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Olympics inspire ’80 Blue Bombers team

Hockey coach Butch Martin recalls working at Olympic Center during the 1980 games

February 14, 2020
By ELIZABETH IZZO - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - At the Olympic Center during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, cheese sticks were a currency.

North Elba Park District Manager Gene "Butch" Martin, 68, served as operations manager at the Olympic Center at the time. He remembers those games as a blur of rapid-fire activity, endless setting up and tearing down, late nights with his crew and glimpses of games from a small television in an ice rink's Zamboni pit. And he remembers the lunches that the workers behind the scenes of the Olympics received each day - a mix of nuts, fruit and cheese sticks, which they traded like playing cards.

Martin didn't make it to the opening ceremony at the North Elba Show Grounds on Feb. 13, but he was there the night before.

Article Photos

Gene “Butch” Martin, who currently serves as the manager of the North Elba Park District, stands in his office Wednesday, Feb. 12, beside a poster for the XIII Olympic Winter Games signed by the 2012 Lake Placid Blue Bombers hockey team he coached.
(News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

"If you look at the pictures of the opening ceremonies, you'll see on the ice there's some skaters, and underneath the skaters you'll see some Olympic rings," he said. "The night before, Bob Allen, the arena manager, sent me, Tony Preston and a couple of other guys down there to paint those Olympic rings on the ice. We pretty much had no idea what we were doing, but somehow we got them on there.

"The day of the opening ceremonies, I was in the arena, and we had to fix the goalposts in the rink because (U.S. hockey team goalie) Jim Craig actually noticed they were off-center. So we had to rig up a thing for the posts where we could move the net and have both on center."

Martin saw the games within the context of the Olympic Center. He was there every day. Hockey and figure skating dominated his experience, with a few peeks at speedskating events on the Olympic Speedskating Oval, which he sometimes watched out the 1980 Rink windows. There were events on the 1932 and 1980 rinks. As for the U.S. hockey team's historic 4-3 "Miracle on Ice" win over the Soviet Union on Feb. 22 - yes, he was there, but not in the stands.

"I was actually in the Zamboni pits because we couldn't get around," he said. "We tried to peek through the crowd as much as we could. But CTV actually put a television in the Zamboni pit for us, so we could see what was going on 10 feet in front of us. We had to make the ice and get things ready, so that's where we always were."

The enormity of the moment wasn't so clear, then. The gold-medal game was still two days away, and there was a chance the U.S. would lose to Finland.

"I think at that time, you really didn't realize the impact it was going to have," he said. "It was exciting, of course, that we won. ... As the days went by and the importance of that day and the call by Al Michaels (ABC Sports) became more and more prevalent, it became, 'wow, this is going to be a big deal, and it's going to be a big deal for a long time.'"

And when the team went on to beat Finland 4-2 and secure the gold medal, Martin was there, too.

"That was exciting, of course, and something you'll never forget. Of course, now, the building held about 10,000 people - but I think there was about 50,000 people who said they were there," he said. He laughed. "It was a great moment, one of the best in the history of sports, and something I'm happy I was there for it and able to talk about it forever."

By the time the U.S. team had secured its place in history, the athletes - and their trainers and coaches - were like family to him. In the leadup to the games, the U.S. team trained at the Olympic Center for months beforehand, sharing ice with the local high school teams such as the Lake Placid Blue Bombers, before the school closed for the Olympics.

"It was almost like (they were) just a resident team," he said.

Martin, who was coach of the Bombers at the time, watched U.S. coach Herb Brooks's technique closely.

"We would do similar things. I'd steal a drill here or there and throw it into our repertoire," he said. "And we followed their spirit."

The Bombers included Adrian Strack, Tony Preston, Sam Kopchick, Jim Patterson, Joe Brewster, Greg Fisher, John Wisner, O.B. Preston, Mike Roberson, Tony Patterson, Dan Deighan, Andy Preston, Tim Preston, Kevin Magurk, Tom Pratt and Guy Conklin. Martin said when the Olympics were over, his team had moved into the U.S. team's old locker room.

The team had to come back from a near three-week absence from the ice because of the Olympics and play five playoff games. They won two games and took the Section X title and beat Plattsburgh's St. Johns in the regional playoffs. They came out on top in the state semifinal and final matchups, which they played on the same rink where the U.S. team had just won against the Soviet Union and Finland.

The Bombers went on to win the first-ever high school state title with a 4-1 victory over Ithaca.

"It was an amazing feeling, and we still talk about it," Martin said. "I use that, to this day. I see the guys, we talk about moments, and they still reflect on that."

After all these years, the legacy of the 1980 Olympics lives on here, he said.

"Five years ago, (the Blue Bombers) were in sectional finals in Plattsburgh. We had to recite the Herb Brooks speech in the locker room before, and a lot of the guys on the team knew it. So we would say, 'This is our time, this is our time to be there,'" Martin said. "And we did go on to win the sectionals that year and were able to go to Buffalo for the state championships that year. You use it when you can ... just to get that mojo, that magic out of it all."

Martin said watching players go out onto the ice in the Herb Brooks Arena still brings back memories.

"When the young kids come in and go in that same building and use that same locker room and go on that same ice," Martin said, "it kind of makes your hair stand up to see that. To this day, I'm in that building every day. It's still ... you walk in there and you get that thrill, knowing what happened in there."

But what he really took away from the 1980 Olympic Winter Games?

"The best thing was the way the Lake Placid people stepped up and got it done," he said.



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