by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com
Mike Eruzione made the biggest shot, goal, touchdown, or basket in American sports history. His goal with ten minutes to go in the 1980 Olympics put Team USA up 4-3 over the Soviety dynasty team. That would be the final score. The goal and the win literally brought America together again when the country was at an all time low in self esteem. More American flags flew after what they did than at any time since the end of World War II.
Mike Eruzione had only one division one offer six years earlier when he was a high school senior in Winthrop, Massachusetts.
It is that age old issue in recruiting of college coaches often missing the mark when getting so caught up in factors like speed, quickness, 40 times, combine times, and so forth. In the book ‘Going for the Gold’ by Tim Wendel the author writes that Boston College thought he was too poor a skater and New Hampshire said he was too small. What they missed is that he had scored three goals in a minute in the high school state championship game, was an incredible leader, and has a last name (Eruzione) that means volcano in Italian. He also had a knack for scoring when goals were needed most. In his book ‘The Boys of Winter,’ author Wayne Coffey writes that “he knew when to erupt. His breakaway goal helped launch the 7-3 rout of the Czechs in the second game of the Olympics and two days later he knocked in an unassisted goal to awaken the team from its lethargic start against Norway.”
Eruzione did not get a division one offer until after his senior year. Jack Parker had taken over as the new head coach at Boston University. He had seen Eruzione a few years earlier and wasn’t impressed with his physical size, but when reffing a summer league game after Eruzione’s senior year, noticed he was four inches taller and forty pounds stronger. When he asked him where he was going, Eruzione said Merrimack, a D2. Parker offered him a partial scholarship to go to Boston University.
Eruzione would become the school’s all time leading scorer with 203 points and be named the Defensive Player of the Year a whopping FOUR times.
His leadership skills were so strong that without him as captain of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team, it’s doubtful they beat the Soviets and win gold. The twenty players on that team were all stars and almost all had been captains before, but they respected Eurozione a great deal. Even the little things like going to him to ask what they should get their girl friends for Christmas.
Three days before the 1980 Games, the Soviets routed Team USA 10-3 in an exhibition in Madison Square Garden. It was Eruzione that built them back up during the trip upstate to Lake Placid. Rather than dwelling on the 7-0 early Soviet lead, he focused on how they had played even with them for thirty minutes.
Coaches missed all of his positives in recruiting because they were so caught up in his size and the fact that there were better skaters out there in the recruiting pool. They missed that he had been a fiery three sport athlete who would practice skating on frozen tennis courts and on ice in golf sand traps for hours during the winter, and come into the house where his grandmother would open the oven to help thaw his feet.
They missed his heart and how much he cared. Although he had multiple offers to play in the NHL after the Olympic gold in Lake Placid, he turned them all down. He felt there was no way he could match the incredible effort he gave against the Soviets and in the Olympics, and do that over 80 NHL games a year. Plus, he wanted that to be his final hockey memory.
I was a sports anchor for a quarter of a century before going into peak performance speaking and training. If I had a nickel for how many times I saw college coaches miss out on kids like Eruzione because they were all into size and speed (and those are important!) I would have enough nickels to reach the clouds.
Mike Eruzione’s win championships. They stay loyal to programs. Now pushing 60 he still has an office at Boston University where to this day he still gets mail regularly about the Olympics thirty four years ago.
Yes, you have to have “the horses” to win, but don’t miss out on the Eruzione’s in your sport. They are the ones that not only help you win championships, but transcend your sport and make your program huge within your community, state, region and school.