MIRACLE ON ICE…
It’s been more than 37 years since the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team stunned the former Soviet Union, in the game that’s recognized around the world as the “Miracle on Ice.” While that moment, and the eventual gold medal, are etched forever in the hearts and souls of so many Americans, few can recall that just eight years earlier, the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team won silver in Sapporo, Japan.
Just like the 1980 team, the 1972 squad featured mostly college and university age players from the mid-west and New England. Most played for Division I powerhouses like the University of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Boston University and Boston College. Others were from smaller schools to include Bemidji State University and Oswego State University, where Peter Sears was from.
Not much was expected from the 1972 team. The Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Finland and Sweden were all picked to content for medals. As for the United States, no one had them picked higher than fifth place. However, when the Games finished, Team USA trailed only the Soviet Union, who defeated them and won the gold and ahead of Czechoslovakia, which lost to the United States and finished with bronze.
Sears grew up in Lake Placid, New York in the 1950’s and 60’s and played as many sports as he could. While in high school, he won league titles in all three sports football, baseball and hockey.
After graduating from Lake Placid High School in 1965, Clarkson’s head hockey coach Len Ceglarski approached him about playing for the Golden Knights, but he wanted Sears to play one season of prep hockey at Northwood to get one more year of maturity and maybe play against a higher level of competition. So at the urging of three former high school hockey teammates, Sears settled on attending Oswego State, which just began its Division II program one year earlier.
Sears wrapped up his sophomore year with the Lakers and attempted to make the 1968 Olympic team, but after the first day of open try-outs, the squad’s coach Murray Williamson informed him that the team was selected. The young goaltender did enough to catch the coach’s attention and he offered Sears the opportunity to play for a team from Green Bay, WI.
Sears was in Green Bay for only four months. The United States was at war in Vietnam and he was drafted into the military where he spent two years as an infantry squad leader.
After the war, he returned to Oswego, signed up for classes and set his sights on resuming his hockey career and trying out for the 1972 Olympic hockey team. However, just before classes began, he became extremely ill and had a temperature of 105 degrees. His father took him to the VA Hospital in Syracuse, New York where they discovered he had malaria.
PATIENCE AND PERSEVERANCE…
Sears says it took him two to three months to fully recover and be ready for his junior season. After graduating in 1971, he tried out for the 1972 Olympic squad, made the team, and was the starting goaltender for 22 of the team’s exhibition games. Despite an impressive 3.41 goals against average, Coach Williamson informed him that he would be the team’s number-two goalie and that the starting job would go to Mike Curran.
With Curran in net, and after qualifying for Group A by beating Switzerland 5-3, the U.S. lost to Sweden, 5-1. They then pulled off the tournament’s biggest upset, topping Czechoslovakia, 5-1, before losing to the eventual gold medalists Soviet Union and skating past Finland 4-1.
In the Olympic tournament’s final games, the U.S. pounded Poland, 6-1, while Finland edged Sweden and the Soviets blew past the Czechs. Those results boosted the U.S. from fourth to the unexpected silver medal.
After the Games, Sears played three years of minor league pro hockey in Cleveland, Ohio, St. Petersburgh, Florida and Columbus, Ohio.
He returned to Oswego in 1975 where he spent the next 30 years teaching middle school. He also coached the Oswego High School boys’ hockey team for 23 years and guided them to 10 league championships, three sectional titles and four New York State Regional Championships. His squads also played for three New York State championship titles. Those coaching accomplishments earned him enshrinement, in 2000, into the New York State High School Hockey Hall of Fame.
Inducted into the Lake Placid Hall of Fame in 2006, Sears and his wife spend the winter months in Florida, before returning to Oswego in May.
To learn more about Sears and the forgotten 1972 U.S. Olympic hockey team, pick up the book Striking Silver, co-authored by Tom and Jerry Caraccioli.
Peter Sears grew up on Lake Placid, NY and attended Lake Placid High School before playing collegiate hockey at Oswego State University, where he became the school’s first-ever All-American. Sears was a member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team that won the silver medal in Sapporo, Japan.
Peter was Oswego State’s goalie coach, from 2000-2015 and was inducted into the New York State High School Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Lake Placid Hall of Fame in 2006.