Certain problems arise when one sets about the job of putting together an amateur ice hockey team to represent the United States in the Olympic Games. The word "amateur" is one. The Olympics are for amateurs, of course, and athletes who accept money for their sporting efforts are not amateurs—though this indictment depends more or less on arbitrary definition, since some amateurs are more amateur than others. Whatever the definition, the act of taking pay for playing has caused assorted runners, boxers, soccer players, figure skaters, swimmers, shotputters, skiers and others to be tossed from time to time on the athletic rubbish heap as sacrifices to the Olympic ideal that sport is for fun, not financial gain.
Ice hockey players are as subject to official disapproval as any other athletes, and perhaps even more so, since money and ice seem inextricably frozen together. The National Hockey League, the major professional organization in the sport, maintains farm clubs of amateur players—which appears to be a contradiction in terms. A young hockey player can pass back and forth between amateur and professional leagues with a facility and lack of censure that would be impossible in other sports. There is little hypocrisy involved in this, if you can accept amateur hockey's beautifully pragmatic definition of an amateur. An amateur, according to a prominent hockey official, is simply one who does not play in a recognized professional league.
That definition is generally accepted in hockey in non-Olympic years. In one famous instance, it permitted Grant Warwick, who had starred professionally with the New York Rangers before retiring to private business and amateur hockey, to lead Canada to a world amateur championship. When Olympic time rolls around, the definition necessarily gets stricter but, even so, the Olympic fathers show a remarkable tolerance of the easygoing way amateur hockey operates. It is a good thing, too, for otherwise there would be no Olympic hockey. An Olympic definition of an amateur is a person who is not now, never was and has no intention of ever becoming moneyed by virtue of his athletic skills or the fame generated by such skills. There are few topflight amateurs in any sport who would qualify under a strict construction of that definition, and hockey players would not have a chance.
For example, one amateur league in the U.S. makes no great secret of the fact that it guarantees some of its players an income of $125 a week. The player is given a job but technically is paid nothing for playing hockey. If, however, a $125-a-week job cannot be found, the amateur team may get him one at $90 and make up the balance itself.
January 27, 1964
It sounds cynical, but in practice it is a logical and admirable arrangement. The cities in the amateur leagues are generally not large enough to support professional hockey, and games usually are played only on weekends. Yet the cities are able to get excellent hockey players to man their teams. The player finds himself with a good job that he can develop into something permanent. Some players eventually become well-established local citizens for whom hockey is a sideline. They continue to play hockey anyway, for the same reason that other men golf or go bowling. They like it. In other words, they have changed from pseudo-amateurs into pure amateurs—those who participate in sport for the love of it. The paradox must give Avery Brundage pause.
It also gives organizers of teams to represent the U.S. in international hockey competition a staggering headache. They have already been denied the use of the good amateur players who have become officially tarred by the professional brush. A case in point is that of John Mayasich, the superb defenseman who was one of the most valuable if not the most publicized members of the victorious 1960 U.S. Olympic team, which upset Canada and Russia in successive games to win the ice hockey gold medal. He is still one of the best amateur hockey players in the world, but the fact that he coaches as well as plays makes his status as an amateur so open to challenge under Olympic rules that he was not even considered for the U.S. squad this time—which is a shame. The organizers turn to the other good amateur players, but those who are in college or who have become settled in jobs regretfully decline the honor, particularly in non-Olympic years. As a result, inexperienced teams of lesser players go abroad and get clobbered, and the organizing committee is criticized.
In Olympic years the recruitment problem is eased somewhat, even though the amateur definition gets stiffer. The glory and prestige of the Olympics are enough of a carrot to tempt most of the eligible top amateurs. In the last 10 world championship tournaments held in non-Olympic years the U.S. has finished better than fourth only once and three times did not even enter a team. But in the last three Winter Olympics—1952, 1956, 1960—our hockey team finished second, second and first.
Bill Reichart, captain of the 1964 Olympic squad, is a classic example of the career amateur whose head has been turned, whose imagination has been stimulated, whose ambition has been fired by the Olympics. In previous years Reichart never had to make the choice of playing or not playing because, Canadian-born, he did not become an American citizen until September of 1963. He did not play on Canadian national teams, because Canada's custom before this year was to select entire teams to represent the country, rather than groups of individuals, and Reichart has played principally on American teams—both college and amateur—during his adult career.
"I don't think I would have tried out for the U.S. team if this had not been an Olympic year," Reichart admitted recently. "It takes too much time. I couldn't afford it. But the Olympics are different. They're worth the sacrifice and the effort."
At 28, Reichart has been playing competitive hockey winter after winter for almost 20 years. He grew up in Winnipeg, where he was constantly in an environment of first-class Hockey. One of his close friends, an older boy who coached a kid team that Reichart played on, was Andy Bathgate, now captain of the New York Rangers and one of the superstars of the National Hockey League.
Reichart went to grammar school and high school in Winnipeg and then won a scholarship to the University of North Dakota, 140 miles south of Winnipeg in Grand Forks, N. Dak., on the North Dakota-Minnesota border. He played hockey there—he was All-America in 1955 and 1957—majored in geology and married an American girl. After graduating with a B.A. degree, he worked for two and a half years as a geologist with an oil company in Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta in western Canada. He disliked the long field trips, some of them lasting four, five, six weeks at a time, and finally quit. He played hockey in Denver and Minneapolis and eventually went back to Grand Forks with his wife—they had two children at that time and have three now—and looked around.
A friend told him he ought to go to Rochester, Minn., where he could get a job with International Business Machines and play hockey for the amateur Rochester Mustangs. Reichart followed his friend's suggestion, and it turned out splendidly. He has led the Mustangs in scoring for three straight seasons and helped them win two league championships. He has worked for IBM for three years now and, as far as he is concerned, he expects to be with them forever.
"I've moved up a bit in the company," he said, "and there's plenty of opportunity to move higher. I like the work, I like the company, I like the town. I started out working in IBM's recreation program—they have 2,700 employees, and they have activities and leagues in just about anything you could mention. Then I moved into personnel. What I do mostly is recruit technical personnel for various IBM programs. I travel quite a bit, interviewing technicians and engineers. We run ads in newspapers in different cities—I've gone as far away as Salt Lake—saying when our personnel man will be in town for interviews, and then we talk to people. You have to know what you're talking about. We may not need a vacuum-tube man at a certain time, but if a man has a good background his chances might be good later. You have about 20 minutes to a half hour for each interview, and you have to learn to size up people fairly quickly.
"At any rate, it's my work now. It's the important thing. There is no question about which comes first—my job or hockey. If there's a conflict, I don't play hockey. In three years I've missed only one day of work because of hockey, and that was when we got snowbound in Green Bay and couldn't get back home in time."
Reichart filed his first papers for U.S. citizenship on May 27, 1960—he recalls the date the way you would a birthday or a wedding anniversary—and applied formally for citizenship three years later to the day, the first permissible date. On Sept. 18, 1963 he became a U.S. citizen, a month or so later he tried out for the U.S. squad and a month after that he was elected U.S. team captain. He seems a natural for the job. He is primarily a playmaker, even though he scores a lot of goals (in the last 10 years he has led every team he played with in scoring). He is short and light (5 feet 7, 155 pounds), though, as the photograph at right shows, his strong, heavily boned face and broad shoulders make him seem heavier than he is. He has a pleasant, open personality, a good speaking voice and remarkable poise. He appears to relish the responsibility and challenge of leadership.
When he spoke of the effort and sacrifice involved in playing on an Olympic hockey team, he was not using empty catchwords. Reichart had to obtain special leave from his job (this was easy in hockey-happy Rochester) and, while the prestige of being an Olympian cannot hurt a rising young employee, being away from his duties for three months cannot help too much. Most of the time, too, he would be away from home, away from his wife and his children. After the first few weeks, when the team was shaken down to a workable size, the travel was almost constant. Hockey teams cost a great deal to equip and house and feed and move about, and resources are almost nil. To raise money the Olympic squad played an extensive schedule of exhibition games as it trained and practiced itself into shape. Because playing dates had to be accepted whenever and wherever they could be worked in, the schedule became an unbelievable crazy quilt. The squad flew from its training base in Minneapolis-St. Paul to Colorado, played four games in five days in Colorado Springs and then returned to Minnesota and began its real barnstorming, hitting 19 towns in 31 days. From Dec. 2 to Jan. 1, the squad traveled from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Muskegon on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, north to Houghton, Mich. on the Upper Peninsula, west to Duluth at the head of Lake Superior, south to Waterloo, Iowa, east to Madison, Wis., northwest to Winnipeg, Man., south again to Warroad, Minn. on Lake of the Woods near the northernmost point of the continental U.S., west to Grand Forks, N. Dak., back to Minneapolis, east to Hershey, Pa., north to Syracuse, N.Y., back west to Fort Wayne, Ind., Port Huron, Mich. and Rochester, Minn., east again all the way to Boston, south to Philadelphia, out west again to Chicago, back east to Johnstown, Pa. and finally to Princeton, N.J. before flying to Europe.
Players came and went during the tour. Promising hopefuls proved disappointing. Unheralded players looked better than anticipated. In the States, Eddie Jeremiah held himself carefully aloof from his squad. "I don't want to get too close to them yet," the U.S. coach, on leave from Dartmouth College, said. "A lot of them are going to be cut before we get to Europe, and if you're too friendly with them it can affect your judgment. When we get to the final squad, the 17 men we'll take across, then I'll get close. Then we have to become a team." During the long trips, and hurried meals, the few veterans of international competition told their less experienced comrades what it would be like at Innsbruck.
"You think you get excited during a game here. Wait till you hear that crowd whistling at you in Europe. They really gave it to us in Germany. We hit a couple of guys, and they got on us."
"The Canadians left a trail through Sweden. The Swedes were sore. Big headlines in the papers calling the Canadians dirty players."
"Stay close to the Swedes. They can't take it. But those Russians. You've never seen anything like those Russians, the way they skate, the way they pass!"
"In 1961 the Canadians bodychecked the Russians for 10 straight minutes at the start of the game. They didn't even try for the nets. Then the Russians tried to do it, but they didn't know how. They started getting penalties."
"Those Czechs can be good. Give them a goalie, that's all. They play good, rough hockey."
Walter Bush, the Minneapolis lawyer and hockey nut who, as general manager of the 1964 team was largely responsible for recruiting the squad, arranging the exhibition schedule, working out a budget, raising the money and taking abuse for everything that went wrong, said one night in the team bus, as it plowed its way through a Wisconsin snowstorm a couple of hours after midnight, "It's an awful lot of work. But hockey is a game I like very much. It's meant a lot to me, and I feel that whatever I can do for it in return I owe to it. I hope this team will do well in the Olympics. It's going against very tough opposition. The Russians are No. 1. You can put the Canadians, the Czechs, the Swedes and the U.S. in a hat for second. If we get a couple of good breaks, we could do it. We'll probably finish fifth. If we finish lower than that, I'll be disappointed. And I hope, I hope we do better."
In Europe the squad began to see what it would be up against in Innsbruck. The Americans had defeated the Czechs in an exhibition game in Chicago in December, but in Czechoslovakia in January they lost three straight times and later on they looked unimpressive as they beat a mediocre Swiss team. But they had played a staggering amount of hockey in two months and could have been slightly stale. Eddie Jeremiah said in Switzerland, "They're just going through the motions. Let's hope they rise to the occasion when they play the big boys in Innsbruck."
Bill Reichart said, "It's a long grind. I got home once or twice before we left for Europe, but overall I'll be away from my wife and kids for 10 weeks. A long time. But I'm an amateur hockey player, and the most important competition an amateur can ever be in is the Olympic Games. It's worth the trouble. It's quite an honor. I hope we live up to it."