I’d tell my teenage self to call his dad and insist that he find a way to get to Lake Placid, New York, on Feb. 22, 1980.
My dad was fascinated with the Russians — their tactics, strategies and personnel — to the point that he filled notebooks with drills he’d seen their legendary coach, Anatoly Tarasov, run going back to the 1960s. I still have those notebooks.
When my father was coaching at Wisconsin from 1966 to ’82, he scheduled exhibition games with touring Soviet teams — Moscow Spartak, Russia Dynamo, Soviet Traktor, Torpedo Gorky — and organized Sunday afternoon scrimmages with his Wisconsin players where one team got to wear the jerseys of Soviet legends like Valeri Kharlamov or Vladimir Petrov. I remember because I got to play in those games as a kid.
When my dad was the U.S. Olympic coach in 1976, Kharlamov and Petrov skated for the Soviets and won the gold medal thanks in part to a 6-2 victory over the Americans in Innsbruck, Austria. When we faced the Russians that night in Lake Placid, Kharlamov and Petrov were back for more.
In fact, when I was chosen to be one of the Americans drug-tested after the game, I found myself sitting quietly in the same holding room as Kharlamov, who was picked from the Russian side. We didn’t have much to say.
So, having my father on hand to see us play the Soviets wasn’t just about the famous Miracle on Ice storyline or his son scoring two goals. It was about one man’s unbridled passion and respect for the international game.
My dad got to Lake Placid two days later, just in time to see us beat Finland, 4-2, in the gold-medal game, but, man, he would have loved to see the Russians up close in an atmosphere like that. I would have loved to share it with him.
Forty-some years later I get to share something just as neat with my father. When my No. 10 jersey is retired by the Badgers on Feb. 9, it will hang in the rafters over Bob Johnson Rink at the Kohl Center. It’s pretty moving to think about it like that. I spoke at his funeral in 1991 and that was hard. I’m sure as that jersey is going up a lot of things are going to come into play. It’s going to be pretty emotional.
Being the first in Wisconsin hockey history to have my jersey retired will be pretty powerful, too. All those memories of growing up and being around the program. Playing for the university, that was the ultimate dream. As a kid I didn’t think about playing in the NHL or the Olympics. Dean Talafous and Murray Heatley were my idols. My only thought was that maybe I can play for the Badgers someday. In fact, I wore No. 17 in high school because that was Talafous’ number, but I switched to No. 10 at Wisconsin because Mike Eaves had No. 17.
I’d tell my younger self that playing in the NHL is a business first and that 11 seasons, six playoff appearances, five teams, four trades and one all-star game berth is more than a pit stop, it’s a good career. I learned at a young age the business side of it, but also that as one door closes for you, another one opens.
I’d tell him to take care of himself to better avoid injuries, although there isn’t much he can do to avoid that broken jaw he got when he played for New Jersey and got hit in the head by a clearing pass by his own goaltender.