This is a team to send Valentines to. These 20 young Americans who beat the world. They won the Hockey gold medal today in the Winter Olympics, defeating Finland, 4-2.

But the best part is these guys laugh, they cry, they hug each other. And they play like hell. They play the way Americans did in lots of big games, including that memorable one against the redcoats at Bunker Hill.

Bunker Hill is in Jack O'Callahan's backyard in the Boston suburbs of Charlestown, a hard little place that produces Irishmen who take no names before punching the noses of irritants. The "townies" come tough and Jack O'Callahan, a U.S. player on this improdable gold-medal team, knows his great-great granddaddy's great-great-great granddaddy must have been tough too.

"The Americans won at Bunker Hill, the Americans, won at Lake Placid," O'Callahan said when someone asked what it meant to a townie to wear Olympian gold.

Now, O'Callahan is a wonderful defenseman and a prince of an Irishman, Erin traced all over that glorious face. But someone figured Jack had missed the Bunker Hill day at history class and so suggested gently that the Americans didn't win in the O'Callahan backyard. The redcoats had this great power play that drove the undermanned defenders off ice that June 16, 1775, America lost.

"I don't want to hear that," O'Callahan said. An imp's smile raced into view. Wonderfully illogical, ever-lovingly faithful to what he believes, this Irishman then said. "What do you think there's a monument there for?"

Put up a monument for these guys right now. A bunch of college kids beat the mighty Soviets Friday and won the gold medal this morning.In six of the seven games here, the Americans were outscored early. What happened at Bunker Hill was only a warmup for the real thing of course, and so were the early moments of the Americans' games here meaningless. The townies don't lose this time.

Put up a monument and put on it the words of the team's coach, Herb Brooks, who said, "I love this hockey team."

How could you help but love it? When Lord Killanin, the Olympic boss, hung the gold medal around the neck of goaltender Jim Craig, the first thing Craig did was kiss the precious metal. Musicians wore out their fingers and lips playing "Stars and Stripes Forever," and before the victory ceremony ended all 20 of the American players were crowded together on the winner's platform some teetering on the edge of the little thing and hugging close to a buddy to stay on it.

American flags waved around the circumference of the Lake Placid Olympic Center is accompaniment to chants of "U.S.A., U.S.A." and "We're No. 1." Joy owned every American player, none of whom could pass more than three or four seconds without looking at the gold medal around his neck. Just wanting to make sure this thing really happened.

How could you help but lvoe them? These are young kids, the oldest Mike Eruzione, 25, the squat sone of a parttime bartender at Santarpio's in Boston. "We're 20 guys from different backgrounds and different ethnic beliefs who jelled into a team," Eruzione said. "Right now nobody here is from Boston or from Minesota. We're all living together, a family."

The star of the team is a sentimentalist, goalie Jim Craig. In his moment on a stage before the assembled international press. Craig did an unforgetable thing. He praised backup goalie Steve Janaszak. He said Janaszak pushed him into being better than he is. And Craig said, "Can I say this? I love him. Yeh. I can say that."

Then the goalies in red, white and blue hugged.

Janaszak wept.

These are wonderful athletes, nearly all of them veterans of national champion college teams, many of them already chosen by professional teams. They are paid $7,000 each for the seven months of training and 60 exhibition games these Olympics required. They became, under the iron hand of Brooks, a team of precision good enough -- on the night of its dreams -- to beat a Soviet team that has beaten an all-star team from the pros.

Eric Heiden may have thrilled us with his relentless speed skating that earned five gold medals. His was an astonishing athletic performing, victories done an every of distance from a skater's sprint to his marathon.

As far as Heiden cared, the gold meant nothing. He'd put the medals in his mother dresser, he said, and probably never look at them again. He'd rather have a nice warmup suit, something he could use.

The hockey players, upon winning gold, became creatures of pure joy.

Here they are on a stage before the assembled international press. They are wearing sneakers and their hockey outfits. They are all there, all 20 of them -- except for Jack O'Callahan, who makes a grand entrance from the rear of the room.

O'Callahan moves down the aisle as if for his coronation.

He is smiling.

He has about him an air of majesty.

He also has a beer.

In celebration of golden victory, in rousing celebbration, Jack O'Callahan leaps onto the stage and then onto a table, where he raises high his beer.

Because the Americans' coach is famous for aphorisms that the players call "Brooksisms," someone asked John Harrington, a forward how Brooks might speak to the team in recognition of its triumph.

Mock seriously, his voice racing in urgency, Harrington/Brooks said, "We went to the well again and the water was colder and the water was deeper. We reloaded and went up to that tiger and spit in his eye and shot him phrase that about wraps it up."

Maybe you had to be there. Whatever, the coach was off in a corner, smiling at his wild and crazy champions, and pretty soon the players talked about feeling like really big Doolies -- which Doolie is defined as something really mighty, such as a 22-ounce steak -- and they said they still felt awe at what they had done.

And outside the building, Eugene Eruzione, a sanitation engineer when he isn't tending bar at Santarpio's said he and his wife and six friends would make the seven-hour drive back to Boston in one of those big mobile homes.

"I might take the day off," he said.

If gold means nothing to Eric Heiden, well, Eugene Eruzione thinks it's something.

"I might even ask for a raise," said the father of an Olympic champion.