40 Years Later The Miracle On Ice Still Has A Lasting Impact

Miracle On Ice
22 Feb 1980: The USA Team celebrates their 4-3 victory over Russia in the semi-final of the Ice Hockey event at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, USA. The game was dubbed "The Miracle on Ice". The USA went on to win the gold medal by defeat

“Do You Believe in Miracles? Yes!!!” The words were spoken by legendary sports commentator Al Michaels 40 years ago in Lake Placid. The United States hockey team defeated the Soviet Union 4-3 in the medal round to advance to the gold medal game against Finland. This is the greatest upset in sports history. Not only does this event transcend time; but the Miracle on Ice had an effect on the country as a whole.

Miracle On Ice Still Has A Lasting Impact 40 years Later

The United States Climate And Culture At The Time

The country was in a deep economic recession. Not to mention the unemployment and inflation rates were at a record high. Jimmy Carter was President of the United States at the time. The United States and the Soviet Union were in the middle of the Cold War. A hostage situation broke out in Iran, and the people of the United States had no confidence in the country and leaders. The people were looking for a spark to ignite the fire again.

Team USA Make-Up

Enter the 1980 United States Men’s Hockey Team. They were a bunch of brash and young college kids. They were coached by Herb Brooks. Brooks was obsessed with the way the Soviets and Canadians played hockey. He wanted the team to train harder and play more competitively. Brooks made the 1960 Squaw Valley United States Hockey team but was the last player to get cut.

The average age of the team was 22 years old. The team had players from the major college programs in the United States at the time. It was a ragtag group made up of mostly players from Minnesota and Boston. Brooks believed the players on the team had to put their rivalries aside for the greater good of the team. He wanted them to play for the name on the front of the jersey not the name on the back. Since the team was made up of college kids and not professionals, the team going to Lake Placid was a long shot to win any medal.

The Soviet Union

The Soviet Union was the enemy in sports and politics entering the games in 1980. They had dominated international hockey winning almost every tournament they played in. They also won every Olympic gold medal since 1964. The United States only trained six months before the games, while the Soviets trained all year round. The Soviet players could be considered professional by any standards. Coached by Viktor Tikhonov their roster was loaded with players like Boris Mikhailov, Valeri Kharlamov, Vladimir Petrov Viacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, and Sergei Makarov

The Lead Up To The Medal Round

Each team played their round-robin games. The Soviets were 5-0 heading into the medal round. While the young American team was 4-0-1 salvaging a point against Sweden in their opening round. That point which came off the stick of Bill Baker helped them advance to the medal round. The American team made a habit of coming back in games. The stage was set. The United States had a showdown with the Soviet Union. There was no chance the college kids were going to beat the best team in the world. Thirteen days before the games started the Soviets crushed the Americans 10-3 in Madison Square Garden.

The Showdown With The Soviets

The arena was packed and the crowd was electric for the game. Brooks gave his famous “Great moments are born from great opportunities,” speech right before the game. The game was a back and forth affair as the United States answered every Soviet goal. Mark Johnson tied the game at 2-2 with a buzzer-beater goal at the end of the first. The Soviets sat Vladislav Tretiak, considered the best goalie in the world, in favour of Vladimir Myshkin for the rest of the game. This turned out to be a big mistake. 

The Soviets took the lead again, but the United States took the lead on goals from  Johnson and Mike Eruzione at the 10-minute mark of the third period. Time stood still for the players as the clocked ticked down. With five seconds left in the game, Al Michaels uttered those famous words, “Do You Believe in Miracles? Yes!!” The mighty Soviet Union was defeated 4-3 by college kids from the United States. Who have thought amateurs could be professionals on a stage like the Olympics. 

Fans filled the street after the win chanting “USA, USA.” The win gave a boost of confidence to the country and to the sport of hockey. It was not the players who beat the Soviets it was We as a country beat the Soviets. There was jubilation on one side, and complete shock on the other. The Soviets were so accustomed to winning, they forgot what it was like to celebrate as the Americans did. 

The United States Completes The Dream

However, the United States had to complete the job against Finland in the gold medal game after completing the miracle on ice. And just like their previous games, the Americans had to come from behind to win the gold medal. Trailing 2-1 heading into the third period, in speaking with Jim Craig all those years later, Brooks said to the team, “If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your grave…your *$%#@ grave!” This lit a fire in his players and they scored three unanswered goals as the United States defeated Finland 4-2 to win its first gold medal in hockey since 1960.

What This Victory Did To Grow The Game

Hockey has grown in the United States since the team won gold in Lake Placid at the 1980 Winter Olympics. The country found a newfound glory and the college kids were an inspiration to everyone in the United States. It was college kids, not professionals who beat the Soviets in the Olympics. The United States win over the Soviets in the Olympics is on the same level as Canada’s win over the Soviets in the 1972 Summit Series. People will know exactly where they were when both teams defeated the Soviet Union in hockey. 

Since 1980, the United States has come a long way in the field of international hockey. Through the development of USA Hockey, Team USA has gone toe-to-toe with the best in the world and has come out victorious. Former players along with current players, even ones who were not around in 1980 talk about how that team influenced their playing careers. Not to mention this set the stage for  Team USA upsetting Team Canada during the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. Along the way, Team USA has seen their junior and women’s programs flourish on the international level as well. However, on the big stage of the Olympics, the women have done better than the men.

Years Later

Prior to his death in 2003, Brooks coached the 2002 Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team in Salt Lake City. Prior to the beginning of the games, a majority of the gold medal-winning reunited to light the Olympic flame. Team USA made it all the way back to the gold medal game defeating Russia on the anniversary of the Miracle on Ice. However, they would fall to Team Canada. Brooks guided Team USA to gold in 1980 and silver in 2002. His coaching legacy continues to last forever. As Brooks noted that with these so-called dream teams, we seldom ever get the dream. 

As the country gets ready to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the miracle on ice, this is a perfect time to reflect on those that will not be there to celebrate. Two members will not be there for this celebration. During the fall of 2104, Defenceman Bob Suter passed away. And during the 35th anniversary in Lake Placid, he had his number was retired. Mark Pavelich, who registered a point in every game in the Olympics, was ruled mentally ill by a judge after beating up his neighbour. Both are sad stories, but both made lasting impacts on the ice for the United States.

The Miracle On Ice stands the test and you will never see something like this ever again. Having spent time with the players years later and hearing their stories, they truly believed they were going to win. 

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images

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