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Olympic Hockey: 1980 Not Only USA miracle

The following feature story on legendary Army hockey coach Jack Riley, written by Ken McMillan, originally appared in the Times-Herald Record on Sunday, February 14, 2010.

Jack Riley was stunned when he was selected as the head coach of the 1960 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

He had not lobbied for it, nor had he received permission from his employers at West Point. His boss, U.S. Military Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Garrison Davidson, had a different job planned for his residing Army hockey coach, and he was taken aback when Riley told him of his plans.

"He said, 'If you lose, don't come back,'" Riley recalled.

Of course, the United States pulled off the stunning upset by winning all seven games in Squaw Valley, Calif., and brought home the gold medal — it was only the second world championship the Americans had ever won.

"When we won, (Davidson) sent me a telegram: Come on home, all is forgiven," said Riley, 87.

The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey squad, of Herb Brooks, Jim Craig and Mike Eruzione fame, stole the headlines of the Lake Placid Games with their gold-medal triumph, including a stunning semifinal triumph over the Soviet Union — that "Miracle on Ice" game has been recognized as the international hockey story of the century.

Bah humbug, Riley says. He doesn't begrudge the accomplishments of the 1980 squad, but he's the first to tell anybody that his squad beat powerful Canada, the Soviets and the Czechs in consecutive games, whereas the 1980 team tied Sweden and never even played the Canadians. "That's like playing baseball and not playing the Yankees and Red Sox," Riley grumbled.

With the 50th anniversary of the "Forgotten Miracle," members of the 1960 U.S. team have been invited to Vancouver for a celebration on Feb. 20. You can count Riley out.

"I am not going to go out there," Riley said. "The Olympics forgot about us, for Christ sakes."

Even the players have felt overshadowed by the 1980 team.

"A lot of guys on the team have felt that way over the years," said Bill Cleary, a standout and lightning rod of the 1960 team. Cleary went on to coach Harvard from 1968-90. "Hey, who cares? We know what we did. We're still here. We're having a great time with each other, and that's all that counts."

Thought his team had no chance

Riley was a perfect choice to coach the 1960 squad. The former standout Dartmouth player competed in the 1948 Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and was the player/coach of the 1949 U.S. national team. He was on the committee that would select the 1960 team, having spent much of 1959 scouting the international field.

"Jackie, thank God he never drank because he had a temper," Cleary said. "You know he wants to win. And that came through very loud and clear. He's really intense, wanting to be winning and be successful, and I think that influenced us."

Funny thing is, Riley figured his team had no chance in Squaw Valley. "I think there was a good chance we would finish fifth," he said.

That's why Riley put his USA team through a rigorous pre-Olympics camp at the old Smith Rink at West Point. "I knew the only thing we could do was out-condition everyone," Riley said.

The early results of an exhibition tour did not impress Riley, and he told Boston Bruins owner Walter Brown, "Do you want to go to the Olympics with a chance of winning or no chance?"

With that, Riley told the committee he was going to bring in Massachusetts forwards Bill Cleary and Bob Cleary and Minnesota defenseman John Mayasich to bolster the lineup — Bill Cleary and Mayasich earned a silver medal at the 1956 Olympics, and all three wound up in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

The players nearly revolted because of the late additions, but Riley stood his ground with the team and the committee. As it turns out, the three additions made vital contributions at the Games. Bill Cleary and Mayasich each scored seven goals, and Bob Cleary scored twice in the third period in the final game against Czechoslovakia that clinched the gold.

Would the Americans have won gold without Riley at the helm?

"It wouldn't have happened because I don't think many people would have done what he did, pure and simple," Bill Cleary said.

When Riley returned to West Point, four Military Police cars escorted Jack and his wife, Maureen, to the superintendent's house. Almost 2,400 cadets greeted the couple, and a short parade on a Zamboni was punctuated with seven canon blasts for each Olympic victory. An open house party, with a band and open bar, was held at Smith Rink to celebrate. Then it was back to work, finishing off the Army hockey season.

Finally, some recognition

There have been few reunions of the 1960 team, and three of the 17 players have died. A contingent got together for the 2002 Salt Lake Games, in conjunction with the 1980 men's team and 1998 women's team that also won Olympic gold.

Two movies have been made about the 1980 team — the 2004 film "Miracle" starred Kurt Russell playing the role of Herb Brooks, who was one of the players cut by Riley in 1960. Now the 1960 team has its video keepsake with the recent DVD release of the documentary "Forgotten Miracle."

Better late than never, Riley and his players said.

"Most of my players, well, we know what we did and we're pretty proud," Riley said. "They can't take that away from us."

1960 Olympics results
In 1960, there was no knockout round like this year's Olympics format. The winner of the final round-robin group won the gold.
United States 7, Czechoslovakia 5*
United States12, Australia 1*
United States 6, Sweden 3
United States 9, Germany 1
United States 2, Canada 1
United States 3, Soviet Union 2
United States 9, Czechoslovakia 4
*-preliminary round

kmcmillan@th-record.com
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