31 years ago everyone in the US was GLUED to the TV. We were all watching the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York. The United States team, made up of amateur and college players defeated the Soviet team, who were the best ice hockey team in the world. Most people don't remember that we then had to beat Sweden in order to win the gold.
The Soviet team was HEAVILY favored to win the gold. They had, every time, since 1964. The Soviet players were classed as amateurs, but soft jobs provided by the Brezhnev government (some were active-duty military) allowed them to essentially play professionally with world class training facilities.
The American team, couched by Herb Brooks, only had one player from the 1976 olympic team, Buzz Schneider.
In exhibitions that year, Soviet club teams went 5–3–1 against National Hockey League (NHL) teams, and a year earlier the Soviet national team had routed the NHL All-Stars 6–0 to win the Challenge Cup. In 1979–80, virtually all the top North American players were Canadians, although the number of U.S.-born professional players had been on the rise throughout the 1970s.
In Olympic group play, the United States surprised many observers with its physical, cohesive play. In its first game against favored Sweden, Team USA earned a dramatic 2–2 draw by scoring with 27 seconds left after pulling goalie Jim Craig for an extra attacker. Then came a stunning 7–3 victory over Czechoslovakia, considered by many to be the second-best team after the Soviet Union and a favorite for the silver medal. With its two toughest games in the group phase out of the way, the U.S. team reeled off three more wins, beating Norway 5–1, Romania 7–2, and West Germany 4–2 to go 4–0–1 and advance to the medal round from its group, along with the Swedes.
In the other group, the Soviets stormed through their opposition undefeated, often by grossly lopsided scores – knocking off Japan 16–0, the Netherlands 17–4, Poland 8–1, Finland 4–2, and Canada 6–4; easily qualifying for the next round, although both the Finns and the Canadians gave the Soviets tough games for two periods. In the end, the Soviet Union and Finland (who overcame a disastrous start after sensationally losing to Poland in their opening game of the tournament, but then rallied to upset Canada) advanced from their group.
As in several previous games, the U.S. team fell behind early. Vladimir Krutov deflected a slap shot by Aleksei Kasatonov past U.S. netminder Jim Craig to give the Soviets a 1–0 lead, and after Buzz Schneider scored for the United States to tie the game, the Soviets struck again with a Sergei Makarov goal. Down 2–1, Craig improved his play, turning away many Soviet shots before the U.S. team had another shot on goal (the Soviet team had 39 shots on goal in the game, the Americans 16).
In the waning seconds of the first period, Dave Christian fired a slap shot on Tretiak from 100 feet away. The Soviet goalie saved the shot but misplayed the rebound, which bounced out some 20 feet in front of him. Mark Johnson sliced between the two defenders, found the loose puck and fired it past a diving Tretiak to tie the score with one second left in the period. The first period ended with the game tied 2–2.
Tikhonov replaced Tretiak with backup goaltender Vladimir Myshkin immediately after Johnson's tying goal, a move which shocked players on both teams. Tikhonov later identified this as the "turning point of the game." and "the biggest mistake of my career". Myshkin allowed no goals in the second period. The Soviets dominated play in the second period, outshooting the Americans 12–2, but scored only once, on a power play goal by Aleksandr Maltsev. After two periods the Soviet Union led 3–2.
Vladimir Krutov was sent to the penalty box at the 6:47 mark of the third period for high-sticking. The Americans, who had managed only two shots on Myshkin in 27 minutes, had a power play and a rare offensive opportunity. Myshkin stopped a Ramsey shot, then Eruzione fired a shot wide. Late in the power play, Dave Silk was advancing into the Soviet zone when Vasilev knocked him to the ice. The puck slid to Mark Johnson. Johnson fired off a shot that went under Myshkin and into the net at the 8:39 mark, as the power play was ending, tying the game 3–3. Only a couple shifts later, Mark Pavelich passed to U.S. captain Mike Eruzione, who was left undefended in the high slot. Eruzione, who had just come into the game, fired a shot past Myshkin, who was screened by Pervukhin. This goal gave Team USA a 4–3 lead, its first of the game, with exactly 10 minutes left.
The Soviets attacked furiously. Moments after Eruzione's goal, Maltzev fired off a shot which ricocheted off the right goal post. As the minutes wound down, Brooks kept repeating "Play your game. Play your game." Instead of going into a defensive crouch, the United States continued to play offense, even getting off a few more shots on goal. The Soviets began to shoot wildly, and Starikov admitted that "we were panicking." As the clock ticked down below a minute the Soviets got the puck back into the American zone, and Mikhailov passed to Petrov, who shot wide. The Soviets never pulled Myshkin for an extra attacker, much to the disbelief of the Americans. Starikov later explained that "We never did six-on-five", not even in practice, because "Tikhonov just didn't believe in it." Craig kicked away a Petrov slap shot with 33 seconds left. Kharlamov fired the puck back in as the clock ticked below 20 seconds. A wild scramble for the puck ensued, ending when Johnson found it and passed to Morrow. As the U.S. team tried to clear the zone (move the puck over the blue line, which they did with seven seconds remaining), the crowd began to count down the seconds left. Sportscaster Al Michaels, who was calling the game on ABC along with former Montreal Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden, picked up on the countdown in his broadcast, and delivered his famous call:
“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! ”
The March 3, 1980 cover of Sports Illustrated that ran without accompanying caption or headline. In the locker room afterwards, players spontaneously broke into a chorus of "God Bless America". As his team ran all over the ice in celebration, Herb Brooks sprinted back to the locker room and cried.
For its March 3, 1980 issue, Sports Illustrated ran a cover with just a photograph by Heinz Kluetmeier, without any accompanying caption or headline. Kluetmeir said, "It didn't need (any cover language). Everyone in America knew what happened."
The United States did not win the gold medal upon defeating the USSR. In 1980 the medal round was a round-robin, not a single elimination format as it is today. Under Olympic rules at the time, the group game with Sweden was counted along with the medal round games versus the Soviet Union and Finland so it was mathematically possible for the United States to finish anywhere from first to fourth.
Needing to win to secure the gold medal, Team USA came back from a 2–1 third period deficit to defeat Finland 4–2.
At the age of 66, Herb Brooks died in a single car accident on the afternoon of August 11, 2003, It is believed that he fell asleep behind the wheel.
The movie "Miracle" is dedicated to his memory, At the end of the movie there is a dedication to Brooks. It states, "He never saw it. He lived it."
Dan Emplit WBFD