I am having a hard time finding the words to start this article because even though I have read/watched/learned about this game a million times throughout my life, I still find it absolutely unbelievable that this iconic moment actually even happened. I want you to imagine something for me: Imagine that you and some of your friends are shooting hoops at your local park when all of a sudden you are asked to put on some jerseys and go play in the NBA Finals against the 1990’s Chicago Bulls. Once you were done throwing up your lunch, you’d probably expect to get your ass handed to you in a complete blowout. Well, this is basically how the story of the 1980’s US Olympic Men’s Hockey Team starts. Now that my patriotic boner is fully erect, I am going to share with you the story of the “Miracle on Ice”.
Lets set the scene: We are right in the middle of the Cold War, and the Soviet Union Men’s Hockey team is the four-time defending gold medalist with an overall record of 27-1-1 during that run. While the Soviet Union gets to use hockey players that were created in a laboratory and taught to wrestle bears and chug vodka from infancy, the United States was still following the IOC Rule that required that only “amateur” players were allowed to participate in the Olympics. To give you an idea of how dominant the USSR Team was, here are some stats:
-In 1979, the USSR Hockey team played a game against the NHL All-Star team and beat them 6-0
-Over the 16 year run of four straight gold medals, the USSR team had outscored their opponents 175-44.
-During that same run, the USSR outscored the United States 28-7
Now I could go on but you get the idea, this USSR Hockey team was not considered beatable, especially by a rag-tag group of college players who had only formed as an official team months prior.
So lets fast forward to the group stage of the Olympics. The United States run started with a draw to the heavily-favorited Sweden team and a dominating victory over the (again) highly-favorited Czechoslovakian team. After those two games, the United States won three more to advance them into the medal round. On the other side of the tournament, the USSR team absolutely obliterated their opponents to advance. Over the 5 games, the Soviets outscored their opponents 51-11. After these games, we now have our final four teams: United States, Sweden, Finland, and the USSR.
Now we enter the medal round, which was still being played round robin style at the time. This means that each team has to play twice and essentially are ranked off of best record for the medals, with a third game being played if necessary. The United States goes into the first game of the round as (1000/1) underdogs against the USSR. Now I know that there is a very famous movie scene about this exact moment, but I can only imagine the tension that existed in the locker room before this game. The US team wasn’t even supposed to get out of the group stage and now they are playing the most dominant team in International hockey history.
The first period of this game definitely had the most action. The USSR got out in front with an early goal, as everyone watching probably expected this to be the start of the blowout. The US team answers back with a goal to tie the game, only to have the Soviets answer again not long afterwards. In the last seconds of the first period, the United States were able to put a rebounded puck in the net to tie the game going into the first intermission.
At the time, the USSR goalie, Vladislav Tretiak, was considered the best goalie in the world by a wide margin. Despite this, the USSR coach decided to bench him after the second goal and put in the backup goalie for the rest of the game. The coach would later be quoted saying that this was the “biggest mistake of my entire career”. At this point I would assume that good ole Vlad would be on his way to Siberia to work on some farm and get eaten by tigers, but don’t worry everyone, I googled him and it turns out that he is still alive. In the second period, the Soviets outshot the Americans 12-2, and put another goal on the board, going into the 3rd with a 3-2 lead.
This takes us to the third period, the most exciting 20 minutes in the history of the game of hockey. The US team got on a couple power plays early, and were able to score the game tying goal. Fast forward a few minutes in the game, and the United States team is starting to gain momentum. After putting in the go-ahead goal, the United States had 10 long minutes of play left to secure their victory. Despite the ferocious attacking of the USSR team, the United States team was able hold on to win the game in front of their home fans in Lake Placid, NY. The final seconds of the game would not only change the lives of all the players and coaches, but it would also help Al Michaels’ career as well. His call of the final minute is one of the most famous in sports history:
After this incredible victory, the United States Men’s Hockey Team had only one more obstacle between them and greatness, Finland. I am not going to go into detail on this game because I am sure you know where this is going, but the US team won by a score of 4-2 in order to secure their gold medal victory. The Soviets went on to beat Sweden 9-2 to earn the silver medal, also known as first place of the losers.
To this day, I am sure that the members of this team still have no idea how they won this game. You have these teams play each other 100 times, the Soviets are winning 99 of them. So how did they do it? My only possible answer to that question is that God hates communism.
GOD BLESS AMERICA