By the time the Olympics rolled around, there was at least a touch more consistency than that; the left wings and centers stayed constant, but there was an almost never-ending cycle of right wings depending on who was doing well on any given day. It's kind of exhausting to keep track of, but I (almost inadvertently) attempted to. I think I caught all the combinations. I hope I caught all the combinations! Let's take a look, shall we?
(Also, keep in mind that the order of lines wasn't set in stone either. The fourth line was pretty solidly fourth, but two and three were pretty fluid, and one was pretty solidly one, but there was at least one game that line two started and therefore became line one. So basically, these numbers are my interpretation for ease of comprehension. Herb made nothing easy!)
Mark Johnson and Rob McClanahan held it down at left wing and center for the first line, but right wing was a COMPLETE toss-up. They started out with Eric Strobel, but when he wasn't scoring and Dave Silk was, they switched lines. Steve Christoff was in there for a game in an attempt to jump-start his scoring, and it worked -- he scored his first goal of the Olympics with this line! Ultimately, though, Silky kept the spot for the medal round, and when books list each line's scoring breakdown, he's counted as the right wing on the first line.
Buzz Schneider, Mark Pavelich and John Harrington were the Coneheads and they went completely untouched. Why? Because they were weird. Or, more specifically, nobody else could figure out how to play with them (mostly Pav). So Herb left them alone for a few months and didn't touch them during the Olympics, and they ended up being the highest-scoring line during the tournament. And ultimately, Bah made the team largely because of this line's chemistry; Herb thought he was a very average player, but he needed him to fill this particular right wing spot. How 'bout that? :)
Mike Eruzione and Neal Broten played the whole Olympic tournament together, and thankfully only had two right wings rotate through. (I think. I could've missed something. This is Herb Brooks we're talking about.) For the most part, Steve Christoff played here. But when he was bumped to the first line, Eric Strobel took his place. That ended up being an incredibly good move, because in that game, not only did Steve score his first goal of the Olympics, but so did both Eric and Neal. So Herb's juggling clearly had some success!
Phil Verchota and Mark Wells were the stalwarts, joined by Dave Silk while he wasn't on the first line. When Silky was elsewhere, Eric Strobel rounded out his tour through the line-up and filled his spot. (No wonder Eric told Herb he couldn't figure out his niche! If I played on three different lines in seven games, I'd feel pretty adrift too!)
Now, what what going on on defense? Thankfully there was much less juggling going on back there; the only juggling that did happen was due to injuries to Jack O'Callahan and Bob Suter. But they each played with just about everyone else to fill those holes in the ranks, so let's just talk about the regular pairings. Because even I have a threshold!
Ken Morrow and Mike Ramsey seemed to start games pretty often, so even if they're not technically the "first" pair, that's what I'm calling them. These two had such polar opposite playing styles that made them a completely flawlessly complementary pair. Ken was the by-the-book stay-at-home defenseman, while Rammer was constantly making end-to-end rushes and chasing opponents into corners and just flattening people. And just think about what these two each ended up doing in their NHL careers. Unreal!
Dave Christian played his entire career as a center, but when Herb needed another defenseman he decided take two months to adapt Dave to suit his needs. And who better to put him with to teach him a new position than Bill Baker, 1979 All-American defenseman and Minnesota Gopher team captain? At the Olympics, Dave led the team with eight assists and Bill scored what was potentially the most important goal of the whole tournament. So basically, these two were a match made in defense heaven.
Jack O'Callahan and Bob Suter were hampered by injuries during the Olympics -- OC didn't play during the first three games and Bob didn't play during the last two, and both of them got limited ice time when they did play -- so we only got incredibly brief glimpses about what these guys could do. But Herb valued their abilities to rush the zone as well as their volatile personalities. These two contributed so much heart to the team that they were invaluable even when they couldn't play very much. Also? These two led the team in penalty minutes and relished pissing people off. Pair them up together and I'm a little bit terrified.
One more fun fact before I leave you: these headshots were taken while the guys were in colored jerseys according to their original line combinations (or position, for the defenders). I'm missing OC and Eric, yes, but it's easy enough to see what they would've been wearing. This is probably extremely obvious when you're looking at them all next to each other, but it took me several years before I matched up the lines and realized what the colors meant. Don't make my mistake and remain oblivious. ;)