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34 years after winning gold, Jim Craig remains a #HockeyLegend

Posted by Obnoxious Boston Fan  February 24, 2014 12:30 AM

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Jim Craig is learning all about hashtags.

Thirty-four years to the day that Craig and his fellow Team USA ice hockey players upended the Soviet Union and fired the first last shot in the Cold War, he was getting a lesson Saturday in the finer points of Twitter from his daughter's teammates on the Colgate University women's hockey team.

"I keep getting my hashtags wrong," he told the OBF blog. "They were showing me what to do and I was trying to make sure I don't embarrass my daughter."

Craig's contribution to the history of hockey in the United States can be easily summed up in 140 characters:

Bay State native goalie part of NCAA title at BU and played brilliantly for Team USA as it captured gold in '80 the Winter Olympics. #Legend

Monday marks the 34th anniversary of Team USA's gold-medal-clinching 4-2 victory over Finland.

The image of Craig with the American flag draped over his shoulders at Lake Placid, N.Y., inside what is now Herb Brooks Arena, after Team USA beat Finland for gold represents one of the most iconic moments in American sports history.

Craig played every minute of that Olympiad and didn't lose a game. Against the Soviets, he faced 39 shots, while the Americans managed only 16 in their 4-3 win. He was 6-0-1 overall with a 2.14 GAA helping the Americans win their second gold medal ever in ice hockey and most recent for the men.

#SochiProblems

Team USA's trip to Sochi was highlighted by T.J. Oshie's four shootout goals against Russia. It ended in humiliation as the Americans crumbled against Finland, losing the bronze medal game 5-0.

"These guys don't get to play together, they don't get the chance develop chemistry," Craig said in assessing Team USA's performance in Sochi. "The game against Canada was played with so much emotion ... To lose that game, as tough as it was, and asking them to come back so quickly was asking a lot of these guys. As much as their hearts wanted to do well [Saturday], I think they were out of gas."

Craig believes the gold and bronze medal games should be played on the same day and knows the Fins also played on Friday, but noted that they still had an extra three or four hours to rest and that could have made a difference. "Having to play that game so quickly was really difficult."

The fourth-place finish of the Americans also serves as a reminder of just how difficult it is to win a medal during the Olympic tournament, something that wasn't any easier 34 years ago. "I'm not making excuses, I just don't think they realized how important it is to win here and how hard it is get a medal," Craig said. "To be able to be in the Olympics and win a medal is important and difficult, Finland showed us that. The Americans never got it going, emotionally.

"The Olympics showed how difficult it is to win. Mental toughness is the key," he said. "Against Finland, there were so many momentum changes that could have happened but didn?t. If [Team USA] scores on those two penalty shots, everything changes."

America's place in the world's hockey pantheon seems to be stuck one goal behind Canada - Saturday's loss notwithstanding. "Canada still has the best players. We're second but rapidly closing the gap." For the women, Craig says the Americans are on par with the Canadians in terms "of skill set. They just need to learn how to win."

Would "Jim Craig - World Hockey Czar" want NHL players to remain in the Olympics or bring back amateurs? The next Winter Olympiad will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. It's a mere 6,789 miles from and 14 hours ahead of Boston.

Craig sees pluses in both, but just wants a hard decision one way or another.

"When you get a team together like the women and they can play together over a long period of time and tour together, it makes them that much better. The girls' [gold medal game against Canada] was incredibly exciting. They just need to figure it out and make that commitment and go with it. When you have the best amateurs in the game, you can see some really good play."

#GoldenMemories

The world saw spectacular play from the American amateurs in 1980.

Craig reiterated that his fondest memories of that wondrous two weeks in Lake Placid are those of camaraderie and team play.



"Sure, there's a play or two you might remember - Mark Johnson's goal [which tied the score 3-3 against the Soviets] or a save that I made. But the lasting memory is how unselfish all the players on the team really were and how committed they were. The overall dream of winning a gold medal was more important than anything we accomplished as individuals. I'm still proud to be part of that team."

For many watching those Games, including one bespectacled teen-aged wanna-be journalist who had lost his mother on the same day Team USA tied Sweden 2-2, the lasting memory of that 1980 gold medal triumph was the image of Craig swaddled in Old Glory after yelling into the stands while looking for his father.

It's a moment that would not have fit into NBC's 2014 "No Dads" policy.

Craig's mom died of cancer in 1977 and her presence was never far from his mind in Lake Placid.

"When you get older you understand what it means when someone gives you the most opportunity. My parents, they sacrificed a lot for me. Before my mom died, she told me that when people die they don't lost their strength, they pass it on," he said. "When she died, I gained strength. When we won the gold, I knew my father would be thinking what a wonderful moment it was and that my mom was sharing it with us in spirit. I wanted to show him the respect that I was thinking of her. That was more important than celebrating. There was plenty of time to celebrate."

#TuukkaTime

Craig said the Olympic success enjoyed by Bruins' goalie Tuukka Rask and Team Canada's Carey Price will help those goalies improve when they return to NHL play. Price not only shut out America and Sweden but allowed just three goals in his final five games.

While Price was only challenged a handful of times against the Americans and the Swedes thanks to the Claude Julien style of suffocating defense and puck control to which Bruins fans have become accustomed, Rask faced two penalty shots from Patrick Kane in the bronze medal game and stopped both, with some help from his crossbar and left post.

"I was trying to give the US guys a hint to shoot off the angle since he's so good facing shots head-on. This will help Tuukka ... this type of performance under pressure. I would like to know why he didn't play [against Sweden.]"

Team USA didn't score in the final 137:59 of its time on the ice in Sochi. It's a minor miracle they even finished fourth. Craig was supportive of Team USA goalie Jonathan Quick both on his @JimCraigUSA Twitter feed and again while talking on the phone during a four-hour drive from the Colgate campus in Hamilton, N.Y., to New York City Saturday night.

"His skill set is off the charts," Craig said of Quick. "He's a great competitor and a fabulous goalie. He kept them in it against Canada and early against Finland but got held out to dry. He's really fun for me to watch."

Even more fun for Craig to watch is his daughter, Taylor. She is a junior forward at Colgate. Having a dad who helped to bring down the Iron Curtain with goalie pads, his glove and a Northland stick could have been too much for some would-be hockey players to handle. Taylor Craig appears to be doing just fine.

"She's played on several national teams and is a Division I scholarship hockey player. She's made a great life for herself and this is all her doing. I'm sure she's had a lot more pressure on her than she wanted."

#TimesHaveChanged

Part of the "Miracle on Ice" lore from Team USA's 1980 gold medal ride is the fact that Craig & Company's 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union on Feb. 22, 1980, was shown on ABC via tape delay.

Fast forward nearly three-and-a-half decades. Craig watched Friday's 1-0 loss to Canada live on his iPad via the Slingbox app while his wife was driving.

He said he's never watched the entire win over the Soviets. "I've told my son and daughter that some day I'll sit down with them and watch it. I have it on VHS but who has a VCR anymore?" [Craig was Tweeted a link to the game on You Tube after this interview.]

After beating the Soviets, Craig and his teammates didn't have time to enjoy their win or even watch it on TV. "We went back to the hotel. The next day we had practice. Herb worked us pretty hard. The next day after that, we played Finland. The next day, we went to the White House. Then, on Tuesday, we started working for a living."

Craig's NHL career included stops in Atlanta, Boston and Minnesota. He currently serves as the director of Gold Medal Strategies, a Boston-area based promotions and marketing firm. For millions of Americans, he remains the goalie who served as the backbone for Team USA when it created a "Miracle On Ice" against the Soviet Union before winning a gold medal two days later.

Craig is comfortable in either role. He said he loves the fact that so many people still thank him [both in person and on Twitter] for what he and his teammates accomplished 34 years ago. He's also just as happy going unnoticed.

"We stopped for a sandwich in Rochester [N.Y.] after my wife picked me up Friday. We go into this diner and I asked the guy if I could watch the game while I was eating lunch. He puts it on and he's taking about the Olympics and the U.S. team. He doesn't have a clue that I played in it. It was really, really funny. He's saying: 'Look at those players. They're really, really good players.' I was just smiling."

Craig, who won the 1978 NCAA title while playing for the Terriers, usually doesn't have a problem being recognized in and around Boston. "It was really fun to see this guy in Rochester talk about his team, the U.S. team, and powerful they were. It gave me an idea of how people felt about our team and the impact we had on people. It was nice."

#Nice, indeed.

Got a news tip, want to let me know directly what you think, or have a complaint or compliment about my "aggressively relevant" content, hit me up on our Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or e-mail me at obnoxiousbostonfan@hotmail.com. Thanks always for reading and pass the clicker.

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