...in 1980, the U.S. hockey team beat Finland to win the Gold Medal at the Lake Placid Olympics. What really captured the country's imagination occurred two days earlier in the semi-finals. The young Americans' thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Soviet Union, remembered ever since as the "miracle on ice," showed that speed and endurance could outweigh experience and technical skill. In a sport long dominated by Canadians and Russians, the victory boosted the popularity of hockey in the U.S. and raised the nation's spirits. Four of the team's players hailed from Massachusetts, including the goalie, Jim Craig, and the captain, Mike Eruzione, who scored the winning goal.
When the US hockey team a young squad of college players, four of them from Massachusetts defeated Finland to win the Gold Medal at the 1980 Olympics, the arena in Lake Placid was a joyful place indeed. But the real highpoint of the games and one of the greatest American sporting achievements ever was the improbable come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Soviet team in the semi-finals. This victory was so unlikely and inspiring that it is known as the "miracle on ice."
The modern Olympic movement began in Athens in 1896. The first winter sport to be included was figure skating at the London Olympics in the summer of 1908. Organizers of the 1916 games in Berlin planned to introduce a "Skiing Olympia," but the competition was canceled because of World War I. When the games resumed in 1920, figure skating returned and ice hockey was added as a medal event.
In 1924, the International Olympic Committee sanctioned an "International Winter Sports Week" at Chamonix, France. The 11-day event, which included Nordic skiing, speed skating, figure skating, bobsledding, and ice hockey, was a huge success.
The Canadians ruled the Olympic hockey rink through the 1950s. At Squaw Valley in 1960, the Americans upset both the Russian and the Canadian teams to win the Gold Medal for the first time ever. But the feat would not be repeated for another 20 years
During the 1960s and 1970s, Soviet domination of ice hockey was absolute. Going into the 1980 Olympics, the Americans were, as usual, the underdogs. Seeded seventh out of 12 teams in the first round, they had been routed 103 by the Soviet Union in an exhibition game only a week before the games began.
The coach was Herb Brooks, a veteran of two Olympic teams and the coach of the University of Minnesota's powerful hockey team. Known for intense preparation and smart tactical moves, he ensured that what his players lacked in finesse, they made up for in speed and determination.
The "magic" of the upset had its roots in Brooks's coaching but blossomed with the inspired performances of the players, especially the gutsy goaltender Jim Craig of North Easton, Massachusetts, who made 39 saves and kept his team in the game.
The Soviets came out blazing, out-shot the Americans and took an early 2-1 lead. At the end of the first period, Mark Johnson of Wisconsin scored with a buzzer beater to tie the game. Inexplicably, the Russians replaced their legendary goalie, Vladislav Tretiak, with a lesser backup for the second period. Craig continued to fend off waves of shots, but when one breakaway shot scored, the Russians took a 3-2 lead.
In the final 20 minutes, the speed and endurance that Coach Brooks had drilled into his players gave the young Americans a decisive advantage. The Russian forwards were unable to score again. Eventually, a Soviet defenseman fumbled a loose puck, and team captain Mike Eruzione from Winthrop scooped up the puck and threw a 25-foot wrist shot past the Soviet goalie. The Americans went ahead 4-3 and held their lead for the rest of the game.
It was almost an anti-climax when, two days later the team completed "the impossible dream" by beating Finland 4-2 for the Gold Medal.
A thrilling victory in and of itself, the 1980 win over the Soviet Union took on added meaning. The United States was experiencing inflation, high unemployment, and an energy crisis. The Soviets had invaded Afghanistan, sparking fears of a renewed Cold War. Fifty-two Americans were held hostage in Tehran. The upset victory in Lake Placid affected Americans who had never watched a hockey game before. "The miracle on ice" is part of the country's popular culture. As recently as 2004, Disney made a movie about the team entitled "Miracle," starring Kurt Russell.
Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team, by Wayne Coffey (Crown, 2005).
Boston Globe, February 23, 1980.
"Miracle On Ice: The Legacy" article
"American Hockey's Defining Moment" article