“It was one of the proudest moments of my life. The Olympics were the highest level of hockey you could play back then. To be able to win the gold medal and represent your country was wonderful.”
— Dick Rodenhiser, 1960 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team member
Where Are They Now?
Roger Christian, Warroad, Minn.
Before Mike Eruzione, Jim Craig, Mark Johnson and the “Miracle on Ice” 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team defeated the Soviet Union en route to Olympic gold, there were the Christian and Cleary brothers, John Mayasich, Jack McCartan, Jack Kirrane and the 1960 U.S. Olympic Team that made hockey history.
Nearly 50 years ago, and 20 years before the Americans took gold in Lake Placid, N.Y., 17 players captured the United States’ first-ever Olympic gold medal in ice hockey at the 1960 Olympic Winter Games in Squaw Valley, Calif.
Heavy underdogs going into the tournament, the U.S. squad knocked off powerhouse countries Canada, the Soviet Union, Sweden and Czechoslovakia. They are still the only U.S. Olympic Team to defeat Canada and Sweden in the Olympics since 1960.
“The whole experience was indescribable,” said Bob Cleary, who along with his brother, Bill, joined the team just prior to the February games. “USA won it. It wasn’t me, and it wasn’t other individuals. It was a team effort for your country.”
Those individuals that comprised one of the best U.S. hockey teams in history weren’t only some of the best American players of their generation, but of all time.
Names like John Mayasich and Bill Cleary, members of USA Hockey’s All-Time Team, would be household names if they played today.
Mayasich starred at the University of Minnesota, tallying 144 goals and 298 points (both school all-time records) in 111 career games played. He won the Western Collegiate Hockey Association scoring title in 1954 and 1955, and was a three-time All-America selection.
Bill Cleary, who led Team USA with seven goals and seven assists at the 1960 Olympic Winter Games, still holds Harvard University’s single-season point record (89), which was set more than 50 years ago.
“I was so honored to play on such a talented team,” Rodenhiser said. “I was the Bob Uecker [journeyman baseball player who’s most famous for beer commercials and movies] of that team. [Bill] Cleary and Mayasich were two of the best players at that time. I was just lucky to be a part of it.”
Although the U.S. boasted some great players and their games were filled with spectators at the open-air Blyth Arena, their accomplishment didn’t reach the level of some the United States’ other historic golden moments, the 1980 Olympics and 1996 World Cup.
In fact, Team USA’s last game of the tournament was played at 8 o’clock on Sunday morning. The schedulers gave Canada and Russia the prime ice slot, thinking the two teams would be playing for gold.
“There just wasn’t as much coverage back then. Not a lot of people knew what happened,” Bob Cleary said. “It was just black-and-white television and our game was early. We were the pioneers of [TV] coverage.”
While the 2010 U.S. squad is filled with NHL players for the fourth straight Olympics, in 1960, the players mostly played in semi-professional leagues and had to leave their full-time jobs temporarily in order to compete in the Olympics.
“I used to go up to Lewiston, Maine on the weekends to play Saturday night and Sunday afternoon,” Rodenhiser said. “It was the most ice time I could get, and I would get paid $25. On the way home I’d always spend it on a steak dinner.”
“I couldn’t try out for the Olympic Team at first because I just got married and opened an insurance business,” Bob Cleary added. “I couldn’t afford to be away for all the time leading up to the Games. When [Coach Jack Riley] asked Bill and I to play later on it was just amazing.”
As the next edition of the Olympic Winter Games draws near and the United States looks to create another golden moment, the members of the 1960 Olympic Team can look back at their accomplishments knowing their victory put U.S. hockey on the world’s radar, inspiring a new generation of players to the game.
“The opening ceremonies and walking in with my team representing the United States of America is still the greatest honor I’ve ever been a part of,” said Bob Cleary. “I tingle when I think about it. To see Jack Kirrane standing at the podium getting the gold medal – there’s nothing close.
“It’s incredible it’s been 50 years. It’s a great thrill and honor playing for your country.”
Matt Caracappa is the 2009-10 Brian Fishman Intern.