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Published: Sunday, 12/13/2009

Eruzione impressed by Walleye's new home

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

When U.S. Olympic hero Mike Eruzione played for the Goaldiggers in the late 1970s, he said there was much discussion about the construction of a hockey facility to replace the antiquated Sports Arena.

Eruzione, who captained the 1980 U.S. Olympic team to an upset over an elite Soviet Union squad, returned to Toledo yesterday and saw the new Lucas County Arena for the first time.

"It doesn't smell like the circus. I'm definitely in a different place," said Eruzione, who dropped the ceremonial first puck before last night's Walleye game. "It's like night and day. It's spectacular. It's been a long time coming. Even when I played in Toledo they always kept saying there was going to be a new building. I never expected something like this. This is a great tribute to the people of Toledo to be able to put this together."

Eruzione scored the game-winning goal to give Team USA a 4-3 victory in the semifinal game against the Russians. The Americans then won the gold medal by defeating Finland 4-2. The historic upset propelled a group of college kids to immortality and led to broadcaster Al Michaels' famous quote: "Do you believe in miracles?"

But before that Eruzione spent back-to-back seasons with the Goaldiggers, helping coach Ted Garvin win a Turner Cup championship (1977-78).

"I love coming back here. It's a special place for me," Eruzione said. "The old building was pretty intimidating. It was wild because it was so small. I remember the bench-clearing brawls. The building had a lot of character, and it was a team full of characters. Teams hated to come into Toledo to play because the fans were right on top of you.

"But this [new arena] makes the game even more attractive to the fans and the players. It adds to the allure. It's good to see hockey in Toledo continues to draw really well."

Eruzione is now the director of special outreach for Boston University, his alma mater. He also is a motivational speaker and will return to Toledo on May 6. Yesterday, he met up with a couple of former Goaldigger teammates.

"I was just with Jim McCabe and Tony Piroski. We started talking about the games of 'Password' that we would play on the bus," he said. "We started telling Teddy Garvin stories. We won a Turner Cup when I was here. I became a much better hockey player by playing under Teddy and being in that environment."

Eruzione said he and Olympic teammates Jim Craig and Mark Johnson did an interview with Michaels in Lake Placid. But he said no special plans have been made to celebrate the 30th anniversary with the Winter Olympics around the corner.

"When I try to play, I realize it's been 30 years," he said.

Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said he was 12 when the Americans upset the Soviets.

"It was real big where I lived [Welland, Ontario] because we were so close to Buffalo," Vitucci said. "I was well aware of it and what was going. It was big for us as well. With the Canada and the U.S., we kind of think of ourselves as one."

Vitucci said his son, Keegan, still wears a 1980 Jim Craig jersey.

"We certainly were cheering for the U.S. over Russia and Finland," Vitucci said. "It was huge for hockey fans."

Eruzione said he believes the 1980 team laid the groundwork for hockey's success in America.

"We might have opened the door. But I think today's players have knocked the door down," he said.

Eruzione said he expects this year's Olympic team to be very, very young with most of the players around the age of 20. He said host Canada is the favorite.

"Back then we captured the spirit of the nation," Eruzione said. "No one expected us to win. So they have a chance."



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