They hoped to get two points in those first two games, one win or two ties. If they didn't, they could pack it in, because there'd be no chance for a medal. The scouting report on Sweden said that technically the Swedes were as good as any team in the world at skating, passing and shooting, but in tough games their spirit could be broken. But you couldn't let them get a lead on you. Stay close.
In the first period the young, nervous U.S. team stayed close. The Swedes led 1-0, and they had outshot the Americans 16-7, but Craig had kept the U.S. hopes alive with outstanding work in goal. And the Americans had some chances of their own—both Rob McClanahan and Eric Strobel missed breakaways in the first four minutes. So now it was behind them, those first-period jitters.
But in the dressing room Brooks was furious. Insane. McClanahan had suffered a severe charley horse—McClanahan, who played on the first line with Johnson, who was left wing on the power play, who could fly—and one of the trainers told him to get his equipment off and put ice on the bruise, that's all for tonight. A trainer, for heaven's sake. And McClanahan did it. He was sitting in there in his underwear, an ice pack on his thigh, and the door flew open and there came Brooks, and was he mad! "You gutless son of a bitch! Nobody's going belly-up now!"
"Instead of coming in and yelling at us as a team, he picked on Robbie," Johnson recalls. "It was the craziest locker room I've ever been in. He's swearing. Everyone else is swearing. Robbie's swearing and crying. Then Robbie follows him out into the hall and is screaming at him, 'I'll show you!' And in a minute here's the door flying open again and Herbie's coming back yelling, 'It's about time you grew up, you baby....' "
At that point Johnson yelled at Eruzione to get Brooks out of there. Can you beat that? The star player was yelling at the captain to get the coach out of the locker room. Finally, Jack O'Callahan, a defenseman who wasn't dressed for the game because of an injury, grabbed Brooks from behind; Brooks and McClanahan were jawbone to jawbone and O'Callahan was afraid they'd start swinging. Meanwhile, the rest of the team was sitting there thinking, "We're one period into the Olympics, down one lousy goal, and the coach loses his marbles."
But had he? McClanahan put his stuff back on, and the U.S. team went onto the ice, outshot the Swedes in the second period and tied the game 1-1. McClanahan couldn't even sit down between shifts; his leg was too sore to bend. He'd stand there at the end of the bench, as far away from Brooks as he could get, then hop out when it came time to play. I'll show you! And he finished the tournament with five goals, tying Johnson and Schneider for tops on the team. Sweden scored early in the third period to take a 2-1 lead, but in the final minute the U.S. pulled Craig from the net and Bill Baker boomed home the tying goal off a centering pass from Mark Pavelich with 27 seconds left. The U.S. had pulled out one of the two points it needed and, what's more, everybody got to know each other a little better. "It was mayhem in here," Schneider said afterward. "But that's what's going to win it for us, emotion and talent put together."
Said Brooks, "Maybe I've been a little too nice to some of these guys." Honestly.
The fanfare didn't really start to build until after the U.S. beat Czechoslovakia 7-3 two nights later. That was the game in which, with little time remaining and the game well in hand, Johnson was injured by a dirty check (no pun) and on TV the nation heard the wrath of Herb Brooks firsthand. His proposal to wed a Koho hockey stick with a certain Czechoslovakian gullet provoked 500 irate letters, but it also piqued the curiosity of the non-hockey-minded public. Hey, this guy's all right! And those players. They're so young. Let's keep an eye on these guys—but what's icing?
Norway...Romania...West Germany, down they went, each game a struggle in the early going, pulled out in the third period when those nameless kids who looked about 15 simply blew the opposition away. And afterward the players would line up at center ice and smile those great big wonderful smiles, many of which actually displayed teeth, and salute the fans. They'd hoist their sticks to the fans on one side of the rink; then they'd turn around and hoist them to the other side. It was a terrific routine.
One of the reasons they still were nameless was that Brooks had forbidden them to attend the post-game press conferences, enraging both the U.S. Olympic Committee brass and the players' agents. The players themselves were none too keen on the idea, either, though they understood the reasoning. This team wasn't built around stars, and the press conferences were set up to handle only three players. You couldn't have three players getting all the publicity and not believing they were the stars. So no players attended them. Only Brooks. Then when the press accused Brooks of hogging the limelight, he refused to attend anymore and sent Craig Patrick in his place. Now everyone was mad at him. But without the pressure of the spotlight, the team stayed just as loosey-goosey as a colt on a romp. Hey, this was fun! But the Russians were coming.