St. Clair Shores native and 1980 Olympics hockey gold medal winner Wells dies at 66

St. Clair Shores native and 1980 Olympics hockey gold medal winner Wells dies at 66
St. Clair Shores native and 1980 Olympics hockey gold medal winner Wells dies at 66

Mark Wells, the last player added to the 1980 United States hockey team that became known as the famed “Miracle on Ice” gang at the Lake Placid Olympics, has died. He was 66.

The “Miracle on Ice” team announced their death Saturday on X, formerly known as Twitter.

A cause of death wasn’t announced.

“He was so much more than an Olympic hero,” Wells’ official Facebook page posted early Saturday afternoon. “He was a friend to everyone he met. Simply a great man. Please allow his family and loved ones the privacy they deserve in this time of great sorrow.”

Wells grew up in St. Clair Shores and graduated from Lake Shore High School in 1975, before playing at Bowling Green from 1975-79, despite having no scholarship until after his freshman season.

A standout forward, he was picked for Team USA ahead of the Lake Placid Olympics, after he had 83 points (26 goals) during his final season at Bowling Green.

He was small for his position, just 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, and Brooks considered others to round out Team USA, but Wells lobbied Brooks and won the last spot. He won that final spot, unlike Brooks, the legendary coach who was the last player cut from the 1960 team that won the gold medal.

“I remember spitting at his feet and saying, ‘No, Herb, this is my dream,'” Wells, who was injured shortly before the 1980 Olympics, putting his roster spot in jeopardy, told the New York Times for a 2002 story. “I worked my butt off for years. Let me have a shot.”

He got that shot, and was assigned to defend Valeri Kharlamov, the Soviet Union’s best player, in the first game of medal play (back then, the Olympics used round-robin to determine the medalists). The Soviet Union had won the four previous gold medals and five of the previous six, and were heavily favored in 1980, but the United States stunned the giants, 4-3. ABC sportscaster Al Michaels declared, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

Team USA went on to win the gold medal two days later, beating Finland.

Wells had three points (two goals) in the 1980 Olympics; the goals came against Norway and Romania in the tournament’s preliminary round.

Fellow Michigan native Ken Morrow, a Flint native and Wells’ teammate and roommate at Bowling Green, was also on the team.

“I had heard about Mark being this terrific player in the Detroit area when I was playing in Flint,” Morrow said in an interview on OctoPulse, The Detroit News/Detroit Red Wings’ podcast. “We were teammates on the Detroit Junior Red Wings in 1974-75 and we both got recruited to Bowling Green that year. The coach, Ron Mason, (future Michigan State coach) was one of the best coaches I ever played for and Mark was one of the best scorers in college hockey. He helped put Bowling Green on the hockey map.

“When Herb Brooks was looking for a fourth-line checking center with Eric Stobel and Phil Verchota, he went with the best skater and that was a big plus for Mark. Here’s a guy, a No. 1 center in college and all of a suddenly he’s asked to play a different role. You either adapted or you didn’t play. We ran four lines and our practices were geared to 45-second shifts.

Wells was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens 176th overall in the 1977 NHL Draft, and played briefly in Montreal’s system before he was traded to his hometown Red Wings. He refused the trade and was released from his contract, and landed in the New York Rangers system. He has never played in the NHL. Wells played briefly with Flint and Fort Wayne in the International Hockey League, Oklahoma City of the Central Hockey League, and Nova Scotia of the American Hockey League. His best minor-league season was with New Haven of the AHL, when he had 43 points (19 goals) during 1980-81.

By 1983, Wells was out of hockey, and returned to Michigan, where he began working in a restaurant. According to multiple reports, he suffered a bad back/spinal cord injury that led to a lifetime of pain. That led to multiple surgeries and a steady prescription of morphine, which he eventually begged the doctors to stop prescribing him.

“It makes you sleep, tired, numb,” Wells told The New York Times. “I was in a fog.”

Wells even went 16 years without skating, until just before a “Miracle on Ice” reunion in 2002 — two years before the hit movie, “Miracle,” was released in theaters, bringing a whole new generation into the team’s fan base. Wells participated briefly in a 2002 exhibition game, even getting off a shot on goal, despite concerns from his old teammates that if he played, he’d suffer serious injuries.

Wells spent most of his post-playing career in Michigan, in Metro Detroit and, later, up north. The medical problems led to financial issues, which led him to sell his 1980 gold medal for $40,000. The buyer eventually sold that gold medal for more than $300,000.

In 2014, St. Clair Shores’ rink at the Civic Ice Arena was named after Wells.

In 1992, he was inducted into the Bowling Green Athletics Hall of Fame.

“Sad day today for our 1980 Olympic team,” Mike Eruzione, captain of the “Miracle on Ice” team, wrote on X on Saturday, saying Wells died Friday. “Great teammate, obviously a great hockey player and we will miss him.”

Funeral arrangements weren’t announced as of Saturday night.

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@tonypaul1984

 
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