The Miracle on Film

In between hockey weekends and practices, Mark Johnson took in a movie Monday

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Following a series at St. Cloud State last weekend, Wisconsin women's hockey coach Mark Johnson boarded a plan for Los Angeles to watch himself in a Hollywood premiere.


Well not really himself, but a visage of Mark Johnson, circa 1980, who nearly 24 years ago won a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic hockey team—the storied "Miracle on Ice."


The U.S. team that year, a collection of college hockey players, improbably upset a seemingly invincible Russian team, then defeated Finland to win gold. Generations of people, whether or not they are hockey fans or even sports fans, are familiar with Al Michaels' fever-pitch call as the final seconds ticked away against the Russians: "Do you believe in miracles?! Yes!"


Friday, the movie "Miracle" opens in theatres throughout the country. Monday, 19 of the 20 members of the 1980 team that dazzled the world in Lake Placid, N.Y. graced Hollywood for the premiere, including Johnson, who was hesitant to offer a review of the film.


"I don't want to give you any inside tips because like anything, if somebody tells you about a movie and you go watch it you are going with preconceived notions," Johnson said.


A leading member of the real-life "Miracle", Johnson led the team with 11 points. He scored two goals in the semifinal win over Russia, including the game-tying tally in the third period, and also scored the game-winner in the gold-medal game.


In the film, Johnson is played by 22-year old Eric Peter-Kaiser, who played junior hockey for three years and played Division III college hockey at Potsdam University in New York for one semester prior to being cast as Mark Johnson.


"He did a very good job," Johnson said. "He played junior hockey so he knew how to skate and stick handle, do all the things necessary. I think that's what is the most challenging part is getting the hockey scenes as realistic as you can."


Rather than find actors to play hockey, the makers of the movie found hockey players to replicate the Miracle on Ice.


"There were parts that were very realistic," Johnson said. "There were other parts that were made for Hollywood."


One piece that is universally considered realistic is the portrayal of Herb Brooks, the team's coach and leader, who passed away in a car accident last August.


"It was basically a story about Herb's vision and how he carried everyone through," Johnson said. "Kurt Russell does a great job of playing Herb Brooks…his mannerisms and ability to make it feel like Herb is actually in the movie is a credit to him."


The Miracle on Ice has been revisited often in recent years. Sports Illustrated dubbed it the ‘Greatest Sports Moment of the Century' in 1999 and two years later HBO released a documentary on the team's achievement. At the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, the team was honored during the opening ceremonies and lit the Olympic flame. Last year, the entire team was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.


Then, in the fall, Brooks' tragic death brought the memories back to the forefront again.


"It is just too bad that he never saw the end product because I think he certainly would have been proud of it and would have enjoyed it," Johnson said.


—Katie Gilbert contributed to this story

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