This weekend marks the celebration of the eighth annual Hockey Weekend Across America, presented by CCM. The three-day event (Feb. 20-22) was created in 2008 as a celebration of hockey at all levels of the game, as well as expose the sport to families around the country.
Each day consists of a different theme, beginning Friday with Wear Your Favorite Hockey Jersey Day, Try Hockey Day on Saturday and Celebrate Local Hockey Heroes Day on Sunday.
“One of the goals to making this organization strong and making this game better is more young people on the ice for the first time,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey.
Participation in hockey in the U.S. is at an all-time high, where more than 500,000 players are currently registered, compared to 200,000 in 1990. In last year’s Hockey Weekend Across America, a record 15,844 kids tried hockey for the first time, a number that hopes to be even greater this year.
Among the festivities is the 35th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice, when the U.S. Men’s Ice Hockey Team defeated the heavily favored Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. Mike Eruzione, who captained the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, mentioned how important it was to represent the Red, White and Blue, as well as how far hockey has come since their inspirational victory.
“There aren’t many sporting events that touched the lives of a country like ours did, especially the sport of ice hockey,” said Eruzione, who has returned to his alma mater, Boston University, to serve as the director of special outreach. “To think that a moment can capture the spirit of a nation is something my teammates and I take great pride knowing we were a part of.
“It has been an incredible 35 years. I think where hockey has come now, I’ve said many times; in ’80 we may have opened the door. Today’s players have knocked the door down. It’s great to see the success of our programs.”
Eruzione, along with several other members of the Miracle on Ice team, will return to the Herb Brooks Arena to commemorate the monumental upset-win, but the reunion will be bittersweet, as they will be without defenseman Bob Suter, who passed away last September. The team will honor Suter by retiring his No. 20 to the rafters of Herb Brooks Arena. Among those joining Eruzione in Lake Placid will be his teammate Mark Johnson, who coached the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team in 2010.
“[There are] a lot of smiles when we think of 1980,” said Johnson, who is in his 12th year as the head coach of the University of Wisconsin’s women’s team. “The one thing I think with this being USA Hockey Weekend in America, the one thing I’ve really enjoyed the last 10-12 years is the growth of women’s hockey.”
No college women’s programs existed in the late 1980s in the U.S. Compared to today, nearly 100 programs exists across Divisions I, II and III. Johnson hopes the trend expands far into the future.
“There’s no finish line, we continue to grow it,” he said. “Having this weekend where everyone recognizes hockey throughout the United States will only help the cause.”
The NHL will also participate in celebrating Hockey Weekend Across America, beginning Saturday night with an outdoor stadium game between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angles Kings at Levi’s Stadium, home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, in Santa Clara, Calif.
Each intermission will be sent to Lake Placid where the analysis crew of NBC Sports will break down the game live.
NHL action will continue on Sunday with two nationally televised games on NBC, beginning with Washington at Philadelphia at 12:30 PM ET, followed by Boston at Chicago at 3:00 PM ET.