3 miracles over the ice players who became the New Jersey Devils

42 years ago, 8,500 fans gathered at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York, to witness what would become “the greatest sporting moment of the 20th century.” A team of college students led by coach Herb Brooks did the impossible by defeating the Soviet Union, a four-time gold medalist. The hard-earned Soviet Union lost to the United States 4-3.

Of the 20 players on Team USA’s roster, 13 have moved on to play in the NHL, and three have moved on to play for the New Jersey Devils. The first player I will highlight appeared in 1,099 games, and played 88 for the Devils, taking home the first and only Stanley Cup of his career.

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Neil Protein scored two goals and had three points in seven games during the Olympics. Throughout the tournament, he played in the third line, along with captain Mike Iruzioni. To this day, the 5-foot-9 forward is the only hockey player to win an NCAA title, Olympic gold, Hobby Baker award, and Stanley Cup. Coach Brooks knew Brutten was something special, and was quoted as saying he was the best ninth-grade hockey player he ever saw, and would send his assistant to watch Brutten for three years before he signed the young forward with Minnesota. Brooks later said that Protein was the best player he ever coached at the University of Minnesota.

Neal Protein from New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Broten’s NHL career began with the Minnesota North Stars, making his NHL debut during the 1980-81 season. On February 27, 1995, The Devils received Broten via trade from the Dallas Stars in exchange for Corey Millen. At 35, he was nearing the end of his career, but still felt he had something to prove, putting up 28 points in 30 games for New Jersey after being goalless in 17 with the superstars.

The former Olympic gold medalist was one of the Devils’ top strikers in the playoffs, with 19 points in 20 games, the team’s second-best striker behind Stefan Reicher. During the Stanley Cup Final, he led all skaters with three goals and three assists in four games. While former teammate Eruzione scored the most important goal of his career at Lake Placid, Broten scored at Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Minnesota native scored the series-winning goal for his team in Game 4 in the second period to win the Stanley Cup.

Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson cemented himself as Brooks’ head coach during the tournament, and was the team’s points leader with 11 in seven games. It was his late goal in the first half that led to the Soviet Union’s replacement of best goalkeeper, Vladislav Tretiak, with reserve goalkeeper Vladimir Myshkin. The Minnesota native scored the second goal in the third inning, setting the stage for Erzuni’s winning goal and Al Michael’s famous plea.

Like Protein, Johnson was sent to demons as part of the trade. The St. Louis Blues traded 5-foot-9 strikers to New Jersey in exchange for fifth-round draft picks and Shawn Evans on September 19, 1985. This marked his fifth NHL team, and at 28, he had 364 games under his belt. His experience and leadership led to him being introduced as one of the Demons’ first alternate captains during the 1986-87 season.

Related: Ex-Devil Mark Johnson: Where is he now?

Of the five NHL teams he played for, Johnson spent most of his time in New Jersey. The 5-foot-9 striker interviewed Peter Robinson of the Devils, and talked about how great it would be to play in the state of the park.

“New Jersey has been great for me,” Johnson said. “Qualifiers in 1988, Sean Burke came back from the Olympics and we went in that round just to get into the qualifiers… we lost to Boston in Game 7 (of the conference final). I’m not sure we could have beat Edmonton that year, but I think it was.” We could have played a game or two (compared to sweeping the Bruins).”

Johnson played 305 games with the Devils, scored 89 goals and won 229 points. He finished his National Hockey League career in New Jersey and hung his skates for good in 1992 after playing for two overseas teams.

Jack O’Callaghan

Chances are that if you watched the 2004 movie “Miracle,” you were a fan of Jack “OC” O’Callahan. Portrayed as a physical player who was the heart and soul of the team, it’s an accurate portrayal. The 6-foot-2 defender actually missed three games of the tournament through injury, but he fought back to play against the Soviet Union, even if it was a limited role.

“My role was limited when I got back, and it was hard not to play like I used to,” O’Callaghan said during an interview with ESPN. “I had to find other ways to contribute in the changing room and on the bench, to be supportive of my teammates, and to be a leader in that way.”

O’Callahan was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks with their 96th selection in the 1977 NHL Draft. He played on their blue streak for five seasons, scoring fifteen goals and 393 minutes of penalty kicks. He played a physical match and was adept at moving the disc forward.

𝑫️𝒔️?wire? Former #Blackhawks defensive man and 1980’s ‘Miracle on Ice’ member Jack O’Callaghan will drop the disc before tomorrow night’s game! https://t.co/ehCABT0lob

On October 5, 1987, the Devils demanded from the Chicago Blackhawks a Massachusetts native. He made his New Jersey debut after four nights at the Brendan Burn Arena, where he was reunited with former Lake Placid teammate Mark Johnson, and secured assists in the Devils’ 6-3 win. During his final season in the National Hockey League, he found himself on a three-game winning streak for the first time in his career, ending the season with 26 points in 36 games.

In 1982, the Colorado Rockies moved to East Rutherford, New Jersey, and became the Devils. There is plenty to marvel at in the team’s 40-year history including three Stanley Cup championships, and seeing three players from the 20th century’s greatest sporting moment wearing the Devils crest simply adds to the organization’s already rich history.



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