Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review of "Striking Silver"

Sometimes when cleaning out bookcases, you find a gem or two that you forgot you bought or meant to read and never got around to it.  That was the case for me when I found this book that I bought a few years ago but never did read it.  After finding it, I made sure to read it while the Olympics were still on, and I am so glad that I did.  Enjoy my review of "Striking Silver."

“Striking Silver: The Untold Story of America’s Forgotten Hockey Team” by Tom Caraccioli and Jerry Caraccioli

Ice hockey, Olympics, United States

February 1, 2006

234 pages

4 ½ of 5 stars (excellent)

The United States has won the gold medal twice in Winter Olympics history – the scrappy team of 1960 and the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980.   However, there was another improbable medal won by an American hockey team in the Winter Olympics.  In 1972, the Olympics were held in a country not in Europe or the US for the first time, in Sapporo, Japan.  Expectations were not high for the Americans, as they finished dead last in the top group of teams during the 1971 World Championships and were not expected to do any better in this tournament. 

Why and how something different happened during those two weeks in Japan is described in the wonderful stories shared to the authors by the players of that team. The Caracciolis blend personal stories from each player and coach Murray Williamson along with brief descriptions of each game together in a wonderful and entertaining manner.  The stories told by the players were the best part of this book. They not only talked about their Olympic experiences but also how they felt about their adventures to make the team and how they bonded as a team.  

The book is also an illustration of how different an era that was, not only for Olympic hockey but for American society as well.  An entire chapter is dedicated to how a certain war affected the members of this team, simply titled “Vietnam.” Two players on the hockey team served in combat in Vietnam, goalie Pete Sears and forward Stewart Irving. The others either had served on “temporary duty” by playing on the American team or were able to avoid service because of a high draft number.   Something that I felt was sobering was that at the start of each player’s story, the page listed the player’s birthday, jersey number on the USA jersey and his draft number. 

Something that may surprise many fans, especially those who only know about the 1980 USA win over the Russians, was that the young American squad and the older, experienced Russian team bonded together during the preliminary games and during the Olympics themselves.   The Americans and their coach were enthusiastic students to learn the international game, and the Russians were happy to share some lessons.  Of course, that didn’t mean they were not rivals during actual game competition, but they did some off-ice socializing as well. 

The Olympic tournament was different at that time as well.  Of the 12 nations that sent teams, they were divided into two pools based on their rankings at the end of the 1971 championships.  As the bottom of Pool A, the US had to face the best team of Pool B, Switzerland in the elimination round.  That was the first game and each winner of the six games would qualify for the round-robin medal round.  The USSR did not have to play an elimination game and automatically qualified for the round.  After the Americans beat the Swiss and entered the medal round, they felt good about their chances. That paid off as they pulled off an upset of Czechoslovakia, lost only to Sweden and the USSR and won the rest of their games. They ended their play in a position to win a medal if Finland could beat Sweden, which happened and was the second biggest upset of the tourney.  Then one game was left – between bitter rivals Czechoslovakia and the USSR.  The Russians not only did not want to lose to their rivals, but if they won, their friends from the US would win the silver medal, as they would win the tiebreaker because they had beaten the Czechs.   As expected, the USSR won and the Americans were the silver medal winners in 1972.

This book brings all of the experience back from the player’s viewpoint and also by weaving a good description of what the international hockey life was at that time.  Any fan of Olympic hockey or hockey history will enjoy this entertaining and fascinating book about an American medal winning team that history has somehow overlooked. 

Did I skim?

Pace of the book: 
Excellent.  All of the stories, both those shared by the players and coaches and those of the games themselves were all brief enough to be quick reads, but informative and entertaining as well.

Do I recommend? 
Yes.  I would almost want to call this required reading for any fan of Olympic hockey.   The stories of each of these players are worth reading, and the humility of them is refreshing.   While the title was correct at the time of publication as the accomplishments of this group of young men was forgotten, this book will certainly help fans either remember what this team did or introduce them to a new group of fans.

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