This month marks the 35th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice, the story of the amateur 1980 United States hockey team filled with dreamers overcoming all odds and winning a gold medal at the Winter Olympics, defeating a power house Soviet Union team on the way.
This story is known by nearly every hockey fan and American sports fan. It's been said that if you ask an American where they were on Feb. 22, 1980 when the United States men’s hockey team defeated the immaculate Soviet Union they'll be able to tell you.
The ‘miracle’ may have occurred three decades ago, but it's history and pride is still as loud as the American's who flooded the streets of Lake Placid 35 years ago celebrating an unbelievable victory. Around the world, sports have a uniting impact on nations and it’s no different in the United States.
To start the tournament the U.S. Men’s ice hockey team was a long shot to win the gold, odds were pegged at 1000-1. The team, led by head coach Herb Brooks would not be denied.
“Me and Herb always got along,” said team captain Mike Eruzione. “My relationship with Herb was great. He was still the guy in charge, and he knew how to respect me and I knew how to respect him. We always got along.”
Brooks and Eruzione made it clear that the United States were there to win it all. After a dramatic late third period tie with Sweden the young United States hockey team went on to beat Czechoslovakia, who was considered the second-best team in the world behind the Soviets, 7-3. The U.S. then rolled into the medal round defeating Norway 5–1, Romania 7–2, and West Germany 4–2 to go 4–0–1 and advance to the medal round from its group, along with Sweden.
United States goaltender Jim Craig played outstanding in the first round, allowing just 10 goals in five games for the U.S. “Jimmy lost his mother prior to the Olympics,” said Dennis Falci, a longtime friend of Craig’s. “His mother wanted that for him. She told him that if he had the opportunity to represent his country, that he better take it.”
Meanwhile, the Soviets stormed through their opposition going undefeated. They outscored their opponents 51-8, defeating Japan 16–0, the Netherlands 17–4, Poland 8–1, Finland 4–2 and Canada 6–4 to qualify for the next round.
In the end, the Soviets and Fins advanced from their group. The United States faced the Soviets in the first game of the medal round. Brooks left the locker room before the game telling the team that this was there time, a moment that has become iconic thanks in part to the 2004 movie, Miracle. The U.S. fell behind in the first period 2-1 before a last second goal by center Mark Johnson tied it up. In the second the physical gritty U.S. team fell behind once more as they went into the locker room down 3-2. Brooks gathered his team before the start of the third and said, “You’ve come from behind in every game of this tournament so far and you can do it again.” The U.S. did just that as they scored two goals in the third the fourth and game winner of the stick of Mike Eruzione. As the last five seconds ticked off of the clock game commentator Al Michaels made his famous call “Five seconds left in the game, “Do you believe in Miracles? YES!” The United States and the streets of Lake Placid rocked that afternoon as the great Soviet Union was finally defeated.
"The Soviet team made one mistake: It didn't respect Team USA," Vladislav Tretiak, Russia’s goaltender who was pulled after allowing two goals in the first period, said in an interview for ESPN. “It was a nightmare for us. It still haunts me till this day.”
Beating the Soviets however for team USA did not win the gold medal. The U.S. still had to play a tough Finland team who tied Sweden 3-3 in the second game but due to the point system advanced with more points.
“A lot of people thought we only played one game in that Olympics,” Mike Eruzione said. “We had the second hardest practice of the Olympics the day after we beat the Soviets. Herb stressed that we had not won anything yet. We knew if we lost to Finland beating the Soviets would have been forgotten.”
Two days after beating the Soviet Union, Team USA beat Finland and won the gold medal, coming from behind once again and winning 4-2. The Miracle was made complete as twenty young man with so many different backgrounds all came together as one and received the gold medal. 35 years later USA team captain Mike Eruzione still has very strong feelings towards that Olympics “Awesome. That is the one word I would use to describe that experience in my life,” he said.
No matter who you talk to or ask in America that was living during that time, they’ll be able to tell you where they were when The United States beat the Soviet Union in 1980.