Mark Wells wants a piece of his Olympic history back in his hands, at least temporarily.
Once Wells, a member of the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” U.S. Olympic gold medal hockey team, has a chance to hold the hockey stick in his hands again – and perhaps recall a victory over the former Soviet Union en route to winning the gold medal that Sports Illustrated called the No. 1 sports moment of the 20th century – he’ll consider donating it to the city of St. Clair Shores, WDIV-TV (Channel 4) reports.
That’s what Wells intended to 30 years ago when he presented the stick – signed by all the team members and their coach, Herb Brooks – to Frank McPharlin, then the mayor of St. Clair Shores, Wells’ hometown.
The idea was to display the stick with memorabilia at the ice arena where Wells perfected the skills that would land him on one of the greatest Team USA hockey squads of all time and then re-dedicate the facility in the native son's name.
No one has seen the prized stick since.
“I don’t know if they stored it, or if they put in some other office,” Wells told the television station, adding he assumed it was safe. “I mean, who wouldn’t? … That’s why this is such a shock.”
For Wells, a 1975 graduate of St. Clair Shores, remembering that improbable march to the gold medal at the Lake Placid Games is bittersweet.
He chased professional hockey dreams after a whirlwind media blitz ended after the games, and when that didn’t work out, he went to work for a restaurant and blew out his back lifting a heavy box of produce, the Detroit Free Press said. The injury exacerbated a rare spinal condition he didn’t know he had.
The diagnosis not only took Wells off the ice, but also handed him the painful choice of selling his gold medal – for $310,700 – to pay for treatment. He was in and out of surgery to correct his crumbling spine for 20 years, most of it bedfast, before he was approved for disability in the early 1990s.
‘It’s Real. It’s Happening.’
Fast forward 30 years to the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.
The guard has changed at St. Clair Shores City Hall. Kip Walby has been the mayor since November 2011, elected after spending a dozen years on the city council.
Olympic buzz in a town that takes hockey more seriously than most tickled something in Walby’s memory.
Hadn’t there been a plan to rename ice arena where Wells had learned to love hockey in his honor?
McPharlin, the mayor 30 years ago, is dead and along with him the story of what became of the stick. So are the council members who voted unanimously to honor Wells by re-dedicating the arena in his name. But their intent was clear in council minutes, even if the hockey stick is nowhere to be found.
Walby told the WDIV he didn’t know about until he found a picture of Wells presenting the autographed Olympic memorabilia to McPharlin.
"We didn't know about the stick until we literally looked at these pictures that were in the archives over there and went, 'Oh my gosh, where is that stick?' " Walby told WDIV.
Walby and the city council were determined to make it up to Wells. The mayor tracked him down and arranged a meeting that took place on Valentine’s Day. A few tears were shed by everyone when Walby said the city planned to finally honor promises made more than three decades ago.
“I’m more excited than when I won the gold medal,”Wells told the Free Press. “It’s real. It’s happening.”
It’s official. The St. Clair Shores Civic Arena is now the Mark Wells Ice Rink and his number – 15 – hangs over the ice at the facility where Olympic dreams were born and nurtured for one member of the U.S. hockey team that shocked the world with its gold-medal win at Lake Placid.
But the whereabouts of the stick remains a mystery, one Wells would like to see solved.
"It would mean everything to me. I mean, that's what I put my childhood toward, playing hockey, and if we do recover it and if it shows up I would present it to the city," Wells told WDIV. “I felt I was stripped of some reward that I’d gained and represented not only the nation but the city of St. Clair Shores.”
And, Wells told the Free Press, he might even have his gold medal recast.
>>> Extra: YouTube Video of the Miracle on Ice Team USA's gold-medal moment at the Lake Placid Games.