Boston’s Favorite Olympian on What It Takes — And What It Doesn’t

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2018/02/19/bostons-favorite-olympian-on-what-it-takes-and-what-it-doesnt/

Before Mike “Rizzo” Eruzione took the ice as Captain of the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic hockey team, before he scored the winning goal for the USA in a medal-round matchup against the Soviet Union, and before ABC sportscaster Al Michaels coined the iconic phrase “Do you believe in miracles?” Mike spent his childhood playing sports with friends. Outside all day, in an unassuming park near his family’s Winthrop triple-decker, Rizzo, like many kids born in the pre-social-media 1950s, loved playing all sorts of sports until the streetlights went on and it was time to head home.

Eruzione spoke about his family and near-North Shore upbringing with New Boston Post in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, now taking place in Pyeongchang, South Korea, 38 years after its most famous occurrence.

The Eruziones balanced family passions with hard work and sacrifice. Mike’s dad held three jobs while his mom managed the hectic lives of six kids in the Italian-American family.  Shoveling snow in the winters and caddying in the summers the Eruzione team grew up hearing their mother say “We’ll find a way to work everything out.”  Although the family didn’t own a TV until the mid-sixties and they didn’t wear the fanciest clothes, Mike says they never went without the stuff that really mattered. 

Eruzione graduated from Winthrop High School and then did a post-grad year at Berwick Academy in Maine. Then he was set to face-off for Merrimack College in North Andover in the fall of 1973.

But a serendipitous summertime pick-up hockey game with a buddy allowed for a chance encounter with Boston University’s assistant coach, Jack Parker. A last-minute scrub from Parker’s fall roster of skaters left an unclaimed full-boat scholarship in his pocket, and the assistant coach offered the self-described “small guy” a chance to play left wing for one of college hockey’s powerhouses. Parker eventually became B.U.’s head coach, and he mentored the stick-handler he had first noticed skating at Winthrop High for four successful years. Eruzione averaged more than 20 goals a season, finishing his time on campus as the school’s third leading scorer.

Mike Eruzione, 1970s.
Photo courtesy of Boston University Photography.

Skating away from academics in 1977, Mike played two years in the International Hockey League. In 1978 he was named Rookie of the Year. Playing with passion, Eruzione earned his way onto the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team and was named captain of nineteen other like-minded board-bangers.

The Disney movie Miracle, released February 6, 2004, re-tells the David-and-Goliath story of those Olympic teammates with a rocking sound track that includes “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult and “Dream On” by Arrowsmith. The action-packed film profiles the ground-breaking and unorthodox coaching style of coach Herb Brooks. Before choosing his players, Brooks, who had been a psychology major in college, tested the tenacity of the wannabe Olympians with a 300-question survey. Determined to find not just the best guys, but the right guys for the Olympic team, Brooks harnessed the skills of the young squad. 

The real-life story of the USA underdogs who found a way to work everything out and compete successfully against the Soviet Union’s seasoned pros underscores the reason the 1980 frozen contest earned the moniker “Miracle On Ice.” Miracle remains an All-American, flag-waving, feel-good story for the whole family. Eruzione says, however, 25 percent of Miracle is Hollywood’s version of reality because hard work and the determination to find joy in what you’re doing seldom come with a rockin’ soundtrack or glamour shots. 

Earlier this month the Olympic legend participated in a Facebook Live conversation with Dr. Adam Naylor, sports and exercise psychologist on the clinical faculty of Boston University’s School of Education.  Their Gold Medal thoughts (which remain online) outlined a few of the mental and emotional components of Olympic participation and how those rules apply to athletes of all abilities. They agreed a diligent practice routine coupled with recognition of the joyful value of participation is key to performance and satisfaction. 

It has little to do with social media. “I’m not a big fan of the social media. I think it hurts more than it helps. Especially young kids, young athletes,” Eruzione said. “… It’s almost a way to promote yourself, and I’m not a big fan of that.”

Eruzione and Dr. Naylor believe in harnessing the childlike joy of playing any sport. They say the goal is to perform at one’s own best level and fully embrace the experience free from unnecessary and potentially harmful effects of social media imaging. Each contest is a creative opportunity to enhance physical, mental, and emotional flexibility, not a photo shoot. The duo said another essential component in the athletic process is to surround yourself with like-minded people who share your values and increase the positive energy of participation.

Mike Eruzione and Adam Naylor

Eruzione’s lifelong love of sports didn’t end with the 1980 Olympics, even though he spurned the NHL and retired as a player at age 25. He has been a broadcaster commenting on college hockey and during five different Olympic Games. With his “Miracle on Ice” team-mates he torched the cauldron at the start of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Married to Donna, his high school sweetheart, the father of three is now a grandfather supporting Winthrop hockey teams at the Lawrence Larsen Rink at the Mike Eruzione Center. The sport continues to connect him to other opportunities in life. In 2012 Mike spoke at the Republican National Convention on behalf of Governor Mitt Romney. Presently, he is the director of special outreach at his alma mater and a motivational speaker who encourages everyone to find opportunities to love what they’re doing, and if they’re not — find a way to do something else of value!

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If you’re inspired to create your own “Miracle on Ice” local rinks are in many neighborhoods. Three extra-fun facilities are:

The Warrior Arena: practice facility of the Boston Bruins

90 Guest Street Brighton

617 -WARRIOR 

hours of public, free-style, and hockey skating and lessons vary, visit warriorarena.com for specifics

skate rentals are available

Moms and kids skate at Warrior Arena in Allston. Photo by Diane Kilgore.

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Market Street Lynnfield presented by Lahey Health

600 Market Street, Lynnfield

Monday & Tuesday 4 p.m. to  9 p.m.

Wednesday 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Thursday & Friday 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Ages 13 and up:  $8

12 and under:  $6

Children 3 and under:  Free

skate rentals $4

Extended hours for February 2018 school vacation:

Monday, February 19 through Friday, February 23:  11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Saturday, February 24:  10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Sunday, February 25:  10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Photo courtesy Market Street Lynnfield

 

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Patriot Place Skating:
 
Monday-Thursday skating begins at 4 p.m., closing times vary. For specifics visit www.patriot-place.com/Winter Skate
 
Friday:  4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
 
Saturday and all school holidays:  11 a.m. to 10 p.m. 
 
Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
 
 
$8 for adults
 
$6 for kids 12 and under as well as seniors over 65
 
Members of Harvard Pilgrim receive $2 off admission by showing their card, or if your donate a coat, hat, or gloves to Cradles to Crayons. 
 
Skate rental fee $4
 
Parking is free

Skaters at Patriot Place in Foxborough. Photo courtesy of Patriot Place.

 

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