FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 06/27/2022
CONTACT: Jon Lundin, Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games Head of Communications & Media ([email protected]) Tel: 518-637-6885
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Eight years before the 1980 Miracle on Ice, another team of unsung, mostly college-aged U.S. hockey players took on the Soviet juggernaut during an international Games in Lake Placid, N.Y.
It didn’t go as well. The 1972 FISU World University Games saw Team USA’s only win being the bronze medal itself — the Americans went 0-6 in the three-team tournament with the Soviet Union and Canada.
When the 2023 FISU World University Games return to Lake Placid Jan. 12-22, a dozen men’s and eight women’s hockey teams are expected to vie for gold. The Russians or Belarussians might not be a part of the Games’ hockey tournament. This could open the door for another nation to win gold in an event owned by the Soviets or Russian teams, winners of 13 of 25 FISU World University Games tournaments. The 1972 bronze remains the only FISU ice hockey medal awarded to the United States.
Women’s hockey debuted in 2009, with Canada and Russia tied with three golds apiece.
The FISU World University Games, a global sports and educational event, is expected to draw close to 2,500 collegiate-athletes and delegates from more than 50 countries and 600 universities to Lake Placid and the surrounding north country region to compete in events that include skiing, skating, ski jumping, snowboarding, hockey and curling.
In 1972, the biennial winter FISU Games was just getting its footing after its 1960 debut in Chamonix, France, with ice hockey starting in 1962. Teams stayed in dormitories at Plattsburgh State and practiced at the now-named Ron Stafford Ice Arena, built in anticipation of the competition. Games were played in Lake Placid, said Lake Placid’s Jack Levitt, a member of the 1972 USA hockey team.
Unlike the 1980 Olympians, whose famously intense tryout and exhibition season under coach Herb Brooks is now Hollywood lore, the 1972 FISU Games’ U.S. team was a hastily assembled bunch, thrown together just a couple of weeks before the Games.
The Soviets were not. One of them, Yuri Lebedev, would play on the 1980 Soviet silver medal squad.
“I doubted if any of the Soviets played college hockey or went to college,” Levitt said. “I thought they were the Select younger players of the Soviet system that did not make their Olympic team.”
Fifty years later, Levitt still remembers how big, skilled and disciplined the Russians were. Off-ice, they wore military uniforms. “It was striking for me to watch the Russian team march in formation to the rink,” he said.
Canada was no slouch either, an all-star group assembled from the Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union.
The U.S. team’s losses included a 9-0 drubbing by the Soviets in the opener and an 8-1 defeat by Canada at the end. Its closest contest was a 5-3 loss to Canada. The Americans were outscored 21-4 by the Soviets. When the U.S. managed to score first in their last matchup, a 4-1 Soviet win, a reporter took a scoreboard photo of the short-lived USA 1, USSR 0 lead. The Levitts kept the photo for family posterity.
Lake Placid’s Bob Allen, then-manager of the Olympic Arena, called Levitt less than a month before the FISU Games opened. Levitt was working for Albany International Corporation as an industrial engineer, having earned his MS degree from Clarkson University in 1971. “Bob said, ‘Jack, the U.S. team is just getting together. I believe you’re eligible.’” Levitt was playing in the Eastern Hockey League, so was still in game shape.
Levitt served two years in the military after getting his BS at Clarkson in 1968 and was the team’s veteran at age 25. Most others, including Lake Placid’s Leonard Williams – who would go on to a Hall of Fame career at Rochester Institute of Technology – were college age. About half were from schools in the Western U.S. and half from the East.
The team trained for two weeks. “The U.S. team was at a huge disadvantage,” Levitt said. “I didn’t know any of the players. They made the centers of each line captains. I centered the first line with Lenny on my left wing. Lenny was a hell of a hockey player and worked his tail off.”
Levitt said: “We were a pretty loose bunch of guys looking to play hard and have a good time. Our discipline on and off the ice was a big factor in the scores of our games.”
Levitt doesn’t know what happened to his medal. Still, he’s proud for having played. His grandmother, a soccer fanatic, traveled from Belgium to watch him. “Plus, it was in my hometown and my parents were always rock-solid behind me and followed whatever sport I was playing,” he said. “I was thrilled that they could see me play for the United States.”