Mark Wells was honored at the 1980 St. Clair Shores Memorial Day Parade.

Mark Wells was honored at the 1980 St. Clair Shores Memorial Day Parade.

Photo provided by the St. Clair Shores Historical Commission

Remembering 'Miracle on Ice' hockey player Mark Wells

‘Unsung hero’ of Team USA played his part for more than just the gold

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Metro | Published May 30, 2024

 Bowling Green State University and 1980 United States men’s Olympic hockey teammates Mark Wells, left, and Ken Morrow, right, a Flint native, stand together.

Bowling Green State University and 1980 United States men’s Olympic hockey teammates Mark Wells, left, and Ken Morrow, right, a Flint native, stand together.

Photo provided by David Rubello


METRO DETROIT — In order for a team to achieve greatness, it’s vital for everyone to understand their role and play it to perfection for the well-oiled machine to operate successfully.

Everyone has a part to play, starting with setting their egos aside and doing what is asked of them in order to benefit the team.

For the 1980 United States men’s Olympic hockey team, St. Clair Shores native Mark Wells did just that.

“As a player, he was as good as it gets,” said Mike Eruzione, the captain of the 1980 U.S. hockey team. “He’s another unsung hero on our hockey team. Mark was awfully good, and he had a key role in our success by just doing his job. That fourth line did a great job during the Olympics.”

Courtesy of Wells’ play alongside his linemates Phil Verchota and Eric Strobel, the U.S. outlasted some of the top teams in the world, including the Soviet Union, which dominated Olympic hockey throughout the ’60s and ’70s.

In the famous matchup with the Soviet Union in 1980, on Feb. 22 in Lake Placid, N.Y., during the medal round of the men’s hockey tournament, Wells, who was second on the team in points at Bowling Green State University the season before he joined the U.S. team, was asked to step into a certain role.

“He (Mark Wells) said, ‘Herb pulled me over, and it was the only time in my career that (he did that),’ because my brother was a scorer,” said John Wells, the older brother of Mark Wells. “He was a better assist guy than a scorer. Herb tells him, ‘Mark, I don’t care if you get a goal in this Russian game, but I need you to help shut down (Vladimir) Petrov,’ who was just tearing the Olympics up. He was probably the best Russian. My brother said, ‘John, nobody ever told me not to try and score.’”

The rest has been covered extensively as the U.S. did the unthinkable, defeating the Soviet Union 4-3 and winning the gold medal two days later in a victory over Finland. As the U.S. team dogpiled onto each other after the win over the Soviet Union, Wells’ No. 15 jersey is easily visible in the television broadcast at the center of the celebration.

It was a surreal moment for Wells, who suffered a hairline fracture in his ankle four months before the Olympics on a training run with U.S. assistant coach Craig Patrick, and was the last player added to the 1980 Olympic team roster.

Off the ice, Wells carried his selflessness on his sleeve, which made the news of his passing on May 18 in Escanaba, Mich., a devastating loss for all of those who’ve had the pleasure of watching, meeting or knowing him.

A 1975 St. Clair Shores Lake Shore High School graduate, Wells was a local legend based on his Olympic accomplishments alone, but also as a National Hockey League draftee in 1977 when the Montreal Canadiens selected him 176th overall. Wells played from 1980-1982 but was unable to suit up in an NHL game in his career. He returned home and was a restaurant manager in Rochester Hills.

After suffering a fractured vertebra, Wells was forced into early retirement by a rare spinal disease that left him bedridden for nearly nine months after surgery. He battled constant pain daily up until his passing.

The city of St. Clair Shores recognized its hometown hero in March 2014 when the Civic Arena’s Olympia Rink was renamed the Mark Wells Ice Arena.

A ceremony was held in his honor, and Wells returned the favor by making sure every attendee received a moment they’ll never forget with him.

“After that (event), he was supposed to sign autographs for an hour,” John Wells said. “It was 2014. I could not believe how many people were there. It was like, wow. I could hardly get from the entrance of the doors to the ice arena. Afterwards, we were going to meet at the Blue Goose Inn because my grandmother worked there until she was 72. We’re just going to meet there because it’s a great place, it’s in St. Clair Shores, and grandma works there. All of a sudden, it’s getting late. Mark stayed until the last kid got the signature. I think he was supposed to end the signing at 5 and I’ll bet you he stayed till 7 or 8, but he didn’t leave until the last kid.”

Wells aimed to be that kind of person with his fans, and sometimes his fans became part of his family. That was the case with Luke LaPlant, a friend of Wells in Escanaba.

LaPlant wrote a fan letter to Wells back in 2015, and in the blink of an eye he was on the phone with the gold medalist for two hours and appointed as Wells’ primary social media and fan mail executive.

“He was just a good person,” LaPlant said. “He would help countless everyday people who were maybe worse off than he was financially, and he would not want any credit for it. He would lend his car to people who needed it. He was very giving, and he cared for people.”

Wells would go live on his Facebook page, now renamed to “Remembering Mark Wells,” in efforts to interact with fans, and LaPlant said the page continuously was stormed with messages from fans showing their love for Wells.

Since Wells’ passing, LaPlant said the outpouring of messages to the page has been overwhelmingly touching, and said it just goes to show the type of impact Wells had on his fans all over the world.

“He liked going live on his Facebook page and interacting with his fans, and we would get done with an hour chat on his page and sometimes we would privately call a fan and we would chat for 15-20 minutes, and he would tell stories,” LaPlant said. “He loved it, and the fans loved it.”

Bowling Green State University honored Wells and Ken Morrow, a Bowling Green and 1980 U.S. hockey teammate of Wells, in February 2022 with their very own custom U.S. hockey bobblehead for the hockey team’s Olympic night.

Wells was inducted into the Bowling Green Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992 after playing for the Falcons from 1975-1979.

John Wells and his wife, Nancy, were able to make the trip for the ceremony where John said a moment took place that he’ll never forget.

“At that event, this couple walks up, and they’ve talked to Mark, and they came up to me and said, ‘John, our daughter died at 12 of a very rare disease, and we said we’d like to start a foundation to get a cure, and we asked Mark if he could help,’” John Wells said. “‘If it wasn’t Mark, this would have never gotten off the ground because he gave us stuff that we could sell, and we did and we started this foundation that’s still going today because of your brother.’ I thought that it was cool for me that he did good. He cared.”

John Wells is the older brother — by 17 months — who Mark always respected and admired. Mark scored both of his Olympic goals in both games (Czechoslovakia and Norway) that John attended in Lake Placid. Mark also has a younger sister, Lori, who is 13 years younger than him.

The Wells brothers shared the ice a handful of times as teammates throughout their life, dominating the opposition as representatives of St. Clair Shores hockey.

“Our town, St. Clair Shores, was probably the best hockey town probably until Mark and I were 15, 16, or 17 years old,” John Wells said. “Your team could only be from St. Clair Shores, but we had some good teams that were competitive, even with the Canadians. Mark and I were on a team when I was 15 and he was 14, and we played in Canada probably 30 times because we had maybe two teams in Michigan that could even give us a game. Now, that team ended up having seven or eight scholarship hockey players from this little dinky town. I have no clue why that happened, but it did.”

Before Wells’ passing, it was only fitting he was able to make it back to Lake Placid one last time as the “Miracle” team held their eighth annual Miracle On Ice Fantasy Camp in early May of this year with Eruzione, Mark Johnson, John Harrington, and many other members of the 1980 team teaming up with over 60 campers. Attendees get to play alongside their heroes over the course of a four-day camp.

“We get anywhere from 10 to 13 players to come back, and it’s always fun to go back to Lake Placid obviously, but it’s even more fun to go back and all the guys are there,” Eruzione said. “We sit in the same locker room where we dressed and just kind of share some funny stories. We have the most immature, 60-plus-year-old men you’d ever want to be around. We’re like little kids when we get together.”

While Wells was unable to play, he served as the camp commissioner each year while also supplying plenty of laughs to his former teammates.

That’s what Wells did best: He put smiles on everyone’s faces around him.

“As a person, he’s very unique,” Eruzione said. “He’s a character. He was a funny, funny guy. Sometimes when we get together to do a Q&A and Wellsy gets a question, you have got to take the mic away from him because he’ll just keep talking, but in a good way. We love Mark. He was a great teammate. He was somebody who cared a lot about people. Not just our team, but in general. He was a very generous man. He helped a lot of different people for a lot of different causes in the Michigan area.”


Memories of Mark Wells
Luke LaPlant on what Mark Wells thought of Herb Brooks:

“Mark always spoke very highly of Herb (Brooks). He would never say a bad word. The only time he would really get fired up is when he would talk about the time that Herb told him he didn’t think he (Wells) had it after he broke his ankle. I believe Mark broke his ankle four months before the Olympics on a training run with Craig Patrick, and it was after an exhibition game in Oklahoma City. Mark had flown from Nova Scotia to Oklahoma City, and after the game Herb had Mark skating on the ice and said, ‘I don’t think you have it right now.’ Mark said he skated a circle around Herb and spit at his feet and said, ‘You’re not going to take my dream away from me. I’m going to make this team.’”


John Wells on the moment Mark Wells found out he made the U.S. team
“After the period in Joe Louis Arena (during an exhibition game between the U.S. and Canada on Feb. 5), he (Mark Wells) said Herb (Brooks) comes up to him, and he doesn’t know he’s dressing yet, and he tells my brother, ‘Hey Mark, please meet me in section 356.’ That’s in the nosebleeds of Joe Louis Arena, and of course my brother told me he had no clue what was going on. Maybe he thought he was going to cut him, right? He had to cut somebody. He said, ‘I get up there,’ and he had to dress and shower, and Herb was up there waiting. My brother said that Herb told him, ‘Mark, you’re dressing,’ and he knew he meant Friday. Herb then just left. That’s all he told him. He goes, ‘Why in the hell did I have to come way up here?’ That’s just Herb.”


Mike Eruzione on favorite memory of Mark Wells
“I think my favorite one was when he showed up the first year of the fantasy camp and he forgot his teeth, and I said, ‘Wellsy, where’s your teeth?’ He said, ‘I forgot them.’ I said, ‘Isn’t that the first thing you do in the morning is get up, put your teeth in, and brush your teeth?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, I don’t know. I just forgot.’ That was just typical Mark, and off he went, walking away laughing.”