COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - With the 2014 Olympic Winter Games straight ahead, and an objective to help strengthen hockey at all levels in the United States, The USA Hockey Foundation has launched its “Paint America Red, White and Blue” fundraising campaign, which runs through the end of the year.
“This is a unique initiative to really celebrate and honor our sport through giving,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey and The USA Hockey Foundation. “We’re out to help give more kids a chance to play this great sport and also assist those that represent our country on their path to what we hope is a gold-medal performance.”
As donations are made, states will be “painted” on a digital map based on how many donations come in from that state. States with 1-10 donations will be painted red; states with 11-25 donations will be painted white; and states with 26 or more donations will be painted blue. On December 31, the end of the campaign, the state with the most donations will be painted gold.
Donations can be made in multiple ways:
• Online at www.usahockeyfoundation.com/paintamerica
• By phone at 719.538.1106
• By sending a text to 41444 with the message PAINT and amount of your pledge
Fans are encouraged to contribute whatever they can and then Tweet to @usahockey (hashtag #PaintAmerica) to share that they’ve contributed and what state they’re from.
The USA Hockey Foundation supports USA Hockey efforts that give 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.
Their skates may move a little slower than they did nearly 42 years ago in Sapporo, Japan, and there’s probably more silver and white in their hair, but talk to any member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team, and they instantly go back to that time like it happened just yesterday.
“I can still hear the crunch of the snow from our early morning runs around the Olympic Village and playing in those games,” said former defenseman Tom Mellor, a Rhode Island native. “What an experience it all was – just a bunch of amateur hockey players going out to take on the world one game at a time.”
An improbable run to the silver medal started with an upset of Czechoslovakia that some compared to the U.S.’s wins over the Soviet Union in the 1960 and 1980 Olympic Games. Team member and Minnesota native Craig Sarner credits the intense team bond to helping lift Team USA to its success that year.
U.S. Head Coach Murray Williamson demanded that the team stick together right away, beginning with practices and tryouts that began months prior to the Olympic Games. Sarner and Mellor both note that, “everyone had one another’s backs” and “it became one of our biggest and most important families.”
And it’s a family that hasn’t drifted, even though states and careers now separate them. The team chemistry still carries on today with the majority of the players that donned the Red, White and Blue all those years ago.
“The medal was important,” said Sarner. “But the friendships we developed and the lifelong bond we have is the biggest part of it all. We just enjoy the heck out of being together, and it was that chemistry that helped us prove that will does beat skill sometimes.”
After the Olympic Games, most of the team, which included the likes of a then 16-year-old Mark Howe, Henry Boucha and Mike “Lefty” Curran, went on to some sort of professional hockey career, still staying in touch every year via email and phone calls and trips all across the U.S. Sarner, Mellor and the rest of the squad get together frequently. Their last trip was to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the summer of 2012. Mellor said the team already has plans to meet up again this year, a reunion that everyone looks forward to.
The conversation is not always focused solely on hockey. Sarner is still involved as a scout for the United States Hockey League and North American Hockey League. Mellor hung up the skates and moved on to “life after hockey.”
They also update the hockey family on each player’s personal family.
“I’m a new grandpa with a granddaughter, Eve, so I am boring the guys with photos and information about her constantly,” said Sarner, whose silver-plated medal hangs in Eve’s room. “So I know they’re tiring of it, but we all update on family life and just everything that’s going on with one another. Never a lack of stories, some true, some fabricated, when this group gets together.”
Stories will be shared by the 1972 alums and their extended USA Hockey family for years to come.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to play with and meet than that team,” said Mellor. “Them and really everyone involved in the USA Hockey organization, from the 1980 team, and beyond, it’s neat to be a part of something like that – to be a part of that family.”
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.