Lake Placid: America’s hockey home

Lake Placid
Lake Placid, New York at night |

The Village of Lake Placid is so humble it makes Tim Tebow look arrogant.

Nestled in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York lies a small town that plays home to fewer than 3,000 people – 5,000 fewer than the seated capacity of the Olympic Center’s Herb Brooks Arena.

There aren’t enough egos in the village for the village to have an ego of its own. Yet, if any town has earned bragging rights, it’s Lake Placid. At least if we’re talking sports.

In arguably the biggest upset in the history of international team competition, a group of American college hockey players defeated the heavily-favored Soviet Union team, which encompassed some of the world’s best professionals and veterans, in the semifinal round of the 1980 Olympic Games’ men’s hockey tournament. The Americans went on to win the Gold in Lake Placid.

“This is the greatest sports moment of the century,” said Jon Lundin, the communications manager for the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), of the Miracle on Ice. “And you’re talking about hockey.”

Hockey. Maybe that’s why it’s so humble.

Despite Lake Placid’s under-the-radar existence, it hasn’t abandoned its role as the true home of American hockey.

During the summer, the U.S. National Junior Team will hold its annual evaluation camp at its regular site – the Olympic Center. Lake Placid also hosted the 3 Nations Cup – a premier women’s international tournament – twice since 1997.

“That’s one of the biggest challenges we have here,” Lundin said. “(The public) doesn’t recognize everything that is still happening in Lake Placid.”

A few weeks ago, ORDA held a Can-Am pond hockey tournament, which it has done in each of the past 10 years. In fact, 11 months out of the year, the Olympic Center hosts a slew of Can-Am tournaments on every level – youth to adult.

In March, the 1980 Rink (it has more than one official name) will be the stage of the NCAA Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Championships, a tournament the Olympic Center has hosted four of the last five years. This will be the first I haven’t covered but I can guarantee the prospective participants will offer the same quotes as their predecessors. Something along the lines of, “Wow, this is where it happened?”

Lundin, a lifetime resident of American hockey’s home, agreed. “If you go on some of the college teams’ buses when they arrive, know what’s playing on the TVs?” he asked rhetorically. “The Miracle on Ice movie.”

In metropolitan cities where millions of people walk the same streets every day, celebrities and professional athletes stick out like sore thumbs.

But in Lake Placid – where on a busy day, a few hundred people might happen to walk the sidewalks past the Olympic Center – those same stars blend right in.

Such was the case last April, when the Boston Bruins used Lake Placid as a retreat after Game 3 of their playoff series with the Montreal Canadiens. The Bruins were down two games to one at the time, and since the Canadian rock band Rush had a show at the Bell Centre that week, the series took a rare two-day break.

Bruins Athletic Trainer Don DelNegro, a summer resident of Lake Placid, called ORDA to arrange the getaway. After less than a week of rigorous planning, it was a done deal: A team from south of the border used America’s hockey home to regroup during a playoff series against a rival from north of the border. What happened next? The team from the United States went on to win the Stanley Cup.

DelNegro later brought the Cup to Lake Placid for a visit. “People throughout the country see Lake Placid and the Boston Bruins,” Lundin said. “And the story went back to Lake Placid.”

But you won’t hear Lake Placid brag, because that’s just business as usual.

And that’s what makes Lake Placid beautiful – the humility.

All due respect to its mountainous landscapes.

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