Mark Wells: ‘I still can’t believe it’

St. Clair Shores native, Harrison Township resident and member of 1980 U.S men’s hockey team, reflects on gold medal run

By: Jason Carmel Davis | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 17, 2015

 St. Clair Shores native and Harrison Township resident Mark Wells stands beside a picture honoring the 1980 Olympics U.S. men’s hockey team located inside the St. Clair Shores Civic Center. Wells, 57, was a member of that team. The 35th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice,” commemorating the team’s win over the Soviet Union, is Feb. 22.

St. Clair Shores native and Harrison Township resident Mark Wells stands beside a picture honoring the 1980 Olympics U.S. men’s hockey team located inside the St. Clair Shores Civic Center. Wells, 57, was a member of that team. The 35th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice,” commemorating the team’s win over the Soviet Union, is Feb. 22.

Photo by Deb Jacques

ST. CLAIR SHORES — It’s been almost 35 years since the “Miracle on Ice” — the 1980 Winter Olympics men’s hockey medal-round game between the United States and the Soviet Union that saw the U.S upset and dethrone a Soviet team that had won gold in six of the seven previous Olympics.

“I wake up some days, and I still can’t believe what we did,” said Mark Wells, a St. Clair Shores native and defenseman on the 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team. The U.S. beat the Soviet team 4-3 Feb. 22, 1980, scoring two goals in the final period. The Americans defeated Finland 4-2 Feb. 24, 1980 in the gold-medal game.

Wells, whom the arena at the St. Clair Shores Civic Center was renamed for during a March 1, 2014, ceremony, visited the St. Clair Shores Civic Center Feb. 6 for an interview with NBC Sports. The network later this month will run a series of specials commemorating the 35th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice.

Prior to that, the 57-year-old Harrison Township resident reflected on the fabled moment in advance of the 35th anniversary celebration slated for Feb. 21 in Lake Placid, New York. Lake Placid was the site of the 1980 Winter Games.

The latest film on the 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team, an ESPN 30 for 30 production titled “Of Miracles and Men” premiered Feb. 8 on ESPN. The film focuses on the Soviet team.

Wells, a 1975 graduate of Lake Shore High School who played college hockey at Bowling Green State University, said his dream of being an Olympic athlete began with seeing Mark Spitz win four medals (two gold) in the 1968 Summer Games.

After the 1980 gold-medal win, Wells and his teammates received the key to New York City.

“I was the last man on that team to be selected,” said Wells, who was playing with the Montreal Canadiens around the time the 1980 National Team was being put together. “They snuck me in at the very end. (National Team coach Herb Brooks) called me up for a special mission to be a defensive player.”

Wells said he’s amazed that, even after all this time, so many people think the win over the Soviet Union came in the gold-medal game. He said he respectfully corrects anyone who assumes such.

Wells, who was diagnosed with a rare degenerative spinal disease some time ago that limits his ability to skate now, looks forward to get-togethers with his former mates. Members of the 1980 team, whom many believe were part of the greatest moment in American sports history, get together every five years for an anniversary. He remains close with Ken Morrow, a Flint native who he lived and played with at Bowling Green.

“We mostly talk about family,” said Wells, who has two sons, ages 2 and 5.

Family is very important to Wells. It’s that family and the want to teach his sons the game he loves that inspire him to push through surgeries and treatments. Wells suffered his first major injury more than three decades ago. He has undergone several procedures since. The bills piled up so much that in 2010, he sold his gold medal for about $40,000 to help cover medical expenses. The commemorative piece later sold for more than $300,000 at auction.

“I had to (sell my medal) or I don’t know if I would have made it,” Wells said. “It killed me to do it.”

Wells’ injuries make it very difficult to get back on the ice. He tried briefly during the March 2014 ceremony and couldn’t sustain the energy. The Harrison Township native said the last time he was able to skate for an extended period of time was more than 10 years ago.

He’s had surgeries on his hands and is slated to have a procedure on his arms. Wells said he’s basically paralyzed to the point that his body constantly aches. He said doctors told him his legs would be the first to go, but he’s willing to go through more procedures to hold that off. 

Wells said all he wants to do is skate with his boys. His 5-year-old son, Mark Jr., has begun to enjoy football. Wells said he has no problem with that, but hopes to steer his son toward the game that has brought him notoriety.

“And I just wanna see my boys graduate high school,” Wells said. “I never thought I’d have kids in my 50s. I tried in my 20s and it didn’t happen. If I make it to 75 and am able to see my boys grow up, then I’ll have lived a full life.”