Before the 1980 U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team shocked the world, the 1960 team, which wasn't expected to medal, pulled off upset wins over Canada and the Soviet Union en route to an undefeated tournament and Team USA's first ice hockey gold medal. Jack McCartan was the team’s goalie that Olympics and had a phenomenal tournament in Squaw Valley, California.
McCartan was a two-sport star at the University of Minnesota — hockey and baseball — and initially was cut from the 1960 Olympic team. But once he rejoined the squad, there was no stopping him.
After the Olympics, McCartan played professionally for the New York Rangers and Minnesota Fighting Saints until he retired as a player in 1975. He had five kids — three boys and two girls — and became a scout for the Vancouver Canucks.
On Aug. 5, McCartan, who now lives in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, celebrated his 85th birthday. USA Hockey recently caught up with the Olympic champion.
USA Hockey: You’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the 1960 team. What do you remember the most about that squad?
Jack McCartan: We had a good team. It’s not mentioned a lot that overall, we had a pretty good team. I think we had the best defense in the tournament with [John] Mayasich and [Jack] Kirrane, especially. Those guys were great. I think our forwards compared with anybody else and maybe a notch above some of them.
USAH: When did you play your best game during the tournament?
JM: The Canadian game [a 2-1 U.S. victory] was by far the best, I think. The Russian game was OK, but we were as good or better than them. I think we played better than them, especially in the third period. In the first two periods it was touch and go, but they weren’t dominating us by any means.
USAH: How did you find out you made the 1960 Olympic team?
JM: I was in the Army, and, of course, I got put on TDY [temporary duty travel] to try out for the Olympic team in Minneapolis. You know the story, there was a group from out west in Minneapolis and then there was a group out east in Boston. So, then when I got cut in Minneapolis there, I think we worked out for close to a month. It was the first of December, so I took a leave so I’d be home for Christmas. I was just kind of hanging around with my buddies and that and I wasn’t playing much hockey. I was just waiting for Christmas to come and I was going to go back in the Army and then one day [1960 Olympic team manager] Jim Claypool called me and wanted to know if I would like to come back. I said, ‘Yeah, it beats going back in the Army.’ I was kind of surprised about it, actually. I got put back on TDY again and went out to West Point and joined the group that was out there.
USAH: What made you a good goalie?
JM: I’ll tell you what, I played on a poor high school team [Marshall High School in St. Paul, Minnesota]. In four years, I think we won one game and maybe tied a couple. I went to the University of Minnesota, and, of course, freshmen weren’t allowed to play then, so, I practiced all that year. Then [Minnesota men’s hockey coach John] Mariucci and [Minnesota baseball coach] Dick Siebert got together and they both had people coming back in goal and at third base with the baseball team, so they redshirted me another year. I practiced for two years, and I think that’s where I kind of improved.
USAH: You played baseball and hockey in college and were a solid athlete. Did your athleticism help you be that good in net?
JM: I’m not boasting, but I think I was a pretty good athlete. I could play most sports. I wasn’t great at some of them, but I could play them. I just had a good athletic instinct, I think.
USAH: What’s hockey meant to you in your life?
JM: Well, it’s been my life, actually, outside of five years when I ran and owned a restaurant. It’s been my whole life. You know, I always liked hockey. When I was younger, I played more organized baseball and there wasn’t much organized hockey. But I always liked hockey. I remember telling my dad that when I was about maybe a junior in high school, I said, ‘I would like to play junior hockey.’ But I had no idea the caliber, but I wanted to go do that.
USAH: Having Olympic experience, did that shape who you became as a man and who you are today?
JM: I got a chance to play professional hockey because of that, and it’s a lot different playing professionally than it is playing amateur. How well you do depends on how you get paid and that. It was a grind. Back then [teams] only had one goalie and they played all the time. Even if he got hurt, they’d stop the game, stitch a guy up or give him a rest and he had to go out and play again. It wasn’t as much fun as amateur hockey, but I liked it.
USAH: Have you watched the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
JM: Yeah, I watch it. There’s a lot of games on.
USAH: Your hometown Wild didn’t make it past the qualifying round, but who do you root for?
JM: I like Vancouver, because I worked for them for 20-something years, so it’s kind of nice to see them doing well.
USAH: What kind of advice would you give youth players starting out or wanting to get into hockey?
JM: When I was younger, they used to have sports seasons: baseball, football, basketball, hockey. Now they play hockey 12 months out of the year, and I just don’t know if I would like to do that. I would think you’d take a break and play baseball or play football or soccer, something else just to give your mind a little rest from 12 months of hockey.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.