GREENSBORO, N.C. — The things a kid from California has to do to even hope to have a chance at making an Olympic ice hockey team are many, varied and--frankly--sometimes a bit bizarre.
Imagine, for instance, what John Blue has done.
Born in Westminster, raised largely in San Jose and now an El Toro resident, Blue never had the ready, able and plentiful competition that abounds on nearly every pond in such states as Minnesota and Massachusetts.
So at age 17, in the middle of the high school football season in his senior year, Blue left school, left home, left California and went to Des Moines, Iowa, to play Junior A hockey. He did it, he says, because he knew it was his only chance.
And just last month, had you passed the Blue home in El Toro, you might have caught John and his father, Jim, conducting a drill that Blue figures must have looked to the neighbors like some strange punishment.
It was none other than the Southern California goalie drill, in which son dons full gear, except the skates, and father hits 100 or so tennis balls at him as hard and as quickly as he can.
Let the neighbors wonder. Blue, 21, is one step away from making the U.S. Olympic hockey team. Late Sunday night, he was named to a squad of 29 that will convene at Lake Placid, N.Y., Aug. 7 for a training camp. From there, the group will be pared down to a final 22 who will play an exhibition tour leading to the Olympic Games in Calgary, Alberta, in February.
The group of 29 was chosen from a field of more than 80 at the U.S. Olympic Festival, making it one of the few events here that actually had bearing on the Olympic teams.
Blue and one other goalie, Mike Richter of the University of Wisconsin and Flourtown, Pa., made the squad from here. Two professionals--Chris Terreri of the New Jersey Devils and Cleon Daskalakis of the Boston Bruins--also were selected for the camp. From that group of four, two will make the Olympic team.
Blue, who plays at the University of Minnesota, earned his spot with two strong performances here. In his first appearance, he became only the third goalie in Festival history to record a shutout, doing it with a 33-save performance in a 3-0 victory over the West Tuesday.
Friday, in a game against the North that his South team had to win or tie to advance to the gold-medal game, Blue held off the North through a 5-on-3 power play for a 5-4 victory. He finished with a 2.00 goals-against average, and his 53 Festival saves led all players.
Because of a Festival rule limiting goalies to two games, he did not play in the gold-medal game Sunday, which the North won, 6-4.
"The first time the Olympics entered my mind was in 1980," Blue said before learning of his selection Sunday. "But it was not a realistic thought then. When I made it to the University of Minnesota, then it became a blurry dream. Then at the Olympic Festival last year, it started to become in my reach. Now it seems closer and closer."
Blue began playing at age 5 after his father saw a picture of the son of a business associate in a hockey uniform and took an interest in the sport.
"He thought I should try it, so I did," Blue said.
His biggest break came at a hockey camp in Minnesota after he had left home to play for the Des Moines Bucs, a U.S. Hockey League team. Minnesota Coach Doug Woog, in need of a goalie, saw him play at the camp, and Blue, who had taken correspondance courses in order to graduate with his high school class, signed on with Minnesota, which this year made the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Final Four.
While at home this summer he has skated at a Costa Mesa rink. But he does not play goalie there, fearful that the slowness of competition will slow his reflexes. Instead, he plays forward, to improve his endurance.
This task behind, another lies ahead.
"Once we're at Lake Placid, it's going to be who wants it more," he said. "I have confidence in myself that I can do the job and be there no matter what comes next. I just need to go out and prove it."
In any case, he is as certain to have to keep fielding questions about his California background as he is to be cheered with the loud choruses of "Blluuueee" that have already become de rigeur whenever he takes the ice.
"Somebody once told me an Olympic hockey player from California is like an Olympic swimmer from Minnesota--it just doesn't happen," Blue said.
Festival Notes Doug Nordquist of La Habra, a 1984 Olympian, won the silver medal in the high jump, at 7-feet 6 1/2-inches. Lee Balkin of Glendale won the gold with a jump of 7-7 3/4. . . . Art McDermott of Laguna Beach won the bronze medal in the shotput with a throw of 61-2. But on his final throw, he suffered a torn tendon in his left knee. Ron Backes of Minneapolis won the gold at 63-7 3/4 and Garry Frank of Starkville, Miss. won the silver at 62-7 3/4. . . . Xandy Brown of Buena Park won the silver medal in the women's epee. . . . Kurt Chaney of San Clemente was a member of the gold-medalist West team handball team. . . . Jay Thorson of Laguna Beach finished seventh in the decathlon. Thorson won the 110-hurdles and the discus, and finished second in the 1,500-meter run; a no-height result in the pole vault dropped him out of contention.