The year was 1978 and I had found my two new heroes for the year, ironically both were nick-named "Rizzo." As an eight-year-old sports nut living in Toledo, Ohio, I had my Golddiggers in the winter months and my Mud Hens in the summer.
Today, I will focus on the hockey Rizzo and not the movie star Rizzo of Grease fame.
In 1978, I became a fan of Mike "Rizzo or Ritz as others have called him too" Eruzione during his rookie year with the Golddiggers who made their home at the Toledo Sports Arena playing in the International Hockey League. The Arena was about 15 minutes from my house and my mom was a good sport in taking me to a handful of games each season.
Here was this talented New Englander with the funny name and the funny accent who we all loved--he was talented on the ice but a fan favorite who took time for autographs and hand shakes. Sure, we also loved the success he brought with him as the team went on to win the Turner Cup Championship that season.
The next season brought more excitement when Rizzo was named to the USA Hockey Team that would play in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Not only did I wear my kelly green satin Golddiggers jacket with pride but also begged my mom to stitch an American flag on the sleeve, which she proudly did.
Of course, 1980 Winter Olympics with TEAM USA winning the gold medal by beating the Russians and ultimately, Finland, is an American sports highlight. And it was Eruzione's winning goal in the Gold Medal game that clinched the win. We Golddigger fans were very proud of our guy, as you can imagine.
In preparation for this post, I was researching the historical significance of Michael Eruzione and the 1980 team's accomplishments.
One interesting statistic to consider is that Russia, or the Soviet Union as it was known then, only began sending hockey teams to the Winter Games in 1956 (hockey became an Olympic sport in 1920 with Canada winning the Gold). Up until 1980, they had won the Gold Medal every Olympic Games except 1960 (United States). They also won the Gold in 1984 and 1988.
This year's Winter Olympic Games willl be the 30th anniversary of the "Miracle on Ice." When the USA team takes the ice on February 16 for the first time, we will likely see Eruzione and his teammates and we will see the magical highlights of three decards ago.
I will be one proud kid from Toledo when they shine the spotlight on him once again.
Here are some other articles on USA Hockey and the career of Mike Eruzione:
A Q&A with Eruzione on life after hockey
The all-time list of hockey medalists at the Winter Games