The team was set. Nobody on the team wanted the new guys. So when Bill and Bob Cleary joined the US ice hockey team at the deadline, just prior to the start of the Olympic Winter Games in Squaw Valley California, their reception was, well, icy. “When we arrived on the rink in Denver, the other players walked by us without saying a word,” Bill Cleary told me recently.
“I thought, well, this is going to be fun.”
The brothers Cleary were members of the US ice hockey team and Olympic champions, not in 1980 – the Miracle on Ice- but in 1960, the so-called “Forgotten Miracle”. While Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione, and Mark Johnson became house-hold names at Lake Placid in New York, by beating the Russians on their way to gold and glory, the 1960 US ice hockey team did that first.
Captain Jack Kirrane, star goaltender Jack McCartan, John Mayasich, the Christian brothers, and the Cleary brothers shocked the hockey world by knocking off perennial powers Canada, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia in succession. The Cleary brothers alone accounted for 24 points in the seven Olympic games, and they weren’t even on the team two weeks before.
As Bill told me, they were businessmen first. He and his brother Bob were just starting a fledging insurance company. Bob was married and Bill was soon to be. Playing in the Olympics would have meant lost revenue. But the coach of the US team, Jack Riley, was heading a team that was struggling, losing to teams across the country. So Riley was persistent. “He kept calling me. I don’t know how many, but quite a few. I finally said, if you want to take me, you have to take Bobby too. Bobby was good, the leading collegiate scorer in the country, and was on the 1959 World Championship US team.”
Coach Riley convinced Bill Cleary to join, and with him came his brother Bob. This led to two cuts from the team, one very famous one – Herb Brooks – the eventual coach of the 1980 US team. But this decision proved decisive. Once the brothers Cleary joined, the team did not lose a single match prior to or during the Olympics.
Bob Cleary passed away a month ago, on September 16.
“Bobby was a classic centerman,” said his brother Bill. “He had a great ability to know where people were on the ice, a sixth sense. And he smelled the net. In the game against the Canadians, he scored the first goal. If you ever watch the game, he won the face off, and when Mayasich passed toward the net, Bobby was prone in the air when he chipped the puck into the net.”
Bill and Bob Cleary were brothers on the team, but when they first arrived on the team, as remarked on earlier, there was no brotherly love for them. It took one game in the Olympics to turn that around, according to Bill. “When we first got on the ice for the first game, my brother passed it to me. I shot the puck and it hit the other winger, and the puck went into the net. There’s a great picture of the three of us hugging each other. And when we started to win, it got better.
“Today, you would never know we had those problems in the early days. We’re all very close today.”
Many remember the 1980 Men’s Ice Hockey Team. But we cannot forget the 1960 team. Here’s the trailer of the film, “Forgotten Miracle”, depicting the journey of that pioneering American hockey team.
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