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Front Row Seat: Aurora's Sheridan played college hockey for iconic U.S. Olympic coach

by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER Published: February 12, 2014 12:00 AM
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Under different circumstances, Aurora High School hockey coach John Sheridan could have been part of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" Olympics hockey team that toppled the powerful Soviet Union in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Years earlier, Sheridan had been recruited to play college hockey at the University of Minnesota by coach Herb Brooks, the coach and architect of the Olympics squad that pulled off arguably the greatest sports upset of all-time.

In the early 1970s, Sheridan was a high school all-state hockey center in Minnesota. After a year of junior hockey, he played college hockey for Brooks at Minnesota, which captured the college national championship in 1974 with Sheridan on board.

Sheridan turned pro after one season of college hockey, and pros were not permitted in the Olympics then.

"I wish I'd have listened to Herbie and stayed in school," he said. "If I had stayed, I might have [been able to play on the Olympics team]."

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Many of the players Brooks picked for the Olympics were from Minnesota, including Buzz Schneider, another freshman on the 1974 championship team.

"Buzz kept his amateur status so he could play on that team," Sheridan said.

In the mid-1970s, though, no one could have predicted that the 1980 matchup of U.S. amateurs and Soviet veteran pros would produce a game that Sports Illustrated later picked as the top sports moment of the 20th century.

Sheridan, who played pro hockey for seven years, remembered watching the "miracle" game on TV in Utica, N.Y., where his pro hockey team had a day off in between games.

"It was cool to watch it because I knew Brooks," Sheridan said. "That made it fun. I had a feeling of disbelief when I watched it. I think everybody in the world did."

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AS THE U.S team wrapped up its 4-3 win, announcer Al Michaels uttered his infamous line, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"

"Brooks said if they'd played that game 10 times, they would have lost nine times," said Sheridan, adding that the U.S. team won the one time it counted.

Two days later, the U.S team defeated Finland 4-2 to capture the Olympics gold medal, cementing Brooks' iconic status.

"It was fun being recruited by Brooks," Sheridan said. "I played right away at Minnesota. I thought Brooks was a great coach and a great motivator."

Sheridan called Brooks "a blue jean, flannel shirt-type guy who liked to fish. He was an interesting guy, but a no-nonsense guy. You didn't want to be on the bad side of him."

Years after the Olympics, Brooks became a scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League. Sheridan ran into him occasionally and they'd talk. "I liked him better not playing for him," he said.

About a quarter of a century after Minnesota's national title, the team had a reunion. "Brooks talked about the old days," Sheridan said.

In 2003, Brooks, 66, died in a single-car accident in Minnesota. It's believed he fell asleep at the wheel after driving all night. Neither drugs nor alcohol were responsible.

In 2004, the movie "Miracle on Ice" about the 1980 U.S. team came out. Kurt Russell played Brooks, who served as a consultant. The latter died before it was completed. At the end of the movie, a dedication to Brooks stated, "He never saw it. He lived it."

"The movie was pretty close to what Brooks was like," Sheridan said. "He had the same lines [as Russell did]. Brooks wore plaid pants, just like in the movie. That's how I remember him."

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

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