Americans Arrive Quietly At Innsbruck


Despite the fact that the UNITED STATES national team had lost all ten of its contests while being decidedly outscored 84-22 at the 1975 IIHF World Championships hosted jointly by Dusseldorf and Munich in West Germany, the American Olympic team arrived in Innsbruck via train from the Austrian capital city of Vienna quite hopeful, indeed, of earning a medal at the 1976 Winter Games.

Neither Canada nor Sweden, both upset over the continued inability to ice their world class (read, professional) players at the Olympics, were present in the Tyrolean Alps. And, although the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia were heavy favorites to occupy the top two spots, a target of third place – and the accompanying set of bronze medals – looked to be entirely possible for the U.S.A. squad steered by “Badger” BOB JOHNSON, the University of Wisconsin boss who had bagged the NCAA title in 1973 and coached the winless national team at the last World Championships in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland. The biggest obstacle for the defending silver medalists of the 1972 Sapporo Games figured to be skillful Finland, with the physical West Germans and the improving Poles also standing in the way of the Americans at Innsbruck.

It was an open secret that Johnson’s squad at Innsbruck was not necessarilly the strongest United States team possible. Aside from the fact National Hockey League expansion and the rise of the rival World Hockey Association circuit in the early 1970s had meant that more American players than ever were signing professional contracts and becoming ineligible, several top collegiate skaters had also decided by skip the ’76 Innsbruck tournament for whatever reasons. And, to make things worse, the U.S. Olympic team lost its leading scorer with the Winter Games less than two months away.

Diminutive yet dynamic defenseman RON WILSON, an 8th round (# 132 overall) selection of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1975 National Hockey League Draft, was leading the ’76 U.S. Olympic team having totaled 47 points (15 goals, 32 assists) in just 27 exhibition games. But the 1975 and Eastern College Athletic Conference Player of the Year and NCAA All-American (East) abruptly left in December and returned to Providence College, where the native of Windsor, Ontario, once again earned All-American (East) honors at the end of the 75/76 season. Ironically enough, Wilson would later go on to become the head coach of the United States contigent for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games hosted by Vancouver in western Canada.


STEVE JENSEN in 1976 Canada Cup uniform

The United States were counting heavily on the goal-scoring talents of STEVE JENSEN, who had captured the 1975 NCAA championship with Michigan Tech. The 20-year-old winger was, in the eyes of the National Hockey League, the brightest pro prospect on the 1976 U.S. Olympic team having been taken by the Minnesota North Stars with the 58th overall pick (4th round) of the 1975 NHL Draft after scoring two goals at the IIHF World Championships earlier that spring. Jensen was one of eight American players at the Innsbruck Games who had also gone to West Germany with Johnson a year earlier.

WILLIAM “Buzz” SCHNEIDER, an NCAA titlist with the University of Minnesota in 1974 and a 6th round (# 98 overall) draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penquins, had found the back of the net no less than eight times to easily pace the United States at the ’75 IIHF WC. The “Babbitt Rabbit” also stood out in West Germany by scoring three goals in a single game against U.S.S.R. goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, the CSKA ‘puck tamer’ thought by some to be the world’s very best between the pipes. Unfortunately for Johnson’s charges, however, Schneider’s regular centerman at “the U” and with the United States national team, 1975 NCAA All-American (West) MIKE POLICH, was already playing professionally with the Montreal Canadiens’ top affiliate, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, in the American Hockey League.

The leading scorer over the course of the exhibition schedule for the 1976 U.S. Olympic team had been BOB DOBEK, the center from Bowling Green State College whom no club in either the established NHL or the upstart WHA had even bothered to draft. Another expected to provide some scoring punch, the tiny (5’7″ 155 lbs) STEVE SERTICH, had gone off to play in the West German Bundesliga after concluding his career at Colorado College. Sertich was one of the more internationally-experienced players for the Americans having appeared at the 1974 and 1975 IIHF World Championships previously.


STEVE ALLEY (11) and BOB LUNDEEN (8), a pair of Minnesota natives as well as National Hockey League draft picks, were both members of the University of Wisconsin team that captured the NCAA title in 1973 and also both appeared for trainer “Badger Bob” Johnson’s United States squad at the 1975 IIHF World Championships in West Germany.

1976 UNITED STATES Olympic ice hockey team

Bob DOBEK ………. Bowling Green
Steve JENSEN ……. Michigan Tech …… 1975 – 4th rd, Minnesota North Stars
Bob MILLER ………. New Hampshire ….. (1976 – 4th rd, Boston Bruins)
Dan BOLDUC …….. Harvard
Steve SERTICH …… EV Fuessen (WGer)
Buzz SCHNEIDER … Minnesota ……….. 1974 – 6th rd, Pittsburgh Penquins
Steve ALLEY ……… Wisconsin ……….. 1973 – 9th rd, Chicago Black Hawks
Ted THORNDIKE …. Harvard
Bob LUNDEEN ……. Wisconsin ……….. 1972 – 8th rd, Minnesota North Stars
Robby HARRIS ……. Minnesota
Doug ROSS ……….. Bowling Green

Dick LAMBY ……….. Salem State ……. 1975 – 8th rd, St. Louis Blues
John TAFT ………… Wisconsin ………. 1975 – 5th rd, Detroit Red Wings
Gary ROSS ………… Bemidji State
Paul JENSEN ………. Michigan Tech … 1975 – 8th rd, Chicago Black Hawks
Jeff HYMANSON …… Albuquerque ….. 1974 – 15th rd, Minnesota North Stars

Jim WARDEN ………. Michigan Tech … 1974 – 5th rd, California Golden Seals
Blaine COMSTOCK .. Warroad Lakers (Minn)

The defense was anchored by 1976 U.S. Olympic team captain JOHN TAFT, the only skater for the United States to have appeared at the last three IIHF annual tournaments. The University of Wisconsin product and 1973 NCAA champion was the Americans’ third-highest rated player according to the Detroit Red Wings, who had chosen the rearguard in the 5th round (# 81 overall) of the 1975 NHL Draft. The biggest defenseman was the 200-pounder DICK LAMBY, the two-time NCAA Division II All-American from Salem State College in Massachusetts who had alredy been drafted by the St. Louis Blues and would transfer to and become 1978 NCAA champion with Boston University.

Historically speaking, the United States always required a heroic effort from their goaltender in order to attain Olympic hardware. Both WILLARD IKOLA (University of Michigan) and JACK MCCARTAN (University of Minnesota) had earned Best Goaltender honors from the IIHF Directorate when the Americans won the silver medal in 1956 and the coveted gold in 1960, respectively, while MIKE “Lefty” CURRAN (Green Bay Bobcats) had also been critical to the second place finish at the Sapporo Games in 1972. And so, many hopes rested on the shoulders of one JIM WARDEN.


Michigan Tech goaltender JIM WARDEN (1), chosen by the California Golden Seals in the 5th round (# 75 overall) of the 1974 National Hockey League Draft, makes a skate save as University of Minnesota forward PAT PHIPPEN (11), the 10th round pick (# 118 overall) of the Minnesota Fighting Saints in the 1973 World Hockey Association Draft who later represented the United States at the 1976 IIHF World Championships in Poland, looks to whack home the rebound during a Western Collegiate Hockey Association contest in December of 1974.

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