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Where Are They Now Feature: Medal Moments

By WBH, 02/21/18, 4:00PM CST

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The United States Men’s Hockey team will have to wait at least four more years to claim an Olympic medal.  A 3-2 shootout defeat against Czech Republic on Wednesday eliminated Team USA in the quarterfinals.

It was the first time since 1994 that the Winter Games have not included players from the National Hockey League.  Those circumstances helped Chad Billins became the eighth former Waterloo Black Hawk to appear in the Olympics.  The defenseman skated in all five U.S. games during an experience he is unlikely to ever forget.

While USA Hockey will likely soon begin shifting attention toward plans for the 2022 games in Beijing, this week we look back on the medals earned in past Olympics by Black Hawks alumni.

1960 – Squaw Valley, California
Paul Johnson, Gold

During the first 40 years of Winter Olympic competition, it was typical for the United States to claim a podium finish.  Nonetheless, despite winning medals in six of the first seven Olympiads, Team USA had never won gold.  Canada routinely stymied American hopes until 1956, when the Soviet Union emerged as the dominant force in international hockey.

Hosting the Olympics for just the second time ever and on the ice in front of friendly crowds in northern California, the American team defeated both Canada and the Soviets in games played two days apart.  On February 25th, the U.S. never trailed in a 2-1 battle with the Canadians.  Paul Johnson’s goal in the second period proved to be the game-winner.

The United States prevailed again against the Russians on the 27th.  The back-and-forth game tilted to the American team, 3-2.  The gold medal could have still slipped away depending on a result against Czechoslovakia on the final day of the tournament.  The U.S. trailed going to the third period before exploding for six goals in the final 20 minutes, celebrating gold with a 9-4 decision.

Johnson delivered a solid effort throughout the competition, averaging nearly a point per game.  He finished the event with five goals and three assists.

1972 – Sapporo, Japan
Charlie Brown & Keith Christiansen, Silver

With the United States in the middle of the Vietnam War, “…the times completely overshadowed anything that a bunch of no-name, hockey-playing kids were doing thousands of miles away in Sapporo, Japan,” according to Tom and Jerry Caraccioli, co-authors of Striking Silver, the book which documents the U.S.’s unlikely path to a hockey medal at the 1972 Olympics.  

Some members of the American team had actually served in combat zones during the Vietnam Conflict.  Others waited nervously to find out if they would eventually be drafted – by the Armed Forces, not the NHL.

By the time the team was actually chosen to skate for their country and had arrived on site, another challenge presented itself for fans hoping to cheer on the U.S. team: the first Winter Olympics in Asia meant games played during the overnight hours in North America, with limited media attention and coverage.

Team USA overcame a 5-1 setback to Sweden in the opening game and surprised Czechoslovakia by the same score.  That win proved to be crucial.  Although the Americans lost to the Soviet Union (no one was able to defeat the Russians in 1972), two more wins in the round-robin-formatted tournament tied United States and Czechoslovakia.  The head-to-head win yielded the silver medal as a tie-breaker.

Keith Christiansen had played with Waterloo four years earlier in 1967/68, helping the Black Hawks to their fifth consecutive USHL championship that season.  The Minnesota-Duluth star had a goal and an assist in five Olympic contests.  Charlie Brown patrolled the blue line and also appeared in all five 1972 Olympic matchups.  He later came to the Cedar Valley for three seasons beginning in 1973/74.

While much of the country had trouble following along, rabid hockey fans in Waterloo were paying close attention.  Later in the spring when star American goaltender Mike “Lefty” Curran visited McElroy Auditorium as a member of the rival Green Bay Bobcats, Waterloo leaders presented him with the key to the city for his Olympic heroics.

2010 – Vancouver, British Columbia
Joe Pavelski, Silver

If the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” gold medal was – as many consider it – the defining moment for hockey in the United States, then the stars appeared to be realigning at the anniversary of Lake Placid.

Almost 30 years to the day after defeating the Soviets, the new generation of Americans stunned Canada on their home ice in Vancouver.  Team USA never trailed, scoring in the first minute of the game and then staying mostly out of reach.  Sidney Crosby scored on the power play for the Canadians with 3:09 to go, but an empty-netter sealed a 5-3 U.S. victory.

Unfortunately, the big win was during preliminary round play.

Destiny still seemed to be favoring the United States, who squeaked through a 2-0 quarterfinal game against Switzerland, with both goals in the third period.  Then against Finland, a six-goal first period explosion paved a surprisingly easy path for the Americans to reach the gold medal game.  A rematch with Canada awaited, following the 6-1 result with the Finns.

Unlike the earlier meeting, the U.S. never led their northern neighbors during the championship game.  However, Team USA did overcome a 2-0 deficit.  Erasing that margin took until just 25 seconds were left in the third period.  A Zach Parise goal forced overtime.

In the sudden death situation, Crosby ended the game at 7:40, beating Ryan Miller to the five hole from below the left faceoff dot, sending all of Canada into hysteric celebration.

Pavelski recorded three assists during six Olympic contests.  He was in the midst of just his fourth NHL season, and had represented the United States the year before at the IIHF World Championships.  Pavelski would wear red, white, and blue again in Russia during the 2014 Olympics.  He and Johnson are the only Black Hawks to date who have appeared on the U.S. Olympic Team twice.

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