Olympic Legend Mike Eruzione on Where America’s Greatness Comes From

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 15: Mike Eruzione #21 of USA skates on the ice during an alumni game with the Philadelphia Flyers alumni on April 15, 1995 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
 B Bennett/Getty Images)

In 1980, Mike Eruzione became an American sports hero after scoring the goal that helped Team USA beat the Soviet Union’s hockey team at the Winter Olympics—the game we still refer to today as “The Miracle on Ice.” But when he spoke to Men’s Journal this week, Eruzione was just another guy happy not to be trapped in the northeast’s snowy weather.

The Boston-based gold medal winner (Eruzione is currently the Director of Special Outreach at Boston University) was in Naples, Florida when we reached him—but he’d just gotten a weather report from his wife back in Boston about the city’s frigid precipitation.

“I may be on a seven-day business trip, but right now that’s a good thing,” he chuckled.

Weather banter aside, Eruzione was eager to chat about this year’s Team USA hockey squad and its chances in the PyeongChang games, even without the aid of NHL players. And as one of the stars of a new ancestry.com campaign, Eruzione and a few of his 1980 teammates recently realized there is more to their backgrounds—and more to what makes an American—than he once thought.

How did you get involved with the Ancestry commercial?
They had the idea to celebrate America’s greatness. When they contacted me about looking at my ancestry, I was like, well, I’m Italian. My mother’s Italian. My father’s Italian. My grandparents are Italian. But I was curious to know if there was anything else there. Well, I found out I had Middle Eastern and some European Jewish roots. I told my brother and sister that we’re not 100% Italian—we’ve got a little something else. But everyone has a little something else, and diversity is what makes this country so great.

Did any of your teammates receive interesting results?
Sure—Robbie McClanahan, John Harrington, Buzzy Schneider, and Davey Christian were all involved. It was funny to find out that Buzzy has some Russian roots. If anybody followed Buzzy’s career, he always scored goals against the Soviets! We were all kidding him, like, “Maybe you’re more Russian than American!”

What do you hope people take away from the commercial?
I think they might take away that we’re a melting pot. We all have a little something in us from our roots. What it might do is make more people say, let me see where my whole family is from. When I got involved it was more out of curiosity, but surprisingly I found it’s really diversity that makes you an American.

 

Speaking of Americans, what do you think of this year’s Men’s Hockey squad?
I hate that old adage that anyone can win, but it’s a talented group of players here! I know four of the players from playing at Boston University. Funny thing, I told head US coach Tony Granato that in 1980 we had four guys from Boston University and an Italian captain. Tony started laughing. This year they’ve got four guys from Boston University and the captain is named Brian Gionta. Who knows what could happen!

There are no NHL players competing in the Olympics this year, what does that do to the level of competition?
I was a little disappointed the NHL waited so long to make the decision. If they had made it earlier I think the United States team would be much different. It would have been more like we were in 1980 where the players got to train together for six months and then go compete. Waiting so long to announce, so many great American players ended up going to play professionally in Europe. None of those countries are going to practice with someone going to come back and play for the American team.

When the NHL guys were playing in the Olympics, how did that change things?
When the pros played I had no problem with it. The first year I was concerned they’d be going after each other, being on the same team for the first time and having their NHL season coming up. I was blown away by how competitive and how important it was to them. The skill level was off the charts.

What makes playing for your country’s team so important?
I think that just speaks volumes to the types of athletes that play in the games. You’re not representing a team from Chicago or Los Angeles or Pittsburgh. You’re representing your home country. It’s where you are from!

Knowing a number of current players on this year’s roster, do you get a sense that there’s the same type of pride in playing for one’s country as there was on the 1980 team?
Absolutely. For some of these players, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. If the NHL players had played, they wouldn’t be here. These athletes, some are older and four are college players. Everyone has been around, this is another kick at the can for them, so to speak. It’s their opportunity to showcase their skills and show the world they’re better than maybe people thought they were.

When the Olympics start back up again and you see the new team get going, ever get the itch to hop back on the ice?
No, no, no. I’m 63 and right where I should be. On the golf course having fun.