Episode 82: The Fastest Game in the World

Ice hockey is now a global sport. Even Brazil, Mexico, Jamaica, and Australia have national teams. The National Hockey League has teams in Miami, Tampa Bay, Dallas, Nashville, and Phoenix. Junior league hockey is played in Shreveport and Amarillo. Anyone who wants to understand hockey today must not only tell a story about skates, rinks, sticks and goals, but must also tell a story about television, marketing, suburbia, social welfare, politics, class, climate change, and youth culture. Our guest in this episode, Bruce Berglund, helps us make sense of it all. He is the author of The Fastest Game in the World: Hockey and the Globalization of Sports (University of California Press, 2020).

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Why I Wrote an Essay About Hockey on March 5, 1980

US And Russian Hockey Teams Competing In The 1980 Winter Olympics, The Miracle On Ice

I played a lot of pond hockey as a kid growing-up in North Jersey. I used to go to Masar Park after school on winter days with my brothers and play in a daily pick-up game with neighborhood kids. I was a terrible skater, so I usually played goalie. (I later turned this love for net-minding into a high school career as a lacrosse goalie). After the U.S. Olympic Hockey team beat the Soviets and won the Gold Medal in 1980, I had dreams of becoming the next Jim Craig.  I believed if I worked hard enough I would be ready for the 1984 games in Sarajevo.

In the months following the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics I was obsessed with hockey.

It was also around this time that I thought I might want to be a sportswriter.  All of my middle school essays had something to do with sports. In eighth-grade I even started a small sports magazine with the help an artistic friend who provided the cover designs. We called it Sports Journal.  We put out two issues and sold about ten copies.


This particular issue of Sports Journal included articles on Louisville’s NCAA tournament win (cover story); Ralph Sampson and Jeff Lamp leading Virginia to the NIT championship; a news story on CBS-NY sports broadcaster Warner Wolf signing a new contract; a story on Ann Meyers leading the The New York Gems (professional women’s basketball) in scoring; an “NBA Rookies Report” that said Bill Cartwright had a brighter NBA future than Magic Johnson; an update on the NHL careers of members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team; a reflection on the retirement of Muhammad Ali; and a professional wrestling column that included references to Ivan Putski, Ken Patera, and Harley Race.  Pretty hard hitting stuff!  🙂

Recently, I found an essay I submitted on March 5, 1980.  I wrote it for Mrs. Quiroz’s seventh-grade English class at Central Middle School (now Lazar Middle School) in Montville, New Jersey.  I will never forget this assignment because Mrs. Quiroz read it to the class as a model of good writing.  I will let our readers judge whether Mrs. Quiroz was correct in her assessment:

“Do you believe in miracles?  Yes!!!”  That was the voice of ABC television hockey broadcaster Al Michaels in the final seconds of the United States Olympic Hockey Team’s upset victory over Russia.  Less than   forty-eight hours later this also came out of Michael’s mouth as time ran out in the United States gold medal victory over Finland: “The impossible dream comes true!!!”

The United States victory was truly remarkable, but how many people really know how hockey is played?  There are three main positions in hockey:  the goalie, the defensemen, and the line (which includes two wings and a center).  Out of these positions the toughest is goalie.

Kick, save, and a beauty.  Tremendous save!”  These are also the words Al Michaels mentioned about United States goalie Jim Craig.  The goaltender is definitely the most important man on the hockey team.  Without him there would be no one to stop opposing team’s shots.  Jim Craig’s spectacular performance actually won the game for the Americans since they were outshot by the Russians three to one. 

“Long slapshot from the point, save, rebound, another save!” The goalie has to have tremendously fast reflexes because once he makes one save eighty percent of the time the puck will roll to an opposing player who will slap the puck right back at you. Since the puck is traveling at a speed of fifty to sixty miles per hour, you can see how fast reflexes pay off.  Many people feel that the goalie has to be superhuman to survive such a beating every three or four days, but people don’t know that ninety percent of the time the goalie doesn’t feel a thing.  He is heavily padded with thick leg pads, chest pads, and arm pads.  He can also protect himself with a heavily padded glove and an eight-inch-wide goalie stick.  The goaltender also has protection from his own players known as defensemen.

“Here comes the Russian, skating into open ice trying for the tying goal, but the play is broken-up by defenseman Ken Morrow.”  That was again, Al Michaels on United States defenseman Kenny Morrow.  Morrow, Bill Becker, Mike Ramsey, and Dave Christian definitely made Jim Craig’s job as goalie  a lot easier.  Their job was to break up any players breaking for a goal and not let them take a shot.  In other words, get the puck away from your opponent.  The defensemen experience the physical contact aspect of the game the most since they are the only ones who usually experience opposing players slamming them into the boards or checking them. The loud grunting and hard hits never get the best of these guys as they know their job: get the puck, wherever it is.  They have to do whatever it takes to get it, even if that means they must suffer a hard hit or a vicious check.

“Mark Pavelich  behind the goal, skates out in front, centers to Buzz Schneider, he scores!” This time Michaels is explaining the process in which the second U.S. line of Mark Pavelich, Buzz Schneider, and John Harrington scored a goal against Czechoslovakia. The line’s main job is to score goals.  Most teams have three lines that switch off an on every five minutes.  These men pass the puck around the goal and try to put it in the net.  In Al Michaels’s quote above right wing Mark Pavelich skated behind the goal and centered, or passed the puck in front of the goal, to Buzz Schneider who put it in.  A good line could be a goaltender’s nightmare if they can maneuver the puck close enough to the net for a shot.  Lineman do a lot of checking…

Unfortunately, the last page is missing.  I am so sorry that you are unable to read how this exciting tale comes to an end!  🙂

By the way, I am pretty sure these were exact quotes from Al Michaels since I taped every U.S. hockey game with my audio cassette tape recorder.  I just set the recorder next to the television set and pressed the “play” button.

Enjoy the fortieth anniversary weekend of the Miracle on Ice!

North Korean Ice Hockey Has Presbyterian Roots

North Korea

This is news to me.  Atlas Obscura has it covered.  Here is a taste:

FOR ALL THE INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION that the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang are bringing to the Korean Peninsula’s fractious history, tense present, and uncertain future, there will likely be little talk about the era when a team of American high school students represented the (now North Korean) city of Pyongyang—in hockey. Today, North Korea has thoroughly erased positive depictions of Americans from its capital, but before World War II it hosted a strong American missionary presence, and was the site of a remarkable chapter in sports history.

The first documented ice hockey games in Korea occurred in 1928, when the Japanese Empire ruled Korea, which they called Chosun (1910–45). An organized national hockey league and a national championship followed a couple of years later. In the Chosun Hockey League, which included teams of all age groups, Americans from the missionary communities were instrumental in developing the game. The first national champion, in 1930, was Chosun Christian College in Seoul, a school founded in 1915 by American Presbyterian missionaries. In Pyongyang, the leading team was from Pyongyang Foreign School, the school that served the American community. Hockey was the school’s leading winter sport.

Hockey games in 1930s Korea were elemental, played on outdoor rinks on land and on Pyongyang’s frozen Taedong River. Bitter cold, rough natural ice, ankle-high improvised boards, and wind and snow were normal for the players, and spectators had to stand all game on the edge of the ice, and sometimes on it. Like pickup games on frozen ponds in Canada or Minnesota, the conditions of these early games challenged the dedication of players and spectators alike.

Read the rest here.

The Greatest Sports Call of All Time

In my opinion it does not get any better than Al Michaels and Ken Dryden on February 22, 1980. (It happened on George Washington’s birthday).  There was a time during my teenage years when I had Michaels’s call of the final minute of this game memorized.  I can still recite some of it.  One of the overlooked parts of this call was legendary Montreal Canadian goalie Ken Dryden, a Canadian, saying “unbelievable” as the game ended.  He was clearly shocked by what he had just witnessed. (Dryden is also know for saying “the U.S. team is relying a little too much on [goalie] Jim Craig, he’s making too many good saves” seconds before Michael’s interrupted to call what turned out to be the game-winning goal: “ERUZIONE, MIKE ERUZIONE!!!!“)

Episode 14: 107 Years in the Making

When the Chicago Cupodcast-icon1bs finally ended the “Curse of the Billy Goat,” they demonstrated just how historic “America’s Pastime” truly is. When Michael Phelps won his 28th Olympic medal in Rio de Janeiro, he furthered his case for being known as the greatest Olympian history has ever known. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling once again tackle the history of sports, and are joined by Emmy award-winning sports historian, Amy Bass (@bassab1).

Most Olympic Medals Per Capita

Olympic Medals

This came across my feed today.   Grenada has one 1 medal at the 2016 Games, but they only have 106,825 people.  This makes them the most successful nation per capita at the Rio Olympics.  They are followed by Bahamas, New Zealand, Slovenia, and Jamaica. The United States is 42nd.  Indonesia is last.

When it comes to Gold Medals per capita, Bahamas, Fiji, and Jamaica top the list.  The United States is 32nd.  Ethiopia is last.

Let’s Bring Club Swinging Back to the Olympic Games

club-swingingLet’s have some fun with the history of the Olympic Games.  Yes, club swinging was an event.  Here are few other events from a very entertaining article at the blog Wherepowerflies:

Kite flying

Canon shooting

Pigeon racing

Live pigeon shooting 

Rope climbing 

Standing high jump

Horse long jump

Town planning

Fire fighting

Tug of war

Cycle polo


Some of these were “unoffical”  or exhibition sports.

The Olympics Doesn’t Build Character, It Reveals It


A person with character exemplifies constraint and self-control.  How one behaves on a big stage says a lot about a person. Whether it’s Donald Trump, U.S. Olympic soccer goalie Hope Solo, or African-American swimmer Simone Manuel, character matters.

Women’s soccer, especially the United States National Team, is a big deal in our house. My youngest daughter, now 15-years old, has been playing and watching since elementary school.  We were thus very disappointed with Hope Solo’s comments about the Swedish team that knocked the U.S. out of the Olympic soccer competition.

We are also big swim fans.  Simone Manuel’s victory in the 100 freestyle, the first win in an individual event for an African-American woman, was a great opportunity for all of us to learn a bit more about the history of racial segregation, especially as it related to community swimming pools.

As sportswriter Bill Plaschke reminds us all in his recent LA Times column, the Olympics does not build character, it reveals it.

Here is a taste:

In a stadium far north of the Olympic heart, a goalkeeper spewed ugly.

“We played a bunch of cowards,” Hope Solo said. “The best team did not win today. I strongly believe that.”

In a news conference room in the center of the Olympic soul, a mom spread grace.

“We started talking to [Simone] about how swimming isn’t just going to be about her,” said Sharron Manuel, the mother of the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming for the United States.  “She will have to share that gift with the world and it will carry a message”

In the stadium, the goalkeeper reacted to the U.S. women’s soccer team’s stunning Friday afternoon shootout loss to Sweden by epitomizing the word she had assigned the Swedes. Hope Solo ran from responsibility and accountability like a coward.

“Sweden dropped off, they didn’t want to open play, they didn’t want to pass the ball,” Solo said. “I don’t think they’re going to make it far in the tournament.”

In the news conference room, the mom reacted to daughter Simone’s historic gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle the previous night by epitomizing wisdom and grace. Sharron explained how she had spent years preparing Simone for this milestone moment.

“As an 11-year-old she did come to me asking . . . why she had not seen many others like herself in a sport of swimming,’’ Sharron said. “I said . . . I don’t know, let’s look it up, so we got on the Internet. . . . That was the moment she realized she had a bigger role to play in what she was doing in the sport of swimming.”

Like the sports it celebrates, the Olympics doesn’t build character, it reveals it. In an illuminating few moments about 600 miles apart Friday, the world saw America at its best and worst.

Read the rest here.

Rowdy Gaines: Gold Medalist, Olympic Commentator, and Tweeter


A lot of great things happened last night in the Olympic swimming pool.  I got pretty excited about it:

On that last tweet about Ledecky, check out our post from this morning.

And yes, I am aware that I misspelled Anthony Ervin’s last name in these tweets.

After this initial flurry of swimming tweets, things got even better.  NBC commentator and former Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines jumped into the conversation. He “liked” my tweet about Ervin sleeping on his coach.

I responded:

Then came this:

I responded as a total fanboy:

And then came another “like” from Rowdy.

Made my night!  And yes, I am a middle-aged man with a Ph.D who makes a living as a college professor.

Simone Manuel’s Accomplishment in Historical Context


With her stunning and surprise co-victory in the 100 freestyle last night (take THAT, Australia!) Simone Manuel became the first African-American female swimmer to win an individual Olympic gold medal.

After watching Manuel swim my mind eventually went back to a piece I heard on National Public Radio in 2008 about the history of segregated swimming pools in the United States. I did a quick Google search and found Rachel Martin’s interview with Jeff Wiltse, a history professor at the University of Montana and author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America.

Here is a taste of that interview:

MARTIN: So, Jeff, you wrote that, in the late 19th century and early 20th, municipal pools, city pools, weren’t built, just weren’t built in African-American neighborhoods in the same way, or at the same rate that they were in other neighborhoods. Then things seemed to shift in the ’20s and ’30s. Pools were segregated, but separate-but-equal wasn’t really equal. Right? Talk about how those pools varied. What were the differences?

Dr. WILTSE: OK, well, first let me address what you brought up initially, which is that, during the late 19th and early 20th century, cities throughout the northern United States built lots of pools in poor, immigrant, working-class-white neighborhoods, but conspicuously avoided building pools in neighborhoods inhabited predominately by black Americans.

And then in the 1920s and 1930s, there was a pool-building spree in the United States. And there were thousands, literally thousands and thousands of pools that were opened up in the 1920s and 1930s, and many of them were large, leisure-resort pools. They were – some of them – larger than football fields. They were surrounded by grassy lawns, and concrete sundecks, andContested they attracted literally millions and millions of swimmers.

And yet, it was at that point in time that cities began to racially segregate pools throughout the north, and it then extended, obviously, all throughout the United States. And black Americans were typically relegated, if a pool was provided at all, to a small indoor pool that wasn’t nearly as appealing as the large, outdoor resort pools that were provided for whites.

And so, take the city of St. Louis. In St. Louis, black Americans represented 15 percent of the population in the mid-1930s. But they only took one-and-a-half percent of the number of swims because they were only allocated one small indoor pool, whereas white residents of St. Louis had access to nine pools. Two of them were the large resort pools that I’ve been describing.

MARTIN: Hm. And you have written about some specific instances where there was some real violence surrounding these swimming pools, when black people would try to access these white pools. Can you tell us about some of those incidents, specifically in Highland Park?

Dr. WILTSE: Yeah, sure. So, there were two ways in which communities racially-segregated pools at the time. One was through official segregation, and so police officers and city officials would prevent black Americans from entering pools that had been earmarked for whites. The other way of segregating pools was through violence.

And so, a city like Pittsburgh, it did not pass an official policy of racial segregation at its pools. But rather, the police and the city officials allowed, and in some cases encouraged, white swimmers to literally beat black swimmers out of the water, as a means of segregating pools, as a means of intimidating them from trying to access pools. And so there was an instance, well, there was a series of instances over two summers in Highland Park pool, when it was first opened in 1931…

Read the entire interview here.

The First “Dream Team”


Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn, KC Jones, Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas, Bob Petit, and Hank Gola.

It was the team that played 19 games in Poland, Romania, Egypt, and Yugoslavia as part of the United States State Department goodwill tour in 1964.  The team was coached by Red Auerbach.

Robertson tells the story of this “Dream Team” at The Undefeated.  Here is a taste:

A State Department official who knew Red asked him to put together a team to tour Russia, Yugoslavia, Poland, Romania and Egypt following the 1964 NBA season. The Russians took a look at the roster Red had put together and decided not to admit us into the Soviet Union.

In the other four countries, we were welcomed with open arms. For one thing, they knew our games were likely to sell out, and the gate receipts would help build their local basketball federations.

Read the entire piece here.

Karl Barth on the Olympic Games


I don’t think the Swiss theologian was a fan. But he does mention Pele:

Today what is called sport seems to have become the playground of a particular earth-spirit. In most cases the old and honest saying, “a healthy mind in a healthy body” can no longer be invoked today as a rational explanation of what motivates active sporting figures….What is behind the enthusiasm of millions of sporting fans who watch the players with such passionate and often frenzied excitement? … Why is the Sunday evening paper so infinitely more important to countless numbers of people because of the late news it gives about football scores rather than accounts of the most astounding and momentous things that might have happened in the arena of world politics? After the soccer championship game in Sweden in 1958, what led Brazil, the home of the victorious team, to establish a national holiday, and what was it that brought the prodigy, Pele, then seventeen years old, not only a good deal of money …but also no fewer than five hundred offers of marriage, while on the same occasion Germany, for the opposite reason, threatened to plunge into a kind of irritated national mourning with all kinds of accompanying phenomena? Why all this fuss and fury? What is the real glory (doxa) of the winner of the Tour or France or Switzerland? … What is the majesty that has brought to the Olympic games the regular cultic form of worship, praise, laud and thanksgiving? So many facts, questions, and riddles! It should be obvious that we have here a special form of derangement. Man has lost and continually loses his true majesty. It is thus inevitable that, in this matter too, sense should change into nonsense.”

Karl Barth, The Christian Life, 230–1 (CD IV.4 fragments)

HT: Ian Clary via Facebook

My Stupid Tweet About Rio

After I posted this tweet I was quietly rebuked by one of my twitter followers.  Amy Jade, a history student studying nineteenth-century Brazil, pointed me to Vincent Bevins‘s piece at The Awl: “You’re Complaining About the Olympics Wrong: How to Criticize the Game Without Sounding Stupid.”

We’re right in the middle of the phase that precedes most global sports mega-events: apocalyptic predictions and violent rejection. This usually gives way to a second phase, when the television show actually begins, everything goes mostly fine (fingers crossed here in Rio), and attention shifts to the sports. This first phase occurs in part because mainstream English-language reporters cast their eyes on places like South Africa, Russia, or Brazil, and find them unpleasantly strange and foreign, sometimes even poor. A bunch of journalists get there and find there’s not much else to do but repeatedly ask, “Wow, is this going to be a disaster?” But it also occurs because we know there are some real problems in the ways that these events are put on. Not only are many recent complaints overstated, they’re pointed in the wrong direction. Here’s a helpful guide to help you complain correctly:

First, avoid reproducing the basic, sensational, or anti-Brazil gripes. There are a great number of ways that Rio is a mess right now. But that’s not the same as saying the event itself, mostly vacuum-sealed far away from the city, will be a disaster, or that Rio shouldn’t have been given the thing. The reality may be closer to the opposite. Rio, a city quite capable of putting on big sporting and tourist events (see: the World Cup final in 2014, every Carnaval every year since forever) maybe could have chosen to skip this one.


Brazil can be criticized for broken Olympic promises, and the IOC can be criticized for its mode of operation, but to complain that Rio de Janeiro has problems in general — crime, poverty, disease, some logistical breakdowns — is tantamount to insisting the games should never happen in developing countries. One could make the argument that the Olympics don’t need to move around, or that they should only happen in the world’s best-run, safest countries, but that would go against whatever the official Olympic spirit is supposed to be these days.

Brazil is not a rich country, but it’s not poor either. It’s a very large country,roughly in the middle of world wealth rankings. But Brazil is also going through an unforeseen, once-in-a-generation catastrophic political and economic crisis. How will this affect the tourists!? Who fucking cares, say many Brazilians, very understandably. Brazil is not China or Russia, it is not a sports rival, and it is not a geopolitical enemy, it’s a nice, democratic country down on its luck right now, and journalists or tourists coming from the world’s richest countries are not fighting Latin American corruption by complaining about bad service or their hotels. Some things are just crappy here, that’s because life on Earth is crap in general, ugh, chill.

Read the rest here.  I’m glad Amy called my attention to it.  Thanks!

Edwin Rios has a similar piece at Mother Jones.

Will Soccer Catch On In America? I Am Not Optimistic

Will we remember Tim Howard?

I have never watched so much soccer on television in such a short period of time.  As I have written before, I am not a soccer fan.  My interest in the game does not go much beyond my daughter’s 7th grade travel and middle school team and an occasional Messiah College women’s game. But this last few weeks I have been riveted to the television set and even find myself reading about the players online.

Will I continue to watch soccer on television after the World Cop is over?  Probably not.  I approach the World Cup in the same way I approach Olympic swimming. During the Summer Games I do all kinds of research on the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team.  I don’t miss a race.  I watch their video parodies of popular songs.  I go online and explore the history of Olympic swimming and try to remember the Olympic swimmers that I cheered for in past Games.  (Go Gary Hall Jr. and Matt Biondi!)  And when the Olympics are over I take a four-year break from following swimming.  (Although I did follow Rowdy Gaines on Twitter after London).

Over at CNN, sports historian Amy Bass wonders if the enthusiasm for soccer generated by the 2014 World Cup will last after the international competition is over.  She is not optimistic.  

Here is a taste of her piece:

But what happens as the World Cup packs up and moves on? Will broken-hearted Americans still love soccer now?It is easy to link World Cup mania to the popularity of youth soccer in the United States. A 2007 FIFA study concluded that some 25 million American children play soccer, giving the U.S. the largest youth base of any country competing in Brazil right now. But after all, kids playing on a Saturday morning likely doesn’t explain the seeming suddenness of American interest.

And we didn’t see this kind of interest back when the U.S. hosted the tournament back in 1994. We also didn’t see it when the U.S. women won the whole thing in 1991 and 1999 (because, well, you know, women’s sports and all). And we didn’t see it when the U.S. men’s national team reached the quarterfinals in 2002.

So where did all of this frenzy come from? Answer: Americans hate being left behind.

Americans prefer to lead, and until now, they have been the only ones missing this global party, one where the U.S. men have yet to build a winning reputation, something central to American identity. Indeed, some think the intense focus on Brazil has to do with this unfamiliar underdog status.

And here is Bass’s conclusion:

…many sports fans may not have space to add soccer into their seasonal cycle of baseball, football, and so on. Thus, the appeal of the World Cup is not necessarily the game it features, as much as the lure of the United States finally sitting at the big table, qualifying regularly, and even winning a match or two.

It is a situation somewhat akin to the Olympics, in which Americans become fascinated — and sometimes fanatical –with curling and ice dancing and skeleton for the fortnight, but without question don’t think about it again until the next one.

So perhaps unless team USA’s Clint Dempsey and John Brooks get into the next season of “Dancing with the Stars,” it might be four more years before America obsesses about them again.

I am afraid I have to agree.