Miracle on Ice

From Academic Kids

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The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team celebrates the goal that led them to victory over the USSR.

The Miracle on Ice is the popular nickname for the ice hockey game in the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, in which a team of amateur and collegiate players from the United States beat the Soviet Union against near-impossible odds on February 22, 1980, in Lake Placid, New York. The United States went on to win the gold medal. USSR received the silver medal, Sweden received the bronze.[1] (http://www.olympic.org/uk/athletes/results/search_r_uk.asp?SPO_S_CODE=IH&OLG_I_YEAR=1980&OLGT_I_ID=2&RESULT=TRUE&DIS_S_CODE=IH&SEARCH_TYPE=3&GET_C_ID=W,M,X&MED_I_ID=1,2,3)


Prelude and group play

The United States entered the competition without a great deal of fanfare or favor, having been seeded seventh in the final round of twelve teams which qualified for the Lake Placid Olympics. They were composed of collegiate players and amateurs; only a few had signed a contract to play in the National Hockey League, the world's premier professional league, but none had yet actually played in the League. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, were the favored team going into the tournament. Though classed as amateur, Soviet players essentially played professionally in a well-developed league with excellent training facilities. They were led by legendary players in world ice hockey, such as Boris Mikhailov, a center who served as the team captain, and Vladislav Tretiak, considered by many to be the best ice hockey goaltender in the world at the time, as well as talented, young, and dynamic players such as defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov.

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Coach Herb Brooks calms his players' nerves during the game.

The two teams were natural rivals because of the Cold War. In addition, President Jimmy Carter was at the time considering an American boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics, to be held in Moscow, in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which began the year before. Carter eventually decided in favor of the boycott.

On February 9, the two teams met for an exhibition match in order to practice for the upcoming competition. The Soviet Union won, 10-3.

In group play, the United States surprised many observers with their physical, cohesive play, including a 7-3 victory against a very strong team from Czechoslovakia, and finished with 4 wins and 1 draw to advance to the medal round. In the other group, the Soviets stormed through their opposition, defeating, among others, Japan 16-0, the Netherlands 17-4, and Poland 8-1, and easily qualified for the next round. Sweden and Finland also qualified for the medal round.

The two teams prepared for the medal round in different ways. Coach Viktor Tikhonov of the Soviets 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 any 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 win the Olympic gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments."

Medal round: U.S. vs. USSR

The home crowd, reinforced by the Americans' improbable run during group play and the Cold War "showdown" mentality, were in a patriotic fervor throughout the match, waving American flags and singing patriotic songs such as "God Bless America". The rest of America would have to wait to see the game, however, as ABC decided not to cover the games live, but rather on tape delay so the 5:00 game could be seen in primetime. The Americans, however, fell behind early, as they had in many of their preliminary games. Vladimir Krutov deflected a slap shot by Aleksei Kasatonov past U.S. goaltender Jim Craig to give the Soviets a 1-0 lead, and after Buzz Schneider scored for the Americans to tie the game, the Soviets rallied again with a Sergei Makarov goal.

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Captain Mike Eruzione tees up the go-ahead goal.

Down 2-1, Craig began to improve his play, turning away many Soviet shots before the Americans had another shot on goal. With one second left in the first period, Dave Christian fired a desperate slap shot on Tretiak. The Soviet goalie saved the shot but uncharacteristically misplayed the rebound, and Mark Johnson scooped it past Tretiak to tie the score again. The frustrated 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 intermission.

In the second period, Coach Tikhonov decided to replace Tretiak with backup goalkeeper Vladimir Myshkin, a move which surprised many players on both teams, including Fetisov, who would later identify the move as the "turning point of the game". The move seemed to work at first, however, and Myshkin allowed no goals in the second, while Aleksandr Maltsev scored on the power play to make the score 3-2. Jim Craig was knocked down on the play by Kharlemov. Despite being in obvious pain, Craig got up and remained in the game.

In the third, however, Johnson scored again for the U.S., firing a loose puck past Myshkin to tie the score. Later, with ten minutes to go in the game, Mark Pavelich passed to U.S. captain Mike Eruzione, who was left undefended in the high slot (the area directly in front of the goal). Eruzione fired a shot past Myshkin, who was unable to see the shot because his own defenseman was blocking his view.

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 desperately 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 television along with former Montreal Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden, picked up on the countdown in his broadcast, and delivered the famous, ad-libbed line for which the match would later be known:

Eleven seconds, you got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now...Morrow up to Silk...five seconds left in the game! Four left in the game! Do you believe in miracles? YES!!! Unbelievable!

Medal round: U.S. vs. Finland

The match against the great Soviet team was very emotional and so memorable that many Americans still do not realize that it did not win the gold medal for the U.S. Once again, Coach Brooks skated a "hard" practice the day before the game, determined to disabuse his team of the idea that the game was anti-climactic.

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After his win in the final game, goaltender Jim Craig searches the stands for his father.

Again, the U.S. fell behind early, this time 2-1 after two periods, due to excellent play by the Finnish goalie. Coming into the dressing room, Brooks turned to his players, looked at them and said, "If you lose this game, you'll take it to your fucking grave." He then paused, took a few steps, turned again, said, "your fucking grave," and walked out.

In the third period, the U.S. got three unanswered goals from Phil Verchota, Rob McClanahan, and Mark Johnson, and held on for a 4-2 victory. Again, Michaels delivered a famous line to end the game: "This impossible dream comes true!" The U.S. had won the gold medal. Players mobbed the ice, sticks and gloves flying. Jim Craig roamed the ice, draped in an American flag, scanning the crowd for his father, with whom he wanted to share the moment. Craig's mother had recently died, after expressing her dream that he play on the Olympic squad. Millions of Americans were moved to overjoyed tears as this team that was given no shot by the sports world to even medal celebrated its gold medal–clinching victory.

Often, the game against Soviet Union is called the "semifinal" and the game against Finland is called the "final" or the "gold medal game". This is not quite accurate. In 1980 Olympics, each of the four teams who qualified for the medal round (U.S., USSR, Sweden, Finland) played the teams that they did not yet play. The team with the most points against the other teams in the medal round would become the Olympic Champion. After the U.S. upset of the Soviet Union, each team in the medal round still had a chance to win the Gold Medal, depending on the results of the two last games (U.S.–Finland and Sweden–USSR, both played on the same day).


Eruzione accepted the Gold Medal for the United States, inviting all of his teammates onto the podium with him to do so in a minor breach of Olympic etiquette.

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The team jubilantly crowds the medal stand.

The match versus 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. Some historians and political commentators actually consider the 1980 hockey game as a major turning point in the political races that were taking place in 1980.

Several of the U.S. teams' players, including Johnson, Pavelich, Christian, and Craig, later enjoyed modest success in the NHL. Neal Broten, considered by many the best hockey player to ever come from Minnesota, had a long and successful career in the NHL, including a Stanley Cup victory with the New Jersey Devils. Ken Morrow won the Cup that year 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. Eruzione, however, played his last high-level hockey game in the 1980 Olympics, as he felt that he had accomplished his hockey goals with the gold medal win. One of Brooks's assistant coaches, Craig Patrick, went on to become a successful general manager in the NHL and is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Despite the loss, Soviet ice hockey was still recognized for superior play and talent, and Soviet players began to appear in the NHL with more regularity – although initially many had to defect in order to do so because of the Cold War. Today, many of the NHL's top players, such as Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Ilya Kovalchuk, Sergei Gonchar, and Pavel Bure, come from the former Soviet Union.

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.

In 2002, the members of the team jointly lit the Olympic Flame at the climax of the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In 2004, ESPN, as part of their 25th anniversary, declared the Miracle on Ice game vs. the Soviets the top sports headline, moment, and game of the period 19792004.

The term Miracle on Ice was also applied to another surprising Olympic ice hockey victory: The Belarusian defeat of heavily-favored Sweden in the quarterfinals of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

Films about the event

A movie of the same name, starring Karl Malden as Brooks and Steve Guttenberg as Craig, aired on television in 1981, and was released in theaters in 1989. A movie about the hockey victory called Miracle was released in 2004.

Members of the team


  • Do You Believe in Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team. HBO Home Video, 2001.

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