Ethan Nauman noticed nothing special about the wood locker stalls with silver metal shelves until after his coach had the team sit and listen.
In the middle of the white-walled locker room stood another man, somebody who had a better sense of history.
What he said made an immediate connection.
Hockey players know as well as anybody the significance of the "Miracle on Ice" team that beat the Soviet Union in 1980.
Nauman, a Mosinee graduate, was in Lake Placid, N.Y., with his UW-Eau Claire hockey teammates for the NCAA Division III national semifinals. Once they dressed for the game, the coach invited a stadium worker into the locker room to tell them something about where they sat, something that connected them with the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team that beat the Soviet Union."
"He said, 'Listen up, everyone. You guys are actually dressing in the same locker room that the USA team used when they beat the Russians,'" said Nauman, whose team then skated in the same arena as that gold medal-winning team.
"They told us that right before the game," Nauman said. "So that kind of amped everybody up."
The most expensive tickets in sports now cost more than our paychecks. But sometimes the next best thing is to visit the sites of some of the most celebrated achievements in the games we watch.
To do that costs nothing more than the price of gas.
How else to explain why people drive from all over Wisconsin and beyond simply to toss a football in the Lambeau Field parking lot? Or why people take pictures in front of the distinctive red marquee outside Wrigley Field? Or why people really do visit Field of Dreams surrounded by Iowa cornfields?
People can't always say, "I was there when..."
That requires buying expensive tickets and paying for parking. It also requires being there when something memorable happens. There's a bit of luck involved in that. You don't always know when something special will happen.
But there's still personal value in being able to say something else: "I've been there."
That's much easier. People then have time to savor the moment.
In Nauman's case, that's why sitting in a locker room he thought of as nothing special suddenly became the highlight of the trip.
UW-Eau Claire won that night, and again the following night to claim the championship. But Nauman talked more about where his teammates dressed than what they did on the ice. For good reason, too.
"Every player has watched 'Miracle on Ice' documentaries," Nauman said. "Every player knew exactly what happened there. Every guy on the team can recite lines from the movie."
A mural of Herb Brooks, the coach from that U.S. team, offers one of several reminders in the arena of the significance of that 4-3 semifinal victory against the Soviets.
In a four-team NCAA semifinal field that included three schools from New York, UWEC considered itself the underdog: "A bunch of no-name kids," Nauman said.
Just like the Olympic team.
Because of the distance between home and Lake Placid, UW-Eau Claire had roughly 150 supporters there, small compared to the 1,000 or so each of the three New York teams had, Nauman said.
Before the semifinal game March 15 is when the players learned they had just dressed in the room used by Mike Eruzione and others on that historic team. Nauman said a left turn outside the locker room goes to a hallway once covered with telegrams wishing luck to the U.S. team.
A turn to the right took the team to the ice.
The UW-Eau Claire team didn't perform any miracles. But they left with a lasting memory.
Christopher Dabe is the Sports editor Gannett Central Wisconsin. He cane be reached at 715-845-0701, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.