The early 1990s ushered in a new era for American hockey. Guys like Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, Mike Modano and Tom Barrasso were staking America’s claim as a certified hockey nation with their play in the National Hockey League.
As the clocks turned to 1992, a group of rag-tag kids were looking to bring Olympic glory back to American hockey. It had been 12 long years since Mike Eruzione scored the goal that ended Communism and brought peace to the world beat the mighty USSR squad in the Miracle on Ice.
The 1992 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team, with eyes on ending the gold drought, had a lot going for it. Size, grit, speed, and that American spirit.
Something was missing though. This team needed something, or perhaps someone, to put it over the top. Someone a little more outside the box, or at least someone that could get out of that box with nothing more than a couple of everyday items on his person.
The answer was clear. This team needed an honorary captain. More accurately, they needed him:
They asked. He answered.
You might be wondering what an honorary captain does and, to be honest, I don’t know, but I’d imagine the honorary captain’s role was crucial to the success of the team.
MacGyver or as he is known not quite as well, Richard Dean Anderson, was the key piece of the puzzle apparently.
Having placed a disappointing seventh at both the 1984 and 1988 Winter Games, the U.S. had to be a little more creative in the first post-Soviet Olympics. No one expected much out of this group of minor-leaguers and college kids in 1992.
The scrappy bunch included a young punk from Boston University named Keith Tkachuk. There was also Bret Hedican, a defenseman that kept sneaking away to watch the figure skaters practice. They had a goalie who sounded like he was Canadian, but wasn’t, Ray Leblanc. The backup goalie was a guy by the name of Scott “Flash” Gordon, quick with the glove, according to that catchy dance hit of the mid 80s, The Beanpot Trot. There was also Ted Drury, who was not Chris Drury, but close enough, and Tim Sweeney, who was not Bob Sweeney, but close enough. And who could forget future Mighty Duck greats Joe Sacco and Sean Hill?
All great pieces, but none MacGyver great.
MacGyver, the character and the actor, as you’ll no doubt recall, was an accomplished hockey player in his younger years. Richard Dean Anderson’s love of hockey and playing MacGyver collided in the unforgettable episode “Thin Ice,” in which Mac returned to coach his old college team in something called the Minnesota State College Hockey Championships. You can watch it all right here.
That apparently was enough to qualify him has the honorary captain for the U.S. Olympic Team. RDA quickly became the face of the team:
“You might know me as MacGyver, but in real life, my name is Richard Dean Anderson and I am proud to be the honorary captain of the United States Hockey Team. I’m asking you to help support these outstanding young athletes as they prepare for the 1992 Winter Games and the biggest challenge of their lives. Join us and experience the dream as Team USA goes for the Gold!”
Inspiring words from No. 92, though I’d suggest it would have been more impactful had he just said, “You might know me as MacGyver” and ended it there. Either way, you can’t buy that kind of leadership (assuming RDA signed on as a volunteer, though I imagine he said, “Put a ‘C’ on my jersey or I’m not doing it.”).
All you need to see is the look on young Keith Tkachuk’s (No. 2) smiling face to understand how much the support of America’s craftiest action hero meant.
USA Hockey’s fearless leader wasn’t just there to lead these young American knights into battle. He was also there to take all your money.
“I still get chills when I recall Team USA’s spectacular upset victory over the Soviets which helped capture the gold medal in Lake Placid,” Anderson said in his serious voice. “This year, there’s another group of exciting young American hockey players hoping to experience that same dream. I’m Richard Dean Anderson, join me in support of our team by sending your contributions to USA Hockey!”
Put me down for a hundo, Mac. Judging by that practice footage, they were going to need it (That first shot went no less than 10 feet wide).
But if I’m going to give you my hard-earned dollars, what’s in it for me? I mean, I like America and stuff and I want to see our boys go over there and destroy their opponents just like everyone else, but how about a little something, ya know, for the effort?
Oh, well in that case, MAKE IT TWO HUNDRED.
Editor’s Note: I couldn’t confirm that this “autographed” picture (which I really have) was what you’d get for making your donation to Team USA, much like the box set of “Anne of Green Gables” you’d get after donating to your local public television station, but that’s my guess. I have no idea why it would exist otherwise, but am determined to find out now.
Whatever RDA brought to the table in donations and inspiration as honorary captain worked pretty well for Team USA, I suppose.
The U.S. went undefeated in the group stage in Albertville, finishing with a 4-0-1 record and outscoring opponents 18-7. In the quarterfinals, Team USA took it to the French, winning by a score of 4-1.
Everything was going great heading into the semifinal, but Team USA would have face the Unified Team comprised of players from the former Soviet Union. Among the stars for the Unifieds were Alexei Kovalev, Alex Zhamnov, Sergei Zubov, Nikolai Khabibulin, Darius Kaspiraitis and the unforgettable Andrei Trefilov. It was like cheating.
With the Cold War over
thanks to Mike Eruzione, the U.S. did not have the motivation of “beating the Commies” anymore and it showed.
There wasn’t enough duct tape, bubble gum or Swiss Army knives in the world that would have given Team USA a fighting chance. The Unified squad crushed the U.S., 5-2 in the semis. Then Team USA couldn’t close out a medal, falling to Czechoslovakia 6-1 in the bronze game.
It was a disappointing finish to a tournament that couldn’t have started any better. Perhaps it was not a coincidence MacGyver was cancelled later that year.
They may have failed to medal, but the players on the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team were forever changed by the guidance and heroism of Richard Dean Anderson. The proof is in the pudding.
Where Are They Now?
Richard Dean Anderson, a native of Minneapolis, Minn., went on to star in that show you didn’t watch. However, he’ll forever be best known for his role as MacGyver. Additionally, of the many Andersons worldwide, he is still the Richard-Deaniest. He is also in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, when he visits.
Keith Tkachuk would go on to score 538 goals over an illustrious NHL career. He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame last December. During his speech, Tkachuk did not thank Richard Dean Anderson. Must’ve been an oversight.
Bret Hedican married fellow U.S. Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi, who won gold in figure skating in 1992. No confirmation Hedican’s beloved honorary captain was in attendance to toast the newlyweds. Hedican also played 17 seasons in the NHL, grabbing the Stanley Cup while a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, but he’ll be best known for being married to that lady that was on Dancing with the Stars once.
Ray Leblanc, after putting together one of the most astonishing goaltending performances this side of Jim Craig, appeared in one NHL game over his pro career. He now drives a forklift in Tampa, Fla. No, really.
Steve Heinze, with a penchant for whimsy himself, wore the No. 57, for reasons that should be obvious, three times during his 12-year NHL career. Steve Heinze rules.
Marty McInnis was Team USA’s leading scorer in 1992 with five goals and seven points. He played in nearly 800 games in the NHL. Is not Al MacInnis.
Many of Team USA’s players went on to be head coaches, no doubt inspired by the steadfast leadership of one Richard Dean Anderson.
Scott “Flash” Gordon‘s glove apparently wasn’t quick enough, as he barely played in 1992. Gordon, former head coach of the New York Islanders, was an assistant coach for Team USA at the 2010 Olympics.
Joe Sacco, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim hero, is still the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche. Why do you look so surprised by that?
Ted Donato was a forward for Team USA in 1992. In his eighth season as head coach at Harvard University last year, he led the Crimson to a whopping 11 ties.
Guy Gosselin, a defenseman for Team USA in 1992, is one of the people in charge of making sure future generations of American hockey players are good at hockey as a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model. Prior to that, he was the head coach of the Bowling Green hockey team.
Clark Donatelli, the real captain of Team USA in 1992, is currently the interim head coach for the Wheeling Nailers in the ECHL. More importantly, I’d argue, he played for the San Diego Barracudas of Roller Hockey International.
Scott Young, who was a first-round pick of the Hartford Whalers (BRASS BONANZA!) and won a Stanley Cup with Colorado, now coaches at his old prep school in Massachusetts, St. Mark’s School.
Moe Mantha is the head coach and GM of the Michigan Warriors in the NAHL after stints at USA Hockey’s NTDP and OHL’s Windsor Spitfires (kinda).
Shawn McEachern is the head coach and athletic director at the Rivers School. No confirmation on whether the Thin Ice episode of MacGyver is part of the curriculum.
Jim Johannson was a forward for both the 1988 and 1992 Olympic squads. He is now the assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey, displaying MacGyver-like leadership and ingenuity in guiding American hockey’s continued rise as an international hockey power.
Even if they didn’t win the gold medal at the Olympics, it’s safe to say these guys won the gold medal in life. Would any of this have been possible without Richard Dean Anderson? I would argue yes. Actually, definitely yes. These guys were pretty good.
Editor’s Note: Summer is long, you guys.