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Miracle on Ice

The "Miracle on Ice" is the popular nickname for the ice hockey competition in the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, in which a team of amateur and collegiate players from the United States improbably captured the Gold Medal. In particular, the nickname refers to the semi-final game between the United States and the Soviet Union on February 22, 1980 in Lake Placid, New York. Finland received the Silver Medal in the competition, and the Soviets received the Bronze.

Table of contents
1 Prelude and Group Play
2 U.S. vs. USSR, Semi-final Match
3 U.S. vs. Finland, Gold Medal Match
4 Aftermath
5 External Link

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, such as Neal Broten, had signed a contract to play in the National Hockey League, the world's premier professional league, but none had yet actually done so. 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.

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.

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."

U.S. vs. USSR, Semi-final Match

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 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. goalie Jim Craig to give the Soviets a 1-0 lead, and after Buzz Schneider scored for the Americans to tie the game, the Soviets tallied again with a Sergei Makarov goal.

With the score 2-1 against, 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.

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.

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. team captain Mike Eruzione, who was, for reasons unknown, left undefended in the "high slot" (the area in front the goal before the blue line). Eruzione fired a shot past Myshkin, who couldn't see it past his own defensemen.

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...five seconds left in the game! Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"

U.S. vs. Finland, Gold Medal Match

The circumstances of the semi-final match were so emotional and memorable that many Americans still do not realize that the match against the Soviets did not win the Gold Medal for the U.S. Finland gave the Americans their only draw during group play, and 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, as many Americans felt after the semi-final.

Again, the U.S. fell behind early, this time 2-1 after two periods, due to excellent play by the Finnish goalie. But in the third period, the U.S. got 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!"


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.

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.

Several of the U.S. teams' players, including Johnson, Broten, Pavelich, Christian, and Craig, later enjoyed modest success in the NHL. Ken Morrow won several Stanley Cups as a member of the New Jersey Devils - ironically with Slava Fetisov as a teammate. Eruzione, however, retired from professional hockey at the age of 25 rather than go on to the NHL, feeling that he had accomplished all he had wanted to do in the sport with the Gold Medal win.

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 many had to defect in order to do so initially, because of the Cold War. Today, many of the NHL's top players, such as Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, 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.

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

The Miracle on Ice in Fiction

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 new movie about the hockey victory is scheduled to be released in 2004.

External Link