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Miracle on Ice

The "Miracle on Ice" is the nickname given to a February 22 medal-round men's ice hockey1980 Olympic Winter Games, in which a team of amateur and collegiate players from the United States, led by coach Herb Brooks, defeated the Soviet Union, considered to be the best international hockey team in the world, 4–3.

The U.S went on to win the gold medal by beating Finland (4–2) in their final game. The Soviet Union took the silver by beating Sweden in their final game. Sweden received the bronze medal, and Finland finished 4th.

Background

The United States team, composed of young collegiate players and amateurs, entered the competition seeded seventh in the final round of twelve teams that qualified for the Lake Placid Olympics. The Soviet Union was the favored team. Though classed as amateur, Soviet players essentially played professionally (the players were active-duty in the Red Army) in a well-developed league with excellent training facilities. They were led by legendary players in world ice hockey, such as Boris Mikhailov (a right-winger and team captain), Vladislav Tretiak (considered by many to be the best ice hockey goaltender in the world at the time) and Valeri Kharlamov, as well as talented, young, and dynamic players such as defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov and forwards Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov. In exhibitions that year, Soviet club teams had gone 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. The 1980 U.S. Olympic team featured several young players who were regarded as highly promising, and some had signed contracts to play in the NHL immediately after the tournament.

The Soviet and American teams were natural rivals due to the decades-old Cold War. In addition, President Jimmy Carter was at the time considering a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics, to be held in Moscow, in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which had begun the year before. Carter eventually decided in favor of the boycott.

On February 9, the two teams met for an exhibition match at Madison Square Garden in order to practice for the upcoming competition. The Soviet Union won handily, 10–3.

In Olympic group play, the United States surprised many observers with their physical, cohesive play. In their first game against favored Sweden, the U.S. earned a dramatic 2–2 tie by scoring with 30 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 second only to the Soviet Union and a favorite for the silver medal. With their two toughest games in the group phase out of the way, the U.S. team reeled off three more wins to go 4–0–1 and advance to the medal round from their group along with Sweden. 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, and Poland 8–1 – and easily qualified for the next round although both the Finns and the Canadians gave the Russians unexpectedly 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.

The U.S. and USSR prepared for the medal round in different ways. Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov rested most of his best players, preferring to let them study plays rather than actually skate. U.S. coach Herb Brooks, however, continued with his tough, confrontational style, skating "hard" practices and berating his players for perceived weaknesses.

The day before the match, columnist Dave Anderson wrote in the New York Times, "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.

"Do you believe in miracles?"

The home crowd, energized by the U.S. team's improbable run during group play and the Cold War "showdown" mentality, were in a patriotic fervor throughout the match, waving U.S. flags and singing patriotic songs such as "God Bless America." The rest of the United States (except those who watched the game live on Canadian television) would have to wait to see the game, as ABC decided to broadcast the late-afternoon game on tape delay in prime time. 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 rallied 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 only 16). In the waning seconds of the first period, Dave Christian fired a slap shot on Tretiak. The Soviet goalie saved the shot but misplayed the rebound, and Mark Johnson scooped it past the goaltender to tie the score with one second left in the period. The Soviet team played the final second of the period with just three players on the ice, as the rest of the team had retired to their dressing room for the first intermission.

Tikhonov replaced Tretiak with backup goaltender Vladimir Myshkin to start the second period, a move which shocked many players on both teams. Fetisov later identified this as the "turning point of the game. Myshkin allowed no goals in the second period. Aleksandr Maltsev scored on a power play to make the score 3–2 for the Soviets, but Craig made numerous saves to keep the U.S. in the game.

Johnson scored again for the U.S., 8:39 into the final period, firing a loose puck past Myshkin to tie the score just as a power play was ending. Only a couple shifts later, Mark Pavelich passed to U.S. captain Mike Eruzione, who was left undefended in the high slot. Eruzione fired a shot past Myshkin, who was screened by his own defenseman. This goal gave the U.S. a 4–3 lead with exactly 10 minutes to play in the contest. Craig withstood another series of Soviet shots to finish the match, though the Soviets did not remove their goalkeeper for an extra attacker. 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!

This victory was voted the greatest sports moment of the twentieth century by Sports Illustrated.

The U.S. aftermath

Many people incorrectly recall that the U.S. won the gold medal that night. In fact, the medal round was a round-robin, not a single elimination format like 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 U.S. to finish anywhere from 1st to 4th. Needing to win to secure the gold medal, the U.S. team came back from a 2-1 third period deficit to defeat Finland (Hockey Hall of Famer Jari Kurri was a member of the Finnish team) 4–2. At the time, the players ascended a podium to receive their medals and then lined up on the ice for the playing of the National Anthem, as the podium was only meant to accommodate one person. Only the team captains remained on the podium for the duration. After the completion of the anthem, Eruzione motioned for his teammates to join him on the podium. Today, the podiums are large enough to accommodate all of the players.

The victory bolstered many U.S. citizens' feelings of national pride, which had been severely strained during the turbulent 1970s. The match against the Soviets popularized the "U-S-A! U-S-A!" chant, which has been used by U.S. supporters at many international sports competitions since 1980.

Of the 20 players on the U.S. team, 13 eventually played in the NHL. Five of them would go on to play over 500 NHL games:

  • Neal Broten appeared in 1,099 NHL games over 17 seasons, mostly with the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars franchise. A two-time All-Star, he tallied 923 career points (289 goals, 634 assists), became the first American player to record 100 points in a season, and won a Stanley Cup as a member of the New Jersey Devils in 1995. With the Olympic gold medal in 1980 and then the Cup victory in 1995, Broten became the only player in the history of the sport to win a championship at the collegiate, professional, and Olympic levels, as he had already won the NCAA championship in 1979 with the University of Minnesota.
  • Ken Morrow won a Stanley Cup in 1980 as a member of the New York Islanders, becoming the first hockey player to win an Olympic gold medal and the Cup in the same year. He went on to play 550 NHL games and win three more Cups, all with the Islanders.
  • Mike Ramsey played in 1070 games over 18 years. Fourteen of those years were spent with the Buffalo Sabres, for whom he was a five-time All-Star and served as team captain from 1990–92. In 2000 he became an assistant coach for the Minnesota Wild.
  • Dave Christian spent 14 years in the NHL, the bulk of them for the Winnipeg Jets (for whom he served as team captain) and Washington Capitals. He ended his career with 773 points (340 goals, 443 assists) in 1,009 games and made the All-Star team in 1991.
  • Mark Johnson bounced around the NHL for several years before finding a home in New Jersey, tallying 508 career points (203 goals, 305 assists) in 669 games over 11 seasons. Like Christian, Ramsey, and Broten, he became an NHL All-Star (in 1984) and served as team captain with the Hartford Whalers. In 2002 Johnson became the coach of the University of Wisconsin Women's Hockey team, leading the team to consecutive National Championships in the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

Jim Craig appeared in 30 NHL games from 1980 through 1984. Team captain Mike Eruzione played his last high-level hockey game in the 1980 Olympics, as he felt that he had accomplished all of his hockey goals with the gold medal win.

One of Brooks' assistant coaches, Craig Patrick, went on to become a successful general manager in the NHL and is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Brooks himself would coach several NHL teams following the Olympics, with mixed results. Both Patrick and later Brooks would coach (and in Patrick's case, become GM of) the Pittsburgh Penguins. Brooks returned to the Olympics as coach of the 2002 team, winning the silver medal. Brooks died in a car crash near Forest Lake, Minnesota on August 11, 2003 at the age of 66, and the ice arena in Lake Placid where the Miracle on Ice took place is now named in his honor.

Michaels was named "Sportscaster of the Year" in 1980 for his coverage of the event, and the team received Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportsmen of the Year" award, as well as being named as Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press and ABC's Wide World of Sports.

In 2004, ESPN, as part of their 25th anniversary, declared the Miracle on Ice to be the top sports headline, moment, and game of the period 1979–2004.

Soviet reaction

Though their immediate public reactions were generally sportsmanlike, the Soviet players' primary postgame emotion was despair, accentuated by coach Viktor Tikhonov's rage. There was also fear involved; a position on the national team was a high-status placement in Soviet society, affording a better lifestyle to the players in return for the perceived propaganda value of international sporting dominance. A loss to the U.S. team negated this goal. Though the game was on live television in the Soviet Union, it was played at 1:00 a.m. Moscow time. This afforded CPSU officials some ability to squelch news and discussion; Pravda did not carry a game report or mention the match in its post-Olympic wrap-up, and the hockey players were quickly and quietly herded away from the arrival reception for Olympic athletes at Moscow's airport.

Despite the loss, the USSR would remain the preeminent power in international hockey until the country's 1991 break-up. Throughout the 1980s, NHL teams continued to draft Soviet players in hopes of enticing them to eventually play professionally in North America, but the first would not do so until the 1988-89 NHL season, when veteran Sergei Pryakhin joined the Calgary Flames. In the 1989-90 NHL season, other 1980 Olympians joined the NHL, including Vyacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, Vladimir Krutov, Helmut Balderis, and Sergei Makarov. That same season, young star Alexander Mogilny defected to play for the Buffalo Sabres. Soon thereafter, the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a flood of ex-Soviet stars in the NHL; since then, many of the NHL's top players have come from the former Soviet republics.

With the end of the Cold War and the fact that many players from that team went on to good careers in the NHL, more players opened up in interviews about the game. The general consensus was that the U.S deserved its hard fought win, and the Soviet players were stunned at the intensity of the U.S. team and their ability to keep playing all out no matter what the game situation.

Cultural references

A movie, Miracle on Ice, starring Karl Malden as Brooks and Steve Guttenberg as Craig, aired on television in 1981. It incorporates actual game footage and original commentary from the 1980 Winter Games.

A second movie about the hockey victory called Miracle, starring Kurt Russell as Brooks, was released in 2004. Al Michaels recreated his commentary for most of the games. The final ten seconds, however, and his "Do you believe in miracles? YES!!!" call, were from the original broadcast and used in the film since the filmmakers felt that they could not ask him to recreate the emotion he felt at that moment.

In the X-Files episode "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man," it is said that the Soviet Union lost because the Cigarette Smoking Man rigged the game by drugging the Soviet goaltender (Tretiak).

The Miracle on Ice features in the last episode of Peoples Century, "Fast Forward." to illustrate Soviet/US rivalries.

The documentary film Do You Believe in Miracles?, narrated by Liev Schreiber, appeared on HBO in 2001.

Team rosters

United States

Pos. Name Age Hometown College
G *Jim Craig 21 North Easton, MA Boston U.
D *Ken Morrow 22 Flint, MI Bowling Green
D *Mike Ramsey 19 Minneapolis, MN Minnesota
C *Mark Johnson 21 Madison, WI Wisconsin
RW Mike Eruzione (C) 25 Winthrop, MA Boston U.
LW *Dave Silk 21 Scituate, MA Boston U.
D Bill Baker 22 Grand Rapids, MN Minnesota
C Neal Broten 20 Roseau, MN Minnesota
D Dave Christian 20 Warroad, MN North Dakota
RW Steve Christoff 21 Richfield, MN Minnesota
RW John Harrington 22 Virginia, MN Minnesota-Duluth
G Steve Janaszak 22 Saint Paul, MN Minnesota
LW *Rob McClanahan 22 Saint Paul, MN Minnesota
D Jack O'Callahan 22 Charlestown, MA Boston U.
C Mark Pavelich 21 Eveleth, MN Minnesota-Duluth
LW Buzz Schneider 25 Babbitt, MN Minnesota
RW Eric Strobel 21 Rochester, MN Minnesota
D Bob Suter 22 Madison, WI Wisconsin
LW Phil Verchota 22 Duluth, MN Minnesota
LW Mark Wells 21 St. Clair Shores, MI Bowling Green

Soviet Union

Pos. Name Age Hometown
G *Vladislav Tretiak 27 Orudyevo, Moscow Oblast, Russia
D *Viacheslav Fetisov 21 Moscow, Russia
D *Alexei Kasatonov 20 Saint Petersburg, Russia
C *Vladimir Petrov 32 Krasnogorsk, Moscow Oblast, Russia
LW *Valeri Kharlamov 32 Moscow, Russia
RW *Boris Mikhailov (K) 35 Moscow, Russia
RW Helmuts Balderis 27 Riga, Latvia
D Zinetula Bilyaletdinov 24 Moscow, Russia
RW Aleksandr Golikov 27 Penza, Russia
C Vladimir Golikov 25 Penza, Russia
LW Vladimir Krutov 19 Moscow, Russia
RW Yuri Lebedev 28 Moscow, Russia
RW Sergei Makarov 21 Chelyabinsk, Russia
C/RW Aleksandr Maltsev 30 Kirovo-Chepetsk, Russia
G Vladimir Myshkin 24 Kirovo-Chepetsk, Russia
D Vasili Pervukhin 24 Penza, Russia
LW Aleksandr Skvortsov 25 Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
D Sergei Starikov 21 Chelyabinsk, Russia
D Valeri Vasiliev 30 Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
C Viktor Zhluktov 26 Inta, Russia
* Starters

Officials

U.S. vs. USSR

Notes

References

See also

External links

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