Twenty years before the Miracle on Ice, the Christian brothers and their American teammates fulfilled a frozen prophecy of gold.
In 1960, Team USA was congregating in Squaw Valley, Calif., preparing for the start of the Olympic Winter Games. In those days there was little, if any, of the ceremonial worship of the Games that now occurs every four years.
The U.S. squad arrived as underdogs, an inexperienced group of gritty college and amateur players. Yet they beat the Russians for the first time in American hockey history and went on to beat the Czechs in the gold-medal game.
Among those wayward long shots were two sets of brothers from opposite ends of the American hockey world. The Cleary brothers from suburban Boston met up with the Christian brothers of northern Minnesota.
The contributions of both sets of brothers have been well documented, and their impact on the game has been immeasurable.
Roger Christian’s hat trick in the final period of the gold-medal game against the Czechs, when the Americans were falling 4-3 after two periods, was called “one of the most memorable feats in Olympic annals,” by coach Jack Riley.
And Roger’s brother, Bill, played second fiddle to no one, not even his older brother. In the battle against the Russians, he scored both the tying and winning goals. His surge of determination propelled the entire team into believing that they truly had a chance to stand on the top of the medal podium, marking a turning point in the competition. His two-goal clutch performance against the Russians “undoubtedly will be recalled as one of the most brilliant individual efforts ever by an American in Olympic competition,” said Riley.
Once the Games were over, life went back to normal for most of the team. The Christian brothers, raised by their carpenter father, created a company that designed and manufactured wildly popular hockey sticks.
The Christian name carried with it a legacy of excellence in the game. In 1980, Bill’s son Dave was on the ice for the 1980 “Miracle.”
When Al Michaels screamed “Do you believe in miracles?” into his microphone on that February night in 1980, he forgot about the legacy that is the Christian name, and American hockey for that matter, that came before.
A Breath Of Fresh Air
Despite cruising through the competition with six straight wins at the 1960 Olympic Winter Games in Squaw Valley, Calif., the U.S. Team found itself on the wrong end of a 4-3 game after two periods in the gold-medal game.
As legend would have it, the Americans would receive help from the most unlikely of sources as they headed into the third period against Czechoslovakia.
Nikolai Sologubov, the captain of the Soviet squad that saw its Olympic hopes dashed the day before with a 3-2 loss to the Yanks, paid a visit to the U.S. locker room. Even though he couldn’t speak English, Sologubov’s message, which was conveyed with charadelike hand gestures, was heard loud and clear by the Americans.
“When he put his hand over his mouth, we realized that he was trying to convince us to take oxygen,” Bill Cleary recalled.
Sologubov believed that oxygen would reenergize the Americans at the high altitude of Squaw Valley, which was a mile above sea level.
Legend would seem to indicate that the oxygen did the trick as the Americans scored six unanswered goals to take home the gold. Some players would later downplay the impact it had on the Americans, and it was later learned that only eight players took the oxygen.
“All I know is Roger Christian didn’t take oxygen, and he scored three goals in the third period,” U.S. goaltender Jack McCartan said.
For all the talk about Sologubov’s seemingly sportsmanlike gesture, it should also be noted that a U.S. victory would catapult the Soviets past their long-time Czech rivals and into a silver-medal spot on the podium.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Kelly (Stephens) Tysland
2006 U.S. Women’s Olympic Team
Two NCAA national championships, a gold medal at the 2005 IIHF Women’s World Champion-ship and an Olympic bronze medal. Not a bad hockey career.
Kelly Stephens isn’t complaining. She has fond memories of her years in hockey.
Not long after Stephens scored four points in her Olympic debut at the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy, she hung up her competitive skates, married Shanon Tysland and opened Experience Momentum, Inc., a wellness center in Lynnwood, Wash.
She remains passionate about hockey and spends time as a hockey instructor and coach.
“There’s a lot of things about hockey that I miss,” she says. “At the same time I got to accomplish my dreams, and now I’m tearing it up in other areas of my life.”