Haunted by ghosts of 1980

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

There was no movie made, no anniversary to celebrate, no miracle for them.

Twenty-five years later, they can view reminders of what could have been on the nightly news, rent them from their corner video store, hear about the Miracle On Ice again on radio.

Just not their miracle.

Everyone loves to relive the wondrous upset story of Lake Placid, but the Canadian Olympic hockey team of 1980 left behind a different kind of upset all its own.

"We had the better team. They had the better ending," Lorne Davis, one of the three Canadian coaches, recalled yesterday from Regina.

"We played them eight times before the Olympics, beat them five times. I don't think anybody remembers that.

"Do you?"

People don't remember much of anything about the 1980 team, except they happened to play bystander to history. They don't remember that twisted circumstances -- a fluky flip-shot goal from 100 feet and a rare hockey win by Holland -- pushed Canada to a disastrous sixth-place finish.

"I tell people all the time, I was with the miracle that didn't happen," said Ron Davidson, the crown attorney from Peterborough, who centred a line with Glenn Anderson and Jim Nill at the Olympics.

"For the longest time, I had to distance myself from (Lake Placid). I couldn't even bear to think about it. My picture was on the front page of The Globe and Mail after scoring a goal against the Russians. My parents took steps to buy it but I didn't want that picture. I didn't want any reminders at all."

For a team that went nowhere at the Games, individually the players went somewhere after Lake Placid. In all, 4,070 National Hockey League games were played by the 12 Team Canada members who would play at least one night in the big leagues. There would be 14 Stanley Cup celebrations.

The accomplishments away from the rink were even more impressive.

Davidson became a lawyer; Randy Gregg became a doctor; Stelio Zupancich became a banker. Paul Mac-Lean was a 30- and 40-goal scorer before becoming a successful coach. Anderson, one day, may be able to call himself a Hall of Fame member.

"It was an amazing group," said Nill, now the assistant general manager with the Detroit Red Wings. "Everybody has been successful. We're talking good people here. You don't think about it when you're going through it but you can see it 25 years later. We've had success -- just not the kind anyone talks about."

More than anyone, Bob Dupuis has had to live with the ghost of 1980. He was the goalie -- fresh from senior hockey of all places -- who didn't look to the stands to make eye contact with his father. He was the scapegoat who allowed a flip shot against Finland to deflate Canada's hopes.

"Looking back, and I've looked back a lot, we should have spent more time getting a goaltender," Davis said. "You couldn't really blame Bobby. He played really well for us. He was probably just the wrong guy for the job."

That wasn't the only mistake Team Canada made. Over Christmas, two months before the Olympics, the decision was made to split the team in two. Half went to a pre-Olympic tournament in Lake Placid, the other half went to a tournament overseas. One month before the Games, Team Canada travelled to Japan to play. They never quite recovered from that trip.

"We peaked too early," Davidson said.

"In Japan, Bob (Dupuis) hurt his hand badly. I don't think he made the coaching staff aware of how bad he was hurt. He'd come this close, he didn't want to have it taken from him."

At Lake Placid, the long, slow goal hurt as did a 3-1 lead the Canadians couldn't hold over the famed Russians.

But strangely, other Canadians undid the last chance this team had for a medal, the Canadians who held Dutch passports.

"The way it worked out in the round-robin was, if Poland beats Holland, the way it should have, we go to the medal round. When Poland lost, we were absolutely shocked," Davidson said. "We would have played the Americans and Sweden in the medal around. We had done well against both. Who knows what would have happened if Poland wins that game?"

There are tentative plans for the 1980 Olympic team to get together this summer for a reunion, swap old stories, tell some lies. If only they can find the time and the place.

"There's lots to talk about," Nill said.

So much still unspoken.

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TEAM CANADA, 1980

GOAL

Bob Dupuis (1), Paul Pageau (1)

DEFENCE

Randy Gregg (474), Tim Watters (741), Terry O'Malley, Warren Anderson, Don Spring (259), Brad Pirie, Joe Grant

FORWARDS

Glenn Anderson (1,129), Paul MacLean (719), Jim Nill (524), Dave Hindmarch (99), Kevin Maxwell (66), John Devaney, Dan D'Alvise, Ken Berry (55), Kevin Primeau, Ron Davidson, Stelio Zupancich

CO-COACHES

Tom Watt, Clare Drake, Lorne Davis

(Number of NHL games played are in brackets.)


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