The Flyers will hold training camp on Lake Placid until Sunday. (Zach Hill, Philadelphia Flyers)
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Vinny Lecavalier was here once before, to watch his younger brother play.
That was certainly fun for Lecavalier and his family, but to actually take the ice at the Lake Placid Olympic Center was a far different experience -- much better than sitting in the crowd cheering on Clarkson University.
“It means a lot,” Lecavalier said. “I’m Canadian, but the hockey history obviously is a lot, coming to this arena. It’s great, it’s a beautiful town and we’re happy to bond as a team.”
It’s impossible to enter this building, and especially the actual rink on which the 1980 U.S. team surprised the world and won Olympic gold, without being hyper aware of a sense of what was accomplished here. That’s true for the many visitors who come through the Center every day on tours, but even more true of the 27 Flyers here for camp -- their coaches, too.
“It’s important for Americans and for USA hockey,” Adam Hall said. “You have milestones, that for the longest time for the Soviet Union and Canada were so dominant. To be such huge underdogs at that time in American history was something that the American people really rallied around. I think that’s why it was such a big deal.
“The World Cup of hockey in ’96, the World Juniors, you just go down the line, there’s been some great milestones in the USA hockey programs. It’s nice to see.”
Hall is one of only three Americans on the Flyers’ training camp roster -- Hal Gill and Chris VandeVelde are the others.
Even those who weren’t alive at the time of the Miracle on Ice are excited to spend time at a place so important to the growth of their sport.
“It’s pretty cool,” VandeVelde said. “There’s a lot of history here. You grew up hearing that story. You always look back at it. It’s definitely neat. I’m excited to see the town and kind of get more acquainted with it.”
While there’s business to attend to on the ice while they’re here, the Flyers aren’t just in Lake Placid to perfect coach Peter Laviolette’s systems in a historical setting. They’re here to get some time away from Philadelphia, to get to know each other better in a small town away from their friends, families and daily routines.
There are “Welcome Philadelphia Flyers” signs peppered around all over town -- at shops, restaurants and the town’s only movie theater, where the full team will take in a show Thursday night.
As Lecavalier said, they’ll be spending “basically 24 hours a day” together.
“It’s fun,” Claude Giroux said. “I’ve never been here before. We came straight [to the rink after getting off the plane], so I haven’t had time to look around. But I know we have a couple activities this weekend. I heard it’s a very nice place. I can’t wait to see it.”
The conditions at the Olympic Center aren’t exactly glamorous. The locker room in which the U.S. team dressed before their gold medal game hasn’t been updated since 1980, in fact.
But those minor inconveniences -- small locker rooms, rough ice, having to balance on rubber sheets as they walk across concrete from rink to rink -- adds to the experience of history, according to Hall.
“It’s an old building,” he said, “but you can feel a connection with the past and things that happened here.”