Sons of Miracle men relish fathers’ glory

Ben Goessling

For eight years, the cassette tape sat unopened, collecting dust in John Harrington’s closet next to a hundred other miscellaneous mementos.

And when the forward on the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team finally popped in his keepsake from perhaps the biggest sporting event in U.S. history, it didn’t exactly bring things back to life.

“I was amazed in the first half of the game how little we had the puck,” Harrington said. “Then I fast-forwarded to the end, and the thing snapped right off. I ended up throwing it in the garbage.”

Maybe it’s best Harrington’s recollection of the U.S. team’s 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union is a little blurry.

Because 25 years after the “Miracle on Ice,” the event has taken on a life of its own.

A lot of television specials and movies have been produced about the team’s gold-medal run at the 1980 Winter Olympics, including last year’s “Miracle,” which starred Kurt Russell as the late coach Herb Brooks.

The players lit the torch at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and today, almost all of them will be back in Lake Placid, N.Y. (the site of the 1980 games), for the 25th anniversary celebration.

It’s a far cry from the team’s 10-year reunion, which basically amounted to a cookout in Brooks’ backyard.

And it’s a fitting tribute for an event that, for those who lived through it, is as clear as it was 25 years ago.

“I was standing on the blue line at Michigan State getting ready to play a game, and right before the national anthem, they announced we had beat the Russians,” said Gophers coach Don Lucia, who was playing for Ntore Dame at the time. “The guy next to me, Greg Meredith, who was an All-American, said, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’ “

But for a new generation of hockey players – one that grew up almost entirely after the Cold War – the game has become almost a mythic tale.

And for several sons of players on the 1980 team, the “Miracle on Ice” defined their careers before they even laced up a pair of skates.

Reliving a miracle

Chris Harrington’s understanding of his father’s place in history didn’t come until high school, but that didn’t stop him from flaunting it to his classmates.

“I used to bring his gold medal to show-and-tell quite a bit,” said Chris Harrington, a junior defenseman on Minnesota’s men’s hockey team. “As you grow older, you kind of learn more about it. It affected a lot of people, and it’s fun to be able to answer questions about it.”

Chris Harrington makes no secret of how much he enjoys his connection to the 1980 team, which has essentially adopted him as a surrogate member.

“The coolest thing is hearing all the stories they’ve told,” Chris Harrington said. “No one else gets to hear those, and I could listen to them forever.”

But beyond his musings about the “wingnuts” his father played with, there is a genuine admiration in Chris Harrington for his father’s career.

It stems from a hockey family that spans three generations, and it’s still growing.

John Harrington, now the coach at Division III St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., said that he talks to Chris Harrington almost every Friday night.

They said they wish each other good luck in their respective games, and each one’s team is never far from the other’s mind.

“It’s a special relationship, because I’m in hockey, too,” John Harrington said. “He’s thinking of me and my team, and he knows that when (St. John’s) season is over, I’ll be there.”

Moving on

As much as Chris Harrington and John Harrington have relished their connection to the “Miracle on Ice,” Bob Suter and son Ryan Suter have tried to exist outside of it.

Both played at Wisconsin, and Ryan Suter is now a defenseman for the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals.

But when it comes to his roots, Ryan Suter’s father sidesteps most of the questions.

“He doesn’t like the attention at all,” Ryan Suter said. “He’s a pretty humble guy, when it comes to it. I’ve overheard some stuff, but he doesn’t talk about it very much.”

Bob Suter owns Suter’s Gold Medal Sports in Madison, Wis., and he admits the name has probably helped business over the years.

But most of the time, he discusses the win over the Soviet Union like it was a victory in a wheelbarrow race at the company picnic.

“It’s kind of weird how long it’s kept going,” Bob Suter said. “It’s kind of nice for Ryan that people ask him about it, but I don’t think it’s a big main thing anymore.”

Try telling that to his son.

Ryan Suter played on the U.S. team at the last two World Junior Hockey Championships, and when the Olympics come up, his tone goes from noncommittal to reverential.

“I’ve always dreamed about playing on an Olympic team,” he said. “It would be really special because of everything that happened.”

A father-son moment

If he had his way, Dan Brooks would return to Lake Placid this week out of the spotlight. He’d still be Danny Brooks, forever the 12-year-old who watched as his father engineered perhaps the biggest upset in sports history.

But Herb Brooks is gone, and little Danny Brooks had to grow up.

When Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 Olympic team and the winner of three national championships at Minnesota, died in a car accident Aug. 11, 2003, it threw the hockey world into a state of shock.

“We always wondered who would be the first one from that team to go, but we never thought it would be him,” John Harrington said. “He was indestructible.”

Since Herb Brooks’ death, his son has become the family’s unofficial spokesman, appearing at the NHL All-Star Game in St. Paul and the “Miracle” movie premiere last year in Los Angeles.

He’ll be in Lake Placid today, as the rink at the Olympic Center is renamed after his father.

It’s not a role Dan Brooks enjoys, but it’s one he said he knows he can’t get away from.

“I’ll never be part of the team,” he said, “but this is such a big piece of American history. Times were so crappy, and this miracle came along and gave the country a huge patriotic surge.”

Dan Brooks, now 37, is married and works as an investment banker for Dain Rauscher in Minneapolis.

He played hockey at Denver University and was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 1985.

As much as he enjoyed his own hockey success, Dan Brooks’ biggest moment in the game might come today.

He wishes it weren’t true, but he said he knows it’s a perfect bookend to a 25-year saga.

“The last time I was there was when I walked out the door after the gold-medal game,” Brooks said. “In a way, it’s kind of fitting, though.

“The moments that stick with me from that team are when they were celebrating at the buzzer against the Russians and when Mike Eruzione was up on the podium getting the gold medal,” he said. “And both times, my dad was nowhere to be seen. Now, it’s like he’s sitting back, watching the whole thing again. He’s at peace.”