2018 Olympics: Mike Eruzione talks USA Hockey's chances, NHL's absence

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Mike Eruzione says the 'Miracle on Ice' team isn't like the Dolphins: 'We want gold medals.' Getty Images

Mike Eruzione believes in miracles, but he also believes in diversity. That's the message that the former American hockey star is sending in a new campaign for Ancestry.com, which has debuted during the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. Eruzione, who is best known for captaining Team USA to a gold medal at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., and a few of his "Miracle on Ice" teammates have reunited for the campaign, which comes with the tagline "America's greatness comes from everywhere."

The ad seemingly aims to embrace and celebrate the diverse backgrounds of Americans in the midst of a very tense and sensitive cultural climate in America. Over the past year or so, there has been plenty of discussion and debate over the country's immigration laws and who should be allowed in and out of the United States' borders. 

So, while that's going on, it seems the main focus of this new Ancestry push is to provide a reminder that America, and some of its most accomplished citizens, wouldn't be what it is today without the influence of other countries and cultures across the globe.

In addition to providing voiceovers for the ad above, Eruzione and several other USA Hockey alums participated in the campaign by having their DNA tested to discover their ancestral roots. 

Last week, CBS Sports got the chance to speak to Eruzione about the initiative and, among other things, this year's Olympic hockey tournament in Pyeongchang. The 63-year-old Massachusetts native discussed the 2018 Team USA roster and their chances at becoming the first team to win a gold medal since his 1980 squad, plus the NHL's decision not to send players to the Winter Games for the first time since 1994. The Americans lost their Olympic opener on Wednesday morning to Slovenia after Slovenia rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 in overtime. 

Of course, Eruzione knows better than anyone that you don't necessarily need pros to find Olympic hockey glory. The 1980 USA roster consisted exclusively of amateur players and was the youngest team not only in the tournament, but in U.S. national team history. Eruzione & Co. were able to topple a Soviet team that was comprised of pros with significant experience (and overwhelming success) in international play before beating Finland in the gold medal game.

Here's what Eruzione had to say.

What's the purpose of this Ancestry campaign you're a part of?

One is to celebrate America's greatness. The second part is diversity. Diversity is what makes America so great. We all come from different heritages, but it was fun to learn the variety of our ancestry. Robbie McClanahan, Buzzy Schneider, Davey Christian and myself were selected to get our DNA tested to see where we came from. 

There were some surprises – I had some European Jewish and some Middle Eastern roots and I've always thought I was 100 percent Italian. The funny part of the campaign was that Buzzy Schneider has some Russian roots, and I kidded Buzzy saying now I know why he scored so many goals against the Soviets throughout his career.

Obviously the NHL won't be participating in Pyeongchang this year. How do you think that affects not only the Olympics but the sport of hockey as a whole moving forward?

I don't think affects the sport of hockey in terms of the game itself because theyre still going to be competing and they're going to play hard and represent their countries. These players are still talented players, it's not like they got these guys off the street. Clearly, the NHL players would be better. I'm not going to say more exciting because it's going to be exciting anyway. They're going to represent their countries and they want to win. 

Will the skill level be as high? In fairness, probably not. There won't be Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Clayton Keller, Patrick Kane and some of the great young American and European players. But it's still a competitive tournament. 

I wish the NHL made their decision earlier not to send the professional players there. I think some of the teams might be a little different. The United States, for example, may have taken some more of their college players – there are some really good college players out there -- and trained together for five, six months before going over to compete. The team they put together is an awfully good team, but they're not going to practice together. It's a little bit of a disadvantage for all the countries because they didn't have a lot of time to put their teams together.

The NHL has placed an emphasis on trying to grow the league and the sport with games overseas (in China and other global markets) in recent years. Do you think electing not to send players to the Olympics is counterproductive to that initiative?  

Yes, I do. They want to grow the game globally, and what better way to do that than to showcase the greatest players in the world on that stage? I was a little surprised. I don't know the bottom line, I'm not in the offices. I hear rumors it was about money, insurance, and I hate when things like that get in the way of promoting the game. 

Clearly they made that decision based on whatever reason they felt, but if they want to promote the game globally then send the best over there to play.

NHL: Preseason-Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals
Former NHL defenseman Ray Bourque says his son, Chris, (pictured here in 2016 with the Washington Capitals) has a chance to become "the next Mike Eruzione" for Team USA. USATSI

If there is a silver lining to come out of the NHL not going, what do you think it is?

I think these older players who had their chance in the NHL are going to get another kick at the can, so to speak. Younger players will also be trying to show the world that they're talented and that they're players who can compete at a high level. Who's to say who that might be? It might be Jordan Greenway, who is a junior at Boston University, or Ryan Donato, who plays at Harvard. They could become the story of the Olympic Games. 

It's funny, Ray Bourque's son Chris is playing and when Chris was selected, he gave me a call and left a message on my phone. Ray was chanting U-S-A, U-S-A and saying "Chris Bourque is going to be the next Mike Eruzione!" There are some great stories that could come out of this.

How do you like the USA's chances with the team that they're sending over? Do you think they're better or worse than they would be with NHL guys?

No country would've been as good if they sent the NHL guys. We have great depth in this country, a lot more depth than we had years ago. It's going to be a good team. It's going to be a team that has a chance. Every country has a chance -- the Russians, the Swedes, the Finns, the Czechs, the Canadians -- but they aren't going to be as strong as if they sent the NHL players over there.

So, I have it on record that you think the USA would beat Canada if they both sent the NHL guys to the Olympics?

I think they would have had a very good chance. We go into tournaments now as one of the favorites, whether it's the World Juniors, World Championships, the Olympic Games. Men or women, we have a great group of talented players that play in this country. Why can't we go over and compete and win?

Olympics: Ice Hockey-Women Team Group A - FIN-USA
United States forward Kendall Coyne (26) celebrates after scoring a goal against Finland during women's hockey group A play in Pyeongchang. USATSI

Have you seen the new USA uniforms?

I have not. Usually they go with the 1960 throwbacks, I think. I don't think they've ever worn the jersey from the 1980 team. I haven't seen the new ones, though. I'll have to Google it.

Brace yourself. They are…something. Do you think they should wear the 1980 jerseys again or do you kind of like the fact that they're untouched?

Maybe it would be good luck, I don't know. I always tell people -- what we did is what we did, and it was 38 years ago. I would love to see another team win a gold medal. I think it would be a great tribute to USA Hockey and the players themselves. 

We're not like the Miami Dolphins where we hope nobody goes undefeated. We want gold medals. We want to show the world how talented the U.S. players are.

Besides your own Olympic moment, what's your favorite Olympic moment in history?

I think I have two – first, when the U.S. women won their first Olympic gold medal. That was a breakthrough and an unbelievable victory to see how far they've come in hockey. The other would probably be T.J. Oshie's performance in the shootout [against Russia in 2014], but I also go back to Salt Lake City and the team that won silver. That was a pretty talented hockey team. Those are moments that strike me as far as the sport of ice hockey goes. 

Pete Blackburn is from Boston, so there's a good chance you don't like him already. He has been a writer at CBS Sports since 2017 and usually aims to take a humorous and light-hearted approach to the often... Full Bio

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