“What The Hell Happened To…?” has covered a myriad of subjects throughout its run. From hyped draft busts to Hart Trophy nominees. But this one is different from those. As a matter of fact, our subject in this edition is arguably more famous than anyone covered so far or anyone yet to be covered.
But that’s what happens when you lead the greatest upset in sports history. That’s what happens when you’re Jim Craig.
Getting his start with the Boston University Terriers, he led them to an NCAA Championship in 1978, following that up with an NCAA All-Star selection in 1979. His play with BU was enough to earn him a spot in the BU Hall of Fame in 1989.
He would be drafted by the Atlanta Flames before his collegiate success but it was the 1980 Olympic games in Lake Placid, NY where he would really leave his mark on the hockey world.
Heading into the tournament, the Soviet Red Army team was heavily favored having won gold in the last four Olympic games and the last two World Championships. The roster also featured notable names like Vladislav Tretiak, Viacheslav Fetisov, Valeri Kharlamov, Boris Mikhailov, and Alexei Kasatonov.
As the showdown drew near, calling the Americans heavy underdogs would have been underselling it. They were a rag-tag bunch of collegiate amateurs led by head coach Herb Brooks. No one, perhaps even some inside the American locker room, thought the game could be won.
But Jim Craig stood on his head, stopping 36 of 39 shots, to lead the Americans to the improbable victory. So great, in fact, that Sports Illustrated would name it the greatest sports moment of the 20th century years later.
Craig would again turn in a fantastic performance against Finland in the gold medal game to seal the historic run for the US. The Soviets, meanwhile, were so distraught at having lost to the Americans that they did not turn in their silver medals to get their names inscribed.
Craig, for all his heroics, was the star of both the tournament and the hockey world. He would join the Flames after the Olympics, even winning his first NHL start. But the magic quickly wore off and Craig was traded to his hometown Boston Bruins the follow season, being left off the 1981 playoff roster.
After spending the 1981/82 season with the minor league Erie Blades, Craig showed flashes of his Miracle on Ice form, winning goaltender of the tournament for the United States during the 1983 IIHF Pool B tournament. His performance was enough to earn him a contract with the Minnesota North Stars for the 1983/84 season.
But despite his best efforts, the magic just wasn’t there for Craig’s pro career and, after just three appearances for the North Stars, he called it a career.
Since his time in the NHL has ended, Craig has still enjoyed the success of Lake Placid. There are few days that go by where he isn’t asked about or reminded of it and that seems to be okay with him:
“I get asked if it gets old all the time, and the answer is no, it doesn’t,” Craig said. “I understand where people are coming from with the question, if it’s like “Groundhog Day” or something like that. But it’s not, not really. It’s such a special thing to be part of something that meant so much to people, to be part of something that happened 30 years ago and something that people will probably still be talking about 30 years from now.”
Craig is currently employed as a motivational speaker, spokesperson, as well as a marketing and sales strategist. He is president of Gold Medal Strategies, a Boston-area based promotions and marketing firm that also manages and represents him and his appearance business. Over the last quarter-century, Craig has provided strategic direction for employees and associates from more than 300 organizations.
He was once again rewarded for his on-ice successes in 1999 with an induction into the International Hockey Hall of Fame.
Though he wasn’t able to continue his success to the pro game, Jim Craig will forever be an American sports icon. You might believe in miracles but Jim Craig lived one and for that, he’ll never fade from memory.
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