The last time Troy Terry made Team USA, everyone on hockey Twitter @-ed him. Jealous fans and classmates here at the University of Denver were confused how he could have made the roster over the better scorers, the faster skaters, the bigger teenagers.
"I was receiving a lot of tweets," he says. "Like, How does THIS guy make the team? People were in shock."
As a fifth-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, Terry was among the lowest-drafted amateurs to represent the United States at the 2017 World Juniors, playing on the third and fourth lines as an energy guy. But then came Terry's star turn, first against the Russians in the semifinals. Every once in a while, he'll go on YouTube and pull up the clip: three goals in a shootout, each time through the legs of the Russia goalie. He did it again the next day, clinching gold against the Canadians through the five-hole again, miraculously.
"I can't help myself," Terry says. "Watching the video—I just like to show myself that it actually happened."
Terry has always been underestimated. Early in high school, he was 5'7", barely 145 pounds. He's since grown to 6'0", 179 and become one of the best college hockey players in America—after coming back to campus with a gold medal, Terry helped lead the Denver Pioneers to a national championship at the Frozen Four in April. In February, he'll actually become an Olympian.
THIS guy made Team USA again, except now he'll be one of four college hockey players the U.S. will bring to Pyeongchang for the Olympics.
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And this isn't just some honorific thing, like Christian Laettner on the end of the bench with the Dream Team. The NHL has refused to allow its players to compete in the Winter Games, so Terry will join 24 other players (three each from the AHL and NCAA, 17 from European leagues and 38-year-old captain Brian Gionta, who hasn't played for a pro team this season) on the first U.S. hockey team sans NHL players since 1994, with expectations they could recreate 1980's so-called "Miracle on Ice."
At this point, Terry's addition to the underdog squad isn't quite as dramatic as that of the 30-year-old journeyman whose hug with his dad went viral when he got the Olympic call on New Year's Day:
NHL on NBC @NHLonNBCSports
The moment Bobby Butler’s dad found out his son is going to the Olympics. Absolute chills. 🇺🇸 https://t.co/iFoGfeIpkQ2018-1-2 00:01:17
Oh, Terry's dad hugged him after his call, too. And his mom says she'll "get teary-eyed just thinking about it." But success arrived faster than a pubescent growth spurt for Troy Terry. Because this guy is only 20 years old, and he might already be the new face of American hockey.
"I'm still in shock [from the World Juniors]," Terry says, "and then all of a sudden, I get a call that says I could go to the Olympics. It's been a whirlwind."
It's a Thursday in November, and Terry is sitting in his college living room, lined with hockey jerseys, including the one from the World Juniors. Some textbooks for finance, his major, sit on a round table next to a foosball setup. Terry and his teammate, fellow junior Jarid Lukosevicius, chose to live here, across the street from Magness Arena, where the Pioneers play to sellout crowds. Living less than 100 feet from their second home is all about convenience.
Because Terry may be representing the United States as an Olympian halfway around the world this time next month, but this guy also plays Call of Duty 20 hours a week. Red lights line the apartment wall, and below sit not one but two 32-inch TVs, one for each roommate to play their two to five hours a day.
"We have two Xboxes so we don't play split screen," Terry says. "We pretty much go to class, play hockey, play Xbox and watch football."
As the two play online, and IRL, yelling expletives while their characters respawn (they each win their respective online matches, Troy finishing with 17 kills and 12 deaths), Terry and Lukosevicius talk about their fantasy football teams: "Should I start Dion Lewis or Alex Collins?" Terry asks. Later, they'll go to a teammate's house to watch the Steelers play the Titans as they dip, eat Chipotle, discuss their fantasy Bachelor league...and play more Call of Duty, on yet another multiple-TV setup.
When Terry and his teammates are together, there's plenty of trash talk about the upcoming Olympic Games. Lukosevicius, a Canadian, felt bittersweet about that star turn that went viral in the hockey world: Watching his roommate and best friend get his moment in the spotlight was great and all, but it came at the expense of his national pride. "When he scored the three goals five-hole, a buddy and I were in accounting class that he was supposed to be in," Lukosevicius says. "You could hear everyone talking about him. It was crazy. 'Troy Terry just scored! Troy Terry just scored again!'"
Speaking of which, it's time for Troy Terry to get to his accounting class. It's the last class of the semester, and they're supposed to review for finals.
Terry's parents, Chuck and Susan, had to watch that moment at the World Juniors on TV, too. They were so unsure if he would make Team USA back in 2016 that they didn't make plans to watch in person in time.
The family basement, in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch, features a banner from the 1980 Olympics alongside a signed picture of the U.S. hockey amateurs who, miraculously, upset the Russians in the middle of the Cold War.
You will hear the Miracle on Ice comparisons to this year's Team USA a lot. Citing its clubs' desire to not disrupt the season, the NHL announced in April that it would prohibit its players from participating in the Olympics, forcing Team USA coaches and executives to choose from a pool of minor leaguers, overseas players, semiretired stars and collegians.
So in 2018, the teenage dream come true is that the Christian Laettner will get to play. "This is an opportunity for a lot of players. A lot of people dream about this opportunity," says Tony Granato, head coach of Team USA. "We have a team that can compete for a medal, just like every tournament the Americans compete in right now. We've done a great job of developing players that can compete at the national level."
On family and hockey trips, Terry would watch Disney's Miracle, first on the car's television system, later on Chuck's iPad, then again and again. He's seen the movie about the 1980 Olympic team hundreds of times. "To think Troy could actually be a part of a team like that is unbelievable," Susan says. "We always loved hockey, but we never imagined Troy would have this chance."
Troy, named after Troy Aikman, started playing hockey at four years old, before he could read, starting off the ice on Rollerblades. By the time he was six, he was playing with older kids, even though he could barely see over the boards. Through the NHL 2002, 2003 and 2004 video games and straight-up intuition, Terry picked up the game quickly, earning the nickname "Coach Troy" among his teammates. But for a long time, he was still significantly shorter than them, so his line got nicknamed "Two and a Half Men."
Growing up a fan of the Colorado Avalanche, Terry admired legendary goalie Patrick Roy, telling his parents he wanted to play goalie. At practices, while all the other Roy admirers waited their turn at goaltending, Terry started shooting pucks, and he started scoring—a lot—and that was the end of Troy Terry the goalie.
Troy and his younger brother, Trent, would set up in the street outside the Terrys' home and shoot on one another, using pillows for goalie pads and a baseball mitt for a hockey glove. When Troy turned seven, he played for Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, an Avalanche icon who coached his son's team during the 2004-05 NHL lockout. One day at the rink, Chuck felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Sakic. "I've never seen hands on a kid like that," he said, pointing to Troy. Says Chuck: "That's when I knew there was something." The kid had been playing ice hockey for two years.
In high school, as part of the Team USA development program, Terry was teammates with stars like Auston Matthews and Charlie McAvoy, now two of the NHL's marquee young players. Terry wasn't the main scorer and steered into his job as a third- or fourth-liner. "I was one of the bigger dogs at my age in Colorado, and then I went to play at Team USA, and I had to learn to play a different way," Terry says. "It helped me a lot defensively."
Things changed his sophomore year in college, when Denver needed him to be a scorer. Before heading to the World Juniors, Terry compiled nine goals and eight assists for the Pioneers in just 18 games. Gold brought him notoriety and acclaim, and alongside his status as an American hockey hero in waiting, Terry began to gain more confidence. In the last 17 games of the 2016-17 season, he tallied 13 goals and 15 assists to finish with 22 goals and 23 assists. He's humble enough for an all-of-a-sudden star, the Olympic roster a shoo-in for this young man and a high-impact NHL career just a few more YouTube clips away.
"I was a fifth-round pick but undersized. I thought I had the ability, but I was a fifth-round pick not expected to make the World Junior team," Terry says. "Just the way everything has changed now—I mean this not in an arrogant way at all, but I don't think Anaheim views me as just a fifth-round pick anymore."
Saturday morning after the Pioneers' 5-4 loss to the University of North Dakota, the team meets at Pete's University Park Cafe, the local diner. Terry sits with five of his teammates as NHL Network plays on the small TV above them. Everyone is uniformed in their quarter-zip pullover, and Terry is still searching for an answer to his fantasy football conundrum—Dion Lewis or Alex Collins?—two days after his initial inquiry. The waft of waffles floats through Pete's, and the guys broach the suddenly all-too-relevant topic of their favorite sports film—Miracle, obviously.
"I wonder if that movie's tough to watch as a Russian."
"They probably deleted all history of that."
"That would be so funny if you were at a Putin rally and you just held up the DVD, Miracle."
"Probably be shot on sight."
At the arena across from Terry's place, the Pioneers finish each practice by simulating a shootout. The rules are simple. If you score, you go to the orange line, where you're awarded a slice of sweet citrus. If you miss, you go to the lemon line, opposite the orange line on the left side of the rink facing the goal, where you stay until you score. The last hockey prodigy standing has to eat a whole lemon, in front of his whole team.
So Troy Terry stood at center ice the other day, getting ready to star in the sequel to Miracle IRL, and ate the lemon.
He'd been trying to avoid this sucker's fate all year, really, but something was up that day. The goalies were letting easy stops slip by. When Terry stepped up, nothing was getting by, even through the five-hole. He knew it was bound to happen soon enough—maybe not THIS fast, but still: He knew the hockey world wouldn't be confused by his success anymore, that the rest of the world had better get ready for a star to turn on, in an instant.
"Especially after all the shootout stuff that happened last year, it gives people a lot of reason to give me shit," Terry says, laughing on the walk from practice to back home, across the street. "I've got reason to believe the team colluded against me."