by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com
Sports historian and author Wayne Coffey says that when Jim Craig stopped 36 of 39 Soviet shots in Team USA’s 4-3 win in Lake Placid it was arguably the greatest performance under pressure in the annals of Olympic history and that it forever redefined the parameters of athletic possibility.
Yet coming out of high school he had no D1 offers.
As a 12th grader in North Easton, Massachusetts near Boston, his stats ranked among the best in the state. His team, Oliver Ames High, lost only two games, with one being to the eventual state champ.
How many times have you heard this in recruiting? His team didn’t play in one of the metropolitan Boston leagues which always had the best teams. In a recent column, Craig said the league in which he played had many top players, but they were overlooked. Craig was 5’10 170 as a senior and maybe that had something to do with it, but he would soon grow to 6’1.
A couple of months after his 12th grade year was over, he still had no offers. He learned that Massasoit Community College needed a goalie. He looked at it not as a consolation prize but as an opportunity. He peaked in the national playoffs and led Massasoit to the Community College national crown with 60 saves in a 2-1 win.
Within days head coach Jack Parker of Boston University called with a full ride D1 offer. The other D1’s missed the boat on a guy they should have been on the year before. As a sophomore at BU Craig went 20-5-1 in net and helped them to the NCAA semi’s. As a junior he was 16-0 in goal vs the nation’s top D1 competition and as a senior made All America. Coach Herb Brooks was watching all of this and even though there were several other goalies rated above Craig as far as the upcoming 1980 Winter Olympics, Brooks knew you won not with the best players but the right players.
As Brooks molded that 1980 team that would take gold in Lake Placid, what sold him on Craig was the 1979 World Championships in Moscow. The Czechs were the dominant #1 seed with Brooks’ team (not the one he would have
later in Lake Placid) a huge underdog. Craig had not been playing until they played the Czechs. Assistant coach Craig Patrick told him he would be in net for that one “and that we are going to get killed.”
Instead, Craig made 59 saves and they tied the Czechs 2-2. That was the game Brooks made up his mind Craig would be his goalie in Lake Placid, even though his own goalie at the University of Minnesota was ranked higher. Even though Craig never had much of a NHL career, Brooks knew he was his guy.
Craig was amazing over the 7 games in Lake Placid, allowing less than 3 goals a game.
When it comes to recruiting it is ironic that Jim Craig was overlooked in recruiting because of the perception his high school leagues didn’t match up to the other Boston leagues, and that Mike Eruzione was overlooked as well. During the summer after his 12th grade career he still had no D1 offers because college coaches thought football was his better sport. He had one D2 offer for hockey. It was when the new Boston University coach reffed a summer league game and saw him that he was pretty darn good, that he offered him.
Eruzione would have a stellar four years at BU. He would later make the biggest goal, basket, touchdown, shot or whatever in American sports history with his goal to put the US up 4-3 over the Soviets on the evening of Friday February 22,1980 in mystical Lake Placid.
Craig would perform like a champion in that game with the Cold War hanging over their heads and America in its worst shape as a nation since the end of the Civil War.
They both had an inner fire that 99% of college coaches didn’t see. As you go through recruiting, if you can find the Jim Craig’s and Mike Eruzione’s of your sport, you are headed to big things!
It’s these athletes and coaches that led me to develop programs designed to bring out the inner fire within you! You learn more about which program is best suited for your team, business, or athletic department through my website. You can also see me speak at this year’s National Recruiting Conference in Indianapolis.
Within a few days after the game, I received a call from BU head coach Jack Parker. A few days after that call, Coach Parker was at my family home in North Easton to offer me a full scholarship to Boston University.
Without the mentoring of Neil Higgins – without Neil Higgins believing in me, and pulling greatness out of me – I don’t know if I would have had the chance to realize my dream of playing major college hockey, which led to me playing in the World Championships, the Olympics, and the NHL.
It gives him tremendous satisfaction, and fulfillment, and brings a smile to his face, Neil says, when he hears of what I’m doing, and successes I may achieve, for he knows that a considerable amount of this achievement is owed to what he impressed on and taught me as being vital and important: studying and learning, being open to being coached, and putting lessons to use.
I am forever grateful to Neil Higgins and the opportunity he gave me, and the time he spent mentoring me.