For the 80 young men seeking berths on the United States Olympic ice hockey team, there are no more impossible dreams. As evidence beyond that 1980 gold medal, one need only consider candidate Brian Lawton, who 2 1/2 weeks ago was the first player chosen in the National Hockey League draft.
It was only four years ago, as a similar group of hopefuls began the long road to Lake Placid, that defenseman Mike Ramsey became the first American ever to be chosen in the NHL's first round.
This year, five U.S. players were selected in round one and three of them--centers Lawton and Dave Jensen and goalie Tom Barrasso--are here for the tryouts, all playing for the East team in the National Sports Festival.
Lawton, who will celebrate his 18th birthday Wednesday, makes it clear that his presence does not guarantee that he will become an Olympian. Despite varying media reports, he has not yet discussed monetary terms with the Minnesota North Stars, and is unsure what will happen when he does.
"I'm keeping all my options open," said the 6-foot, 175-pounder from Cumberland, R.I., whose Mount St. Charles Academy team won the Rhode Island high school championship in all four of his years there.
"I was just drafted June 8 and there hasn't been much time to consider everything," Lawton said. "I'm trying out for the Olympic team right now and I'm having a good time. Things are going well.
"I will promise this. If I'm selected for the team, I'll give a lot of thought to my situation. Then, if I come back here for the start of Olympic practice, I'll stay right through Sarajevo."
Lawton's future is tied up with three men named Lou--Nanne, general manager of the North Stars, is also heavily involved in the Olympic push; Lamoriello, the coach of the East team here, also coaches Providence College and has tried hard to recruit Lawton; Vairo, the U.S. Olympic coach, has been a friend of Lawton for several years, since Lawton attended a midget hockey camp Vairo conducted here.
"I haven't talked to Mr. Nanne and I don't know what his feelings are," Lawton said. "As a businessman, he probably wants me to play for the North Stars, but considering his ties to the Olympic team, maybe he wants me to go that route. I really don't know. I've been told he's fishing in Scotland, or something like that.
"Mr. Lamoriello has never pressured me. He knows I might never go to Providence, but there's always the possibility. I have an attorney, Neil Abbott, looking into things for me, instead of having an agent, because maybe I'll want to go to college.
"Mr. Vairo isn't pushing me, either. He's been just great in the time I've known him, at midget camp here and when I played in the Sports Festival last summer."
Although Lawton has not talked to Nanne, he has discussed the situation with Pat Lafontaine, who scored 103 goals for Verdun of the Quebec Junior League and was picked third in the draft by the New York Islanders. Lawton, drafted by Verdun, almost took the junior route, too, but chose to stay in high school because he wanted to keep his college option clear.
"Pat and Alfie Turcotte undoubtedly could play in the Olympics--I think so, anyway. I don't know how Mr. Vairo feels--but they just recently finished their season and they wanted a break," Lawton said. "I'm sure that's why Pat's not here. They may still work it out so they can play."
Lawton, who played for the U.S. junior team in Leningrad and the U.S. national team during the World Group B Championships in Japan, conceded that the glamor associated with the 1980 Olympic gold medalists would be a factor in his ultimate decision.
As he spoke, following the East team's practice at Memorial Park Ice Center, Lawton maintained an aura of neutrality. He was attired in a Sports Festival cap, a Providence T-shirt and green shorts (the North Stars' color).