Jack Kirrane was watching the 1948 U.S. Olympic Team practice at the old Boston Arena when the rink manager called out to the coach.
“He said to the coach, ‘I’ve got a better player in my workshop here than you have on the ice,’ ” recalled Kirrane.
Later that evening, the 17-year-old defenseman from Brookline, Mass., was playing in an exhibition game for the U.S. team. Kirrane was offered a spot on the ’48 Olympic Team following the game and would soon be heading to St. Moritz, Switzerland.
The U.S. squad finished fourth at the Games, as Kirrane could only watch Team USA’s final games because American Hockey Vice President Walter Brown kept him off the ice in fear that he would reopen the stitches in his face.
Kirrane’s playing days came to a grinding halt when he joined the military for three years, causing him to miss the 1952 Olympics. He found himself in a similar position before the 1956 Olympics as he watched the U.S. squad practice.
“Walter Brown was there and he says to me, ‘Are you trying out today?’ ” recalled Kirrane. “I said no. In fact I had my equipment in the car, but asked if I was eligible.
Walter says, ‘Of course you’re eligible.’ ”
It wasn’t as simple for Kirrane to pick up and take off like he did as a 17-year-old for the ’48 Games. He had a family and a job as a firefighter back in Massachusetts.
Despite his commitments, Kirrane was itching to get back on the ice. So he set his sights on the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif.
“I had to get ready to make that ’60 team,” Kirrane said. “I made it and that was it. I was there from day one until the end.”
He was there, not only serving as team captain and anchoring the blue line, but also playing outside the box from the conventional defensive position.
Nearly unheard of at the time, Kirrane would resort to blocking shots with his body to help alleviate the pressure off U.S. netminder Jack McCartan.
“I don’t think the Russians had ever seen a half-decent blocked shot,” Kirrane said. “I used to take pride in that — there’s a knack to it so you don’t get hurt.”
His blocked shots helped Team USA preserve a 2-1 win against the Canadians, as well as two comeback victories against the Soviets and the gold-medal deciding game against the Czech Republic.
Even after he was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987, Kirrane never strayed far from the rink in his beloved home state of Massachusetts.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Damian Rhodes dreamed of playing in the NHL as he worked his way through the youth hockey ranks in St. Paul, Minn.
He went on to play four years with the Michigan Tech Huskies in the late 1980s, and was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He received his big break in 1996 when he was traded to the Ottawa Senators.
With the Sens, he landed his first starting role. Wins were hard to come by early on, but as Ottawa improved, so did Rhodes’ bottom line.
Expansion in 1999 saw Rhodes pack his bags and head south to the Atlanta Thrashers.
Injuries would hamper Rhodes throughout much of his career.
He retired in 2003 and now resides in Scottsdale, Ariz., and has been working as a coach with the U.S. Sled Hockey Team.