Miracle on Ice
Cold War on skates: USA & CCCP 80's hockey teams
At the XIII Winter Olympic Games in New York, a hockey game that has since been likened to a battle between David and Goliath’s biblical characters occurred. The Soviet squad, who were undoubtedly the best in the world at the time, took on a youthful American team and could not overcome them. It was a shocking and unexpected result that would go on to be called a miracle, the Miracle on Ice.
In five of the six previous Winter Olympic Games, the Soviet Union won the gold medal in the men’s hockey tournament. The team, which consisted of professional players, was the favourite to win the gold medal even at this event. The team had not lost an Olympic hockey game since 1968. Many of the players were already well known on the international scene. Unlike Western nations who used amateur athletes, the Soviet Union used full-time athletes. Before the Olympic Games began, the Soviets had played the US team in an exhibition game and destroyed them 10-3 at Madison Square Garden. This should probably have broken the spirit of the US boys at the time, but maybe it also caused the Soviets to underestimate the US team, which they were going to face later on. The United States’ team was made up of mostly younger amateur players. Only four players of the group had any minor league experience. Mike Eruzione, the team captain, was recruited from the Toledo Blades. Only one player in the team had previously been an Olympian, Buzz Schneider. The team was the youngest team in the tournament and still remains the youngest US national team in history.
The team was seeded seventh going into the competition. In the opening round of play, the US did not lose a match. The team scored four wins and one draw. In their first game, they matched the Swedes who were expected to win, and in their following, they beat a very favoured Czechoslovakian team. Czechoslovakia was expected to challenge the Soviets a little going into the tournament.
Even though the team was a young and promising one, it really was not expected that the amateur squad would perform so well against professional players. Years later, Eruzione would reveal that Coach Brooks would always bring them back down to earth after a win. Brooks was a stern and authoritative coach. Players had to do things his way. He worked his players to the point that they hated him and only backed off when he felt they wanted to quit. Many of the guys in the US team would later go on to have professional careers in the US National Hockey League (NHL). The Soviets seemed invincible in their physical conditioning. Brook’s regime for the American boys got them ready to challenge for the gold medal with their physical conditioning being their secret weapon. Countless hours of running skating exercises got them ready to hang with the Soviets for the three periods of play.
After the 1980 Olympics, the Soviets remained the dominant power in Olympic hockey until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The US team met with the Soviets at the Canada Cup in 1981 but lost. In 1982, at the World Championships, they met again and still lost. The Soviet team did not lose to the United States until 1991. In fact, four members of the 1980 Soviet team have since been enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Despite the losses after that 1980 game, the Miracle on Ice remains an unforgettable moment for the US.
The US team received the Sports Illustrated magazine’s Sportsmen of the Year Award and were also named Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press. In 2004, ESPN declared the Miracle on Ice to be the top sports headline moment since 1979. A film memorialising the moment was released the same year. It was critically praised for its portrayal of history. The film, which starred Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks, was unsurprisingly titled Miracle. To this day, February 22 1980, is remembered as the day of the Miracle on Ice.