For a truly Minnesotan sport, hockey has no equal. The Finns, Swedes, mixed in with some Canadians and other immigrants, brought the game to the Iron Range in the early part of the century and turned the area into the absolute center of United States hockey. Legions of young kids laced up every day and played at the rink until it was too dark or they shut the lights off on you or your parents made you come home for dinner or something. It was a religion--for decades and now for more than a century. Nothing else mattered during the winter for many Minnesota kids.
In 1980, as an eight-year-old hockey player from Virginia, Minnesota, I did not know that hockey was not the center of the universe--and that playing for the United States Olympic team was not the highest honor that could possibly be achieved in the entire world. That is what kids from the Range aspired to do when they grew up. I'm sure that for many others across the country, hockey was a foreign and obscure sport that they knew very little of. For many people in states other than Minnesota or reluctantly Massachusetts, hockey was for the Canadians or the Finns or the Russians.
We knew that here, in Minnesota, hockey mattered.
The fact that the United States Olympic team was made up of amateur college kids, and was not seeded very high, was almost entirely lost on me. I knew that the USSR and Finland were very good. But it didn't matter. Our team was mostly from Minnesota and we play hockey pretty good--we should; we've been doing it our entire lives. These players even represented my home town and the Iron Range as a whole--I though we could win. They must be good if they came from around here and are playing for the United States Olympic team.
What I did not know of, or at least as an eight-year-old think too hard about, was the political and economic situation of the time. It makes me think of our neighbor, a miner with a very Finnish last name, who watched all the games with us. I'm sure he knew all about inflation, energy, unemployment, Iranian hostages, Afghanistan, etc. I'm sure my dad did, too, but I've never talked to him about it. Thinking about it now, after the taconite expansion of the early- to mid-1970s, this was the beginning of the end for the mines up there. And I think they knew it. But they felt they had a hockey team and a coach that was fighting for us. And hockey mattered.
I watched those games lying on the floor about a foot away from the TV. Nothing I have ever witnessed has been so completely mesmerizing, satisfying, and above all motivating. Nothing will ever compare. From my viewpoint, one foot from the TV screen, in Virginia, Minnesota, on Minnesota's Iron Range, the universe was in focus. All the world revolved around Minnesota hockey and I was near the center of it. As a young hockey player, I didn't know that the rest of the world didn't expect to be enlightened, to be shocked and inspired by this team. I thought that this was just the way it was. Herb Brooks coached a team second to none in all of sports history. He did it with Minnesotans. And the whole world knew something I believed: Minnesota hockey was the best in the world. Miracle or not.
~Brian Weber, Brainerd, MN