Captain of 1980 USA Hockey Team Interview from 2006


I found this interview to be ripe with perspective. You may want to make copies for your players.

God bless, Lou

What makes miracles? Work

"Do you believe in miracles?" sports announcer Al Michaels asked 26 years ago from the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. The answer came from Mike Eruzione, captain of the U.S. Hockey Team, who scored the winning goal to beat the Soviet team in what may be the biggest upset in sports. The story was retold in the 2004 movie Miracle that was released months after the team's coach, Herb Brooks, died in an auto accident. Memories will no doubt return Tuesday when the U.S. men play Russia in Torino.

By Eileen Blass, USA TODAY, February 20, 2006

As a tuneup, here's what Eruzione, 51, told USA TODAY corporate management reporter Del Jones about how business leaders should respond when facing, not long, but impossible odds.

Q: If your wrist shot 26 years ago had been an inch off the mark your life would be very different. Is that convincing evidence that luck plays a huge role in beating impossible odds?

A: You have to have a little bit of luck in everything. But guess what? The shot wasn't off. It was right where I shot it, and that comes with practice and preparation. When Michael Jordan hits a game winner I don't think that's luck. Now, if it bounced off of somebody's head and went in, that to me is luck.

Q: But going into the 1980 Olympics, wasn't a gold medal beyond the realm of possibility?

A: We knew it was going to be difficult, but not impossible. If you believe you're going to lose, you probably will.

Q: In business, isn't realism key, as opposed to pie-in-the-sky optimism?

A: Like I tell the kids I coach in hockey, when the game's over and you've done your best, that's all you can ask. If you could have worked a little harder to stop a goal or skated one more stride, that's when you should be frustrated and aggravated. If you can walk off the field or out of your office every day knowing that you've given your best, that's all you can ask.

Q: It's not just hard work. Too much risk can lead to failure. Is there a place for prudence?

A: There's a lot more pressure in business than being an athlete. There are mortgages and kids' educations on the line. But my dad told me that if you understand the value of work, at some point in your life you'll be successful. It might not be next month or next year. But what you accomplish will be because of the hard work, not because you were lucky or it was a fluke, or a miracle. It boils down to a work ethic.

Q: And if you fail?

A: You take all the hard work and apply it to something different.

Q: I think of people who dream of becoming actors and work really hard for a one-in-a-million shot. Twenty years later, they could be still waiting tables. If they give up, maybe they will succeed in another field.

A: Peace of mind is important. If you're at peace with yourself and happy waiting tables waiting for that one big break, that's your prerogative and the choice you made in life. If you're miserable doing what you're doing, then you had better get out and move on.

Q: The 1980 team lacked the talent to be playing on the same ice as the Soviets. How do you win in business with less talent?

A: It's about believing in the people you work with. If you think you're less talented and can't win, then you're not going to succeed. The mindset has to be that through preparation and practice and commitment, you will be successful.

Q: Should a company hire top talent or the hard workers?

A: Hard workers. Look at the Detroit Pistons a few years ago. Nobody thought they could beat the Lakers. In business, I like the guy who's willing to spend long hours and when work is over goes out and has a few beers with his co-workers. People get along and work together because they respect each other and want to be a part of the team. You want to work with people who want to be the best.

Q: Some children grow up to overcome long odds, some don't. What sets them apart?

A: It's funny, I had a conversation the other day about two brothers from my hometown. They grew up with the same set of rules, but they were like night and day. One is the nicest guy in the world, the other is off the wall. A lot is inner strength, making the right choices, not giving in to the bad crowd.

Q: Making the right choice seems important even after becoming successful. A lot of CEOs are doing perp walks these days.

A: Absolutely. Don't make excuses. It's your life.

Q: Coach Herb Brooks has been portrayed as a control freak who listened to no one and pushed players to injury. Is there a place for that leadership style?

A: In the late '70s, Herb's style was very common. Most coaches in that era were Vince Lombardi-type coaches. Today it's different. Players want discipline, but they don't need to be screamed at. Herb pushed us to challenge us. He never pushed us to injury. He knew when to stop. Everybody is motivated differently. If he yelled at me I would get mad and work harder. But the team also got motivated because they didn't want to see us being yelled at. In the business world, everybody's different. Some guys are challenged when the boss gets in their face. Others need an arm around them. That's what Herb and great managers do.

Q: You don't see much in the management literature that suggests getting in an employee's face. Are we too soft to make miracles happen in business?

A: Once in a while you've got to be aggressive. You don't want to be tough every day. It's more effective when used on rare occasions.

Q: Even today, Lombardi and Brooks would be considered successes if they won. If they lost they would be run out of town. Doesn't acceptable management style boil down to success?

A: Yes. If you get the job done, it works. But today is different than the Lombardi era. And, I don't think there's the intimidation factor in the business world today that there was in that era, either. Today, you must hire people who are different. Their clothes are different, they may have earrings and tattoos. Great coaches and managers change with the times, yet maintain their philosophy and discipline. Years ago it was my way or the highway. That's changed.

Q: How important are miracles? You planned to teach gym before yours. Are you happier than you would have been without a life-changing event?

A: I play in celebrity golf tournaments and I'm a TV commentator. I go to beautiful resorts all over the world to speak to companies. If we had lost I'd be coaching and teaching. I would be as happy. I'd live in the same town. I have three kids, but I'd probably have more because I'd be home more. Peace of mind is very important to me. Celebrity is fun and exciting. I've met the greatest people. I've met every president going back to President Carter except the present President Bush. That's pretty amazing for somebody from Winthrop, Mass.

About Mike Eruzione

* Played hockey at Boston University where he received a degree in education, 1977.
  • Children: Leigh Ann, 22; Michael, 21; and Paul, 17. Wife, Donna
* Makes 100 speeches a year at $20,000-plus each. Plays golf on the Celebrity Players Tour. Handicap: "At times 4, at times 12."
*1980 miracle: USA seeded No. 7 in 12-team field and had lost to Soviets 10-3 two weeks before. Soviets had won 21 straight Olympic contests and had not lost gold since 1960. USA tied game at 8:39 in third period. Eruzione scored the game winner 81 seconds later.