LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Whenever people walk into Herb Brooks Arena for the first time, the historic site of the 1980 United States Olympic team’s “Miracle On Ice,” it’s hard not to notice the same thing almost immediately.

The names.

The names that are so entrenched in the history of hockey in this country, it feels like they are the game’s only history in the United States: Brooks. Eruzione. Craig. Broten. O’Callahan. Johnson. They all helped the U.S. men’s hockey team to an improbable gold medal in the 80 Games. They are American hockey’s patriarchs, and their names circle the rafters of the arena named after the former U.S. coach.

“When I stepped in the rink for the first time, you know you just kind of look around, and the first thing you notice is all the names that you recognized,” Colby College junior forward Zack Hale said Thursday after the Mules practiced here for the first time in advance of an NCAA Division III Frozen Four game against St. Norbert College on Friday night. “You really start to think how crazy it is that we’re in the same building those guys were in.”

Colby arrived in Lake Placid late Wednesday night. The team’s bus wound through the streets of Lake Placid, past signage pointing out Olympic venues, a set of towering ski jumping training centers, and the unmistakable Olympic rings logos on seemingly every corner of the bustling town so synonymous with winter sports in the United States.

The Mules arrived at Herb Brooks Arena shortly before midnight to unload gear, all of them taking a minute to see the building. But early Thursday afternoon they were afforded the same one-hour closed practice session each of this year’s Frozen Four participants were granted — and the first chance to skate across the historic sheet of ice for the majority of players on the team.

The teams will get one more tuneup on the ice during a Friday morning skate, before the puck drops for real later in the day. Prior to Colby’s faceoff with No. 1 St. Norbert at 6:30 p.m., No. 4 Wisconsin-Stevens Point and No. 6 Salve Regina (Newport, Rhode Island) will play the other semifinal at 3 p.m.

“It’s such a surreal feeling to be here,” Colby senior defenseman Michael Decker said. “All the names of the 1980 guys, growing up watching (the 2004 film ‘Miracle’) with it always being our favorite movie and knowing every line, it’s just awesome to be here with our 30 guys all here. It’s such a blast, and so much fun for all of us.”

The feeling never gets old.

An Algonquin, Illinois native, Decker visited Lake Placid once before, as a senior in high school, but this is the first time he’s playing in the building. Mules goaltender Sean Lawrence has been to Lake Placid several times before as a player, when he was playing in ECAC tournaments for Quinnipiac during his freshman and sophomore seasons. Even he’s yet to let himself think of the experience as stale.

“It’s still pretty awesome,” he said. “Anytime you walk in here and see the guys’ names in the rafters, you just really think about the history of the rink and it’s a pretty special feeling.”

And Lawrence is ready for another milestone in his hockey career at Herb Brooks Arena, where he once appeared for five minutes late in a Quinnipiac game against Harvard.

“The first time I walked in it was special, and starting a game here will be a different experience than sitting on the bench,” said Lawrence, a Granite Bay, California native. “It will be pretty cool.”

“You can’t help but think of the people who walked down these hallways and stepped behind that bench,” added Colby head coach Blaise MacDonald, who remains good friends with Dave Silk, one of the members of that 1980 U.S. team.

Silk, whom MacDonald got to know while the two were at Boston University, was a groomsman in MacDonald’s wedding. But the ‘Miracle On Ice’ — Feb. 22, 1980 — was bittersweet for MacDonald, a Billerica, Massachusetts native at the time. The United States shocked heavily favored Soviet Union with a come-from-behind 4-3 victory in that semifinal game.

“I’ll tell you what I remember about that game,” MacDonald said. “We played Chelmsford High that night. Phil Bourque was on their team — who later on went to the Pittsburgh Penguins to play — and we lost the Merrimack Valley championship on that night. We went over to a gathering at a friend’s house to watch the (Olympic) game, and I was kind of shocked and still bummed about our game. That got me back to even when I saw that victory.”

Lake Placid feels like a place where the NCAA Division III hockey championship should be contested every season — with all due respect to the teams from the west would have to travel there.

“Oh yeah, you can feel it, even at the hotel in the little village area,” Hale said. “It’s a weird kind of special energy that just emanates around.”

But the centerpiece of it all, at least for hockey players? Herb Brooks Arena.

“As far as American hockey goes, this is the palace. This is the cathedral,” said Colby sophomore Kienan Scott, who has dual citizenship in both the United States and Canada, having grown up in Spokane, Washington. “It’s pretty amazing to be here. I’ve never been here, so it’s a pretty cool experience. It was fun to get out there (for practice) for the first time today. We’re obviously looking forward to getting out there against St. Norbert.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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