Denver alum Craig Patrick made history at DU and miracles at Lake Placid

Photo: Craig Patrick, Tom Miller, Keith Magnuson & Murray Armstrong with the 1969 National Championship trophy won in World Arena against Cornell

LetsGoDU got exclusive access to an interview with Craig Patrick, a seminal figure as a hockey player for DU and an assistant coach to Herb Brooks 1980 USA Olympic hockey team. The self-described, “luckiest guy in the world” came to DU by chance when his uncle who was a general manager of the New York Rangers persuaded him to go to DU instead of turning pro.

Craig Patrick will be a featured speaker and guest at DU Alumni Weekend on Saturday, May 20th.

In 1967, the Denver hockey team went 28-5-1 under legendary Murray “The Chief” Armstrong. But Patrick remembered it was a photograph of the team members taken on vacation in Mazatlan that raised the ire of Armstrong. According to Patrick, Armstrong got control of the controversial vacation photo “and posted for the next two seasons in the weight room for motivation.” The talented Pioneers ripped off two consecutive national championships – winning  4-0 vs. North Dakota and 4-3 vs. Cornell and brought hockey glory to ‘Tramway Tech’.

“My greatest accomplishment,” Patrick said, “was graduating and winning two national championships.”

Image result for Hockey player Craig Patrick Denver Hockey

Photo: Captain Craig Patrick led DU to two national Championships

But Patrick’s role in hockey history extends well beyond the University of Denver.

On Feb. 22, 1980, the United States Olympic hockey team — which consisted largely of amateur players from the college hockey ranks — upset what was considered the world’s greatest hockey power, the Soviet Union, in Winter Olympic competition in Lake Placid, N.Y. The victory, now known as the “Miracle on Ice,” resonates across the sports landscape to this day because of its worldwide political ramifications at the time and a David-beats-Goliath quality. Patrick played a key role in making it happen.

Following his career at DU, Patrick played professionally for a decade, seeing time with the California Golden Seals, St Louis Blues, Kansas City Scouts, and the Washington Capitals. As his professional playing days wound down, Patrick’s place in hockey history was cemented forever with a phone call. While the University of Denver didn’t have a player on the 1980 Olympic hockey team (see our story on Greg Woods), Patrick (BA Economics, ’69) found his way behind the bench for the Miracle on Ice as an assistant under Herb Brooks.

Video: You can see a quick glimpse of assistant coach Craig Patrick getting a hug from the players at the end of the historic clip (above). 

According to Patrick, another assistant coach pulled out of the assignment. “Herb Brooks called and asked if I wanted to be an assistant coach and I said yes. When I asked him, ‘When do I start?'” Herb Brooks replied, “‘Tomorrow.'” Patrick marveled at Brooks organizational skills. Before the start of the 1980 Olympics, Brooks confided to Patrick, “Do you think we can win a medal?”

In an exhibition leading up to the Olympics, the USSR crushed the Americans in a game at Madison Square Garden 10-3 and, by all accounts, it wasn’t as close as the score indicated. The college kids looked overmatched against the mighty Soviet squad. However, 60 exhibitions and a brutal conditioning program allowed the Americans to close the gap and peak at the right time.

It all started with a tie against Sweden at Lake Placid. “We had to have that one”, said Patrick. Then, the USA raced by the Czechoslovakia 7-3. “We thought they (Czechoslovakia) were just as good as the Russians.” Next, Captain Mike Eruzione and his college teammates defeated the Soviets 3-2 in the Olympic semifinals. “The Russians couldn’t believe how fast we were,” said Patrick who attributed the conditioning of the team as a primary reason for their success. Many forget that the “Miracle on Ice” was not the gold medal game. The next morning, the USA had to defeat an excellent Finnish squad to secure gold and own a piece of sports history.

Patrick would go on to work as DU’s athletic director from 1987–89, and then as general manager with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. From 1989 to 2006, Patrick was the General Manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins overseeing the Pens’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992.

How does Craig Patrick feel about the current 2016-2017 Frozen Four championship Pioneers? “I am always proud to watch DU. I like the way they play. Aggressive on both ends (of the ice). It is a great place to play and go to school. It makes it hard to leave (early) and go pro.”

The ties to DU run deep with his daughter, Taylor, a current undergraduate at DU. Patrick also sees his Denver Pioneer hockey teammates as frequently as possible and is planning on a team reunion in Palm Springs.

Hockey 1969

Photo: The 1968 Team was admitted into the DU Hall of fame in 2010, led by legendary captains Craig Patrick Keith Magnuson and Tom Miller.

“My parents told me ‘when you find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life’. I got to live my dream.” When asked what drives him everyday, his response is clear, “When I need inspiration, I turn to God.”

If you want to listen to Craig Patrick speak and meet one of DU’s most distinguished alums, sign up for DU Alumni Weekend May 19-20 right here.

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