasn't okay, and that if Rizzo didn't go to the Olympics, none of them would go. Basically, Rizzo's perfect captain-like personality saved his butt, but he made some pretty key on-ice contributions; he scored against the Soviets in the pre-Olympic exhibition game at Madison Square Garden, scored the first goal to prompt the rout against Czechoslovakia in the Olympics, and (lest we forget!) scored the game-winner against the Soviet Union in the Miracle on Ice. So I think -- I think -- he pulled his weight.
+ Already 25 by the time Lake Placid rolled around, Rizzo got some NHL interest after the Olympics but ultimately decided he wanted to retire on a high note -- and, um, it doesn't get much higher than an Olympic gold medal! So his final Olympic game was his final competitive hockey game. How poetic is that?! His teammates (and himself, actually) joke that he turned his one goal against the Soviets into a whole career, and that's not entirely false -- he's done quite a bit of motivational speaking since 1980! But he also did some coaching and works as the director of special outreach for Boston University's athletic development -- so when his teammates joke that he's never worked a day in his life, that's probably not entirely true. But he's still very much the captain and public face of his Olympic team!
So how awesome is that? The guy that quite literally started at the bottom, the captain that was almost cut, scoring the goal that's still talked about to this day. It's a beautiful thing! :)