Sports have provided us with some of the most memorable moments we have ever witnessed in our lives. Being a hockey fan, there are numerous team/individual accomplishments that stand out in my mind as being "great."
Though I was probably nothing more than a dinner table conversation among my parents in 1980, I have come to believe that the "Miracle on Ice" was one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of hockey.
Many have seen the movie Miracle which is based on the events of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. For those who haven't, or for those who just need a refresher, this is the story...
The story begins in the Soviet Union in 1979. The Soviet team was composed of players classified as "amateurs" thanks to the Soviet government giving them different job titles despite their professional tendencies.
In 1979, the Soviet national team defeated the NHL All-Stars, 6-0, to win the Challenge Cup. It was a dominant performance for the Soviets and an embarrassing one for the NHL's best players.
In 1980, the Winter Olympics were set to be held in Lake Placid, New York.
At the time, U.S. President Jimmy Carter considered boycotting the Summer Olympics, which were to be held in Moscow, that year in order to protest the Soviet Union's recent invasion of Afghanistan. He eventually decided to boycott the summer games, but the Cold War-rooted rivalry was once again renewed in the Winter Games. This time, however, it wouldn't be an on field battle, but rather on a frozen surface of ice.
The 1980 Soviet team included some of, if not all of the best players in the world at the time. Led by captain, Boris Mikhailov and goaltender, Vladislav Tretiak, the Soviets played a physical, system-oriented game that enabled them to completely shutdown their opponents' attacks seemingly at will.
The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team was composed primarily of young, inexperienced college players whose collective age did not exceed 25 years. Some had signed contracts to play in the NHL the following season, some planned on pursuing other careers. All, however, had a deep passion for their country, and for the game of hockey.
Led by captain, Mike Eruzione and goaltender, Jim Craig, the U.S. team had one goal in mind: beating the Soviets en route to winning the gold medal.
Future Stanley Cup winning head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Herb Brooks, was selected as the unlikely candidate to coach the young group of American players in the Olympics.
Under Brooks' tutelage, the U.S. team developed into a cohesive unit, on and off the ice.
On February 9, 1980, the Soviets and Americans met in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden. The Soviets won the game, 10-3, showing the Americans that they deserved every accolade they had been receiving for the last decade.
When Olympic group play finally began, the Americans surprised many people with the physical, system-oriented brand of hockey that they brought to the rink.
The Americans earned a tie against Sweden (2-2), knocked off the heavily favored Czechoslovakian team in stunning fashion (7-3), then rattled off three more wins to earn a record of 4-0-1 heading into the medal round game.
In the other group, the Soviets advanced to the medal round unscathed, defeating Japan (16-0), the Netherlands (17-4), Poland (8-1), Canada, and Finland.
One day before the U.S. and the Soviets were set to meet in the medal round, a New York Times columnist wrote that "unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle, as did the American squad in 1960, the Russians are expected to easily win the Olympic gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments."
Finally, after numerous relentless practices held by Herb Brooks, it was time to play the game.
Americans watching from the United States would have to wait to watch a taped version of the game later in the evening, as ABC decided not to air the game live.
The U.S. fell behind early in the game, then tied it, then watched the Soviets regain the lead.
Goaltender Jim Craig elevated his game after the 2-1 Soviet lead and Mark Johnson tied the game with one second remaining in the first period. The Soviets played the final second of the period with just three players on the ice, as the rest of the team had already retired to the dressing room for intermission.
In a surprising move, Soviet goaltender Vladimir Myshkin replaced Tretiak at the start of the second period. Myshkin held the U.S. scoreless in the period and a power play goal gave the Soviets a 3-2 advantage after two periods of play.
The U.S. scored twice in the first 10 minutes of the third period, giving them a 4-3 lead. Mike Eruzione and Mark Johnson scored the two U.S. goals.
With exactly ten minutes to play, all that was left for the U.S. to do was to hold on.
As the clock wound down to under a minute, everyone in the building waited for the Soviets to pull Myshkin for the extra attacker, but it never happened. This is the part in the movie when Herb Brooks answers the question as to why the Soviets hadn't pulled their goalie by saying: "they've never been behind before; they don't know what to do."
The U.S. team was able to clear the puck out of their zone with seven seconds remaining on the clock, and the crowd began to count down to the final buzzer.
It was at the eleven second mark that ABC broadcaster Al Michaels uttered his timeless words:
"Eleven seconds, you've got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk...five seconds left in the game...Do you believe in miracles? Yes! Unbelievable!"
The young group of Americans had done what no one, except those in their own dressing room, ever imagined they could do: defeat the Soviet Union.
The United States team went on to defeat Finland by coming from behind late in the third period to win the gold medal. Another memorable moment occurred when the entire team stood on the podium together after receiving their gold medals—an action that went against the traditional "captains only" podium stand.
Of the 20 players on the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team's roster, 13 went on to play at the NHL level.
Assistant coach, Craig Patrick, went on to become a general manager in the NHL. He would be reunited with Herb Brooks in Pittsburgh when he became GM of the Penguins and quickly hired Herb Brooks as head coach.
Herb Brooks died in a car crash in 2003. The ice arena at Lake Placid is now named in honor of the historic coach.
Despite the devastating loss, the Soviets would remain the international hockey powerhouse until the country's demise in the early 90's.
The "Miracle on Ice" has received numerous honors from ESPN and Sports Illustrated as one of the most memorable moments in sports history.
The David vs. Goliath story has never been more intriguing than it was for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. The Cold War undertone combined with the Soviets' decade-long dominance in international hockey made for one hell of a heated rivalry between the two teams.
The chant "U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A" that is now heard at various sporting events across the country, and the world, took on a whole new meaning during this game, and has since become much more than just a patriotic pledge.
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