COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Pennsylvania is the gold-medal state it was announced today by The USA Hockey Foundation in wrapping up its “Paint America Red, White and Blue” fundraising campaign that spanned the month of December.
The Keystone State's 32 donations led the nation, thus giving it the gold-medal designation. Michigan was not far behind with 27 donors and Massachusetts finished third with 24 donations. Contributions also came from newer hockey markets, including Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina. In total, some 300 people took part with more than $40,000 raised to benefit the continued advancement of hockey in the United States.
“We couldn’t be more thankful to those that participated in this very first Paint America Red, White and Blue campaign,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey and The USA Hockey Foundation. “The contributions received will help further opportunities in the sport at all levels and we are so appreciative of every single gift.”
The USA Hockey Foundation supports USA Hockey efforts that provide opportunities to disabled and disadvantaged youth; help increase participation through a variety of initiatives; enhance the safety of the game; help the U.S. be the best internationally; provide education programs for athletes, coaches, officials and parents; and celebrate the game through commemoration.
With one final blare of the goal horn, it was over. Wiping away more than three decades of IIHF World Championship frustration, Team USA had toppled Russia.
This wasn’t the universally known Miracle on Ice of 1980, but it was a watershed moment, sending a powerful message about USA Hockey on the international stage. What the 1996 United States Men’s National Team accomplished in a 4-3 overtime defeat of Russia in Vienna, Austria, was a step toward more consistent success at the World Championship.
“It was pretty dramatic,” said 1996 team member Tom Chorske. “It was a shorthanded goal by Brian Rolston, so that was pretty incredible. The Russian team was always good, and that was a time just after the heyday of the Red Army teams…so it was a big deal to beat the Russians.”
The win cemented a bronze medal for Team USA – its first medal-finish in the tournament since 1962. In total, the boys in red, white and blue have taken home 10 medals at the World Championship, with three of those being claimed since the 1996 team won bronze.
“After we got that medal, I think guys started to realize there was something to play for,” said Joe Sacco, a forward on the 1996 team and assistant coach of the 2014 U.S. Men’s National Team that competed in Minsk, Belarus. “I think the players don’t understand how important (the World Championship) is to other countries. It’s almost like their Stanley Cup over there. It’s a great tournament and it was a lot of fun. To bring home a medal in the process, the first in 34 years, you leave a mark when do something like that.”
According to Sacco, it wasn’t a star-studded roster; rather it was just a bunch of working-class guys extending their hockey seasons, but that’s what made it work.
“Anytime you are able to get a team to come together quickly as a group, it’s going to help your chances,” said Sacco, who fed Rolston for the eventual game-winner. “It was a lot of blue collared-type attitudes, a lot of good guys and we were all on the same page pretty quickly.”
With Ron Wilson at the helm, Team USA worked its way to the bronze-medal game with preliminary wins over Austria, Germany and Slovakia. A quarterfinal win over Sweden and semifinal loss to the eventual gold medal-winning Czech Republic set up the third-place contest.
Rolston’s goal at 4:48 of overtime sealed it for the Americans. The medal win was 34 years in the making, and it put USA Hockey back on track. That impact wasn’t lost on the players.
“To be on this team was really something,” said Chorske. “It proved that USA Hockey was ascending to be one of the top teams in the world. It was a step forward in our success internationally for a long time to come.”
USA Hockey has been a stepping-stone in the careers of Chorske and Sacco, too.
“I’ve been very fortunate. USA Hockey has been a part of my life since I was 16,” said Sacco, now an assistant coach for the Buffalo Sabres. “USA Hockey has been a part of my development as a player and as a coach. It’s been a really good relationship for both sides.”
Chorske is currently working in the business sector but also serves as a hockey broadcast analyst for Fox Sports North in Minnesota. He is forever grateful for the opportunity to represent his home country.
“USA Hockey is a national community that I’m proud to be a part of,” he said. “All of the friendships I’ve made over the years, with those teams, and getting to play alongside other American star hockey players was a lot of fun. Certainly medaling with two of those national teams (he was also a member of the 1986 U.S. National Junior Team that earned the first-ever IIHF World Junior Championship medal for Team USA), it’s a big part of what made up my hockey career.
“Behind winning the Stanley Cup, one of the most successful moments of my career was with that USA Hockey team at the World Championship.”
Natalie Darwitz is no stranger to the Olympics. A three-time Olympian with the United States women’s hockey team, Darwitz again found herself at the Winter Games this year. But this time, she wasn’t there to compete.
“All I’ve known is going as an athlete,” Darwitz said. “I guess if I wasn’t playing, being on the media side was the next best thing. The whole experience was definitely interesting and different. It, of course, got me thinking how fun it would be to be back out there. But just being a part of the Olympics is always a great time.”
Darwitz served as a studio analyst for the 2014 women’s tournament on NBC. Before this year, she won two silver medals (2002 and 2010) and a bronze (2006) while being a voice for women’s hockey. While still a voice and presence on-air, Darwitz admits it was incomparable to being on the ice with Team USA.
“Being an athlete at the Olympics, it’s two-and-a-half weeks, but it took a lifetime journey to get there,” said Darwitz. “It’s a different feeling, it’s like you’re finally there and it hits you in the opening ceremony. That’s when you realize it’s something you’ve been training for all your life.
“You don’t feel that way when you’re there as a part of the media or a spectator. You just don’t.”
Darwitz wasn’t the only USA Hockey alum in Russia. On the men’s side, former Team USA defenseman Bret Hedican called the Olympic hockey games on radio for WestwoodOne. Like Darwitz, he said going from athlete to media member requires an adjustment.
“Now that I’m on the media side, it’s kind of neat looking through a different lens,” said Hedican. “As an athlete you’re getting interviewed and now I’m the interviewee; now I see that side of it and realize how big of a story it is.
“Either way, really, it’s always great to be a part of the Olympic Games. These are the greatest athletes in the world and the Olympic spirit is always pure. It’s always something you want to be a part of.”
Hedican took part in the Olympic Games twice – 1992 in Albertville, France, and again in 2006 in Torino, Italy. He has since won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes and currently provides pre- and post-game analysis for the San Jose Sharks.
Though they have been removed from playing the game, Darwitz and Hedican agree that you never fully leave the USA Hockey home.
“It is a family,” said Darwitz. “And once you’re in that family, you have emotions and you have feelings toward it. I want nothing more than, especially on the women’s side, for USA Hockey to be successful.
“Obviously it’s a two-horse race between us and Canada and there’s a lot of talent coming up. This last team was pretty young and a lot of girls can return in four years, so the future is bright. I think they’re on the right course and that’s very positive.”
Hedican added that giving back to that family is the natural next step.
“I think it’s always important to give back to different people or the organization that has given you something,” he said. “USA Hockey gave me such an amazing opportunity and really is the reason I made it to the NHL and turned hockey into a career for as long as I did.
“I always think there’s the next generation that is going to fill in those shoes we walked through. To remain close with the organization that is building it is something you want to do so USA Hockey and the future hockey players are successful.”
Jim Sedin and Don Whiston are 60-plus years removed from their time with the 1952 United States Olympic Ice Hockey Team, a group that won the silver medal in Oslo, Norway. Both men are now in their 80s, and while some memories fade with age, the vivid ones remain.
Sedin remembers scoring the tying goal against Canada in the team’s final round-robin contest. With no knockout stage in those days of Olympic competition, his equalizer secured the silver for Team USA.
As for Whiston, the pomp-and-circumstance commencement of the Olympics still stands out in his mind.
“The opening parade was exciting,” Whiston recalls. “There’s no question about that.”
A former netminder at Brown University, Whiston remembers the U.S. Olympic Committee budgeting roughly $13,000 to cover the team’s expenses in the Olympic village. The sum would have left more than a few bills unpaid, so over the course of three months prior to the Olympic Games, the team traveled throughout Europe, playing 50-plus games to fund their trip with gate receipts.
When the Olympics began, Whiston played in the team’s first game against host Norway, and it’s a memory that lingers with the 87-year-old.
“You can imagine what that was like,” he said. “Standing on the ice and hearing the Star Bangled Banner was enough to give you goosebumps. I think the only time I was more excited was when my children were born.”
Growing up in New England, Whiston didn’t try playing between the pipes until his junior year of high school when he transferred from a Catholic school to a public school.
“I could skate like mad, though,” Whiston says of his time as a player.
His father and uncle had both played goaltender – and a future son would eventually play at Harvard University – so it was only fitting that Whiston continued in net. He might be best known for being the first college netminder to don a facemask.
“I guess I had the genes. The position came very easily to me,” said Whiston, who eventually worked in investment banking for 40 years following the Olympics.
The recent Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame inductee doesn’t play much anymore but stays connected to the game by following his young grandson who plays in Colorado. He’ll also be releasing a book soon, focused on his Olympic experience overseas. Even after shoulder- and hip- replacement surgeries and two major back operations, Whiston still works out every day with his two personal trainers and makes time for a weekly appointment with a masseuse.
Like Whiston, Sedin also endured hip surgery, about three months ago, which now results in regular physical therapy sessions.
After participating in the Olympic Games, Sedin contemplated juggling hockey and graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but after more deliberation, he opted for the California Institute of Technology instead.
“I thought that, ‘God, if I go out and start playing semi-pro hockey or professional hockey and try to go graduate school at MIT, I’m not going to make it.’ So I decided to go to Cal Tech,” said Sedin, who concentrated his time in business management and investments in the 1980s after an engineering career.
Pick-up hockey lasted until about 35, followed by a 10-year hiatus. Then came Sedin’s yearly participation in the Snoopy’s Senior World Hockey Tournament, an annual event created by Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schultz for players 40 and up. The 84-year-old Sedin finally stopped playing six years ago, but attempted a comeback on the ice last winter. Despite a strong passion for the game, sometimes the body can’t do what it once did, as the current Sun Valley, Idaho, resident discovered.
“It was just too discouraging,” Sedin said. “I just couldn’t do what I thought I should have been able to do. I may be done now.”
And while the curtain may finally be closing on his hockey-playing days, Sedin, like Whiston, can look back proudly on an epic career highlighted by silver in Oslo and a lifetime of great memories.