College kids perform Olympic miracle (In 1980)
Sunday, December 23
Updated: August 11, 8:58 PM ET
By Kevin Allen
Editor's note: This article originally appeared as a chapter in "USA Hockey: A Celebration of a Great Tradition."
What the U.S. hockey team did to the Soviets on the ice at Lake Placid in 1980 hardly compares to what they did to the hearts and minds of American people. "It's the most transcending moment in the history of our sport in this country," gushed Dave Ogrean, former executive director of USA Hockey. "For people who were born between 1945 and 1955, they know where they were when John Kennedy was shot, when man walked on the moon, and when the USA beat the Soviet Union in Lake Placid." No other Olympic performance has touched America the way that hockey team did,
not even Jesse Owens's brilliant runs in front of Adolf Hitler in Berlin in 1936. Thanks to the advent of television, Eruzione's goal in 1980 triggered a spontaneous national celebration of amazing proportion. People wept, strangers hugged each other, and groups around the country broke into stirring renditions of "God Bless America" and "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Those in attendance remember the incredible number of American flags that were in the crowd that day, not small flags that fit comfortably in the hands of small children, but mammoth flags that were usually found on 30-foot flag polls. Americans were overcome by patriotism.
"Right after we won I got bags of mail," Eruzione said. "It was like in the movie "Miracle on 34th Street" when they bring in all that mail to Santa. That's what I used to get."
The U.S. team, made up of college players and long-shot pro aspirants like Eruzione and Buzz Schneider, defeated a Russian program that had dominated the Olympics since 1964. The U.S. team beat a Russian team that had seven players from the 1976 Olympic team and one player who had played in three other Olympiads.
Somehow over time, the U.S. team has been miscast as a group of overachievers, even though the core group of players, Mark Johnson, Neal Broten, Mark Pavelich, Ken Morrow, Dave Christian, and Mike Ramsey, also made significant marks in the NHL.
"Maybe we overachieved," Ramsey said. "But we were a damn good hockey team."
The USA had speed, defense, scorers, conditioning, goaltending, and coaching - a complete team, something the Soviets didn't realize until it was too late. The Soviets had expected to win the tournament with the same ease with which they had dispatched all comers at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. Further buoying their confidence was the 10-3 licking they had applied to the Americans in an exhibition at Madison Square Garden just one week before the world arrived at Lake Placid.
The Americans trailed in six of their seven Olympic wins, including the gold medal game, which they won 4-2 over Finland. In their opener, defenseman Bill Baker scored with 27 seconds left to give the USA a 2-2 tie with Sweden in the opening game of the tournament. Would the Miracle of Lake Placid have occurred if Baker had not scored? Probably not. The tie was important because the Americans had a gloomy history with Sweden. They hadn't beaten the Swedes since 1960. Baker's goal lifted the team's morale like the thrust of a rocket booster.
The Americans then dominated the Czechoslovakians, winning 7-3 with seven different goal scorers. That outcome surprised many, particularly the Czechs, who had entered the tournament with aspirations of at least a silver medal. The Czech team had the Stastny brothers -- Petr, Marian, and Anton -- who would later defect for a chance to play in the NHL with the Quebec Nordiques.
Then Norway was taken, followed by Romania and West Germany. Coach Herb Brooks had been worried about the Germans, because they had beaten the USA 4-1 in 1976 at Innsbruck, undermining coach Bob Johnson's hope of a bronze medal. They didn't have the talent to compete with the Americans. They weren't fancy, like the Swedes, Czechs, Finns, and Soviets. But they were dangerous because they played hockey as if it was trench warfare. They were tough and determined, not like the German players who the Americans whipped in the 1960s.
“It's the most transcending moment in the history of our sport in this country. For people who were born between 1945 and 1955, they know where they were when John Kennedy was shot, when man walked on the moon, and when the USA beat the Soviet Union in Lake Placid. ”
— Dave Ogrean
Reprinted from USA Hockey: A Celebration Of A Great Tradition © 1997 with permission of USA Hockey https://www.espn.com/classic/s/miracle_ice_1980.html