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The Miracle on Ice refers to the dramatic win by the United States ice hockey team over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. The United States, which was hosting the games was largely represented by amateur and college players while the Soviet team was made up of experienced professionals which made the US triumph all the more unlikely. The US produced a major upset of the formidable Soviets and then went ahead to defeat Finland in the gold medal match.
Lead-up to the Miracle on Ice
Coming into the games, the US hockey team could not be counted among the very best in the tournament.
They had last won the gold medal in 1960 and had four silver medals to their name (1924, 1952, 1956 and 1972). In the 1976 Winter Olympics, the US had finished outside the medal places, so they were counting on the 1980 edition to make that right. Herb Brooks, a former US hockey international had been appointed as coach and opted to go with a roster he was familiar with, mostly college students from the University of Minnesota with whom he had won the 1979 national championship.
Their underdog status was cemented by a 10-3 defeat to the Soviets in their last exhibition game before the start of the Winter Olympics. The US were seeded in seventh place, hardly a boost of confidence for the team. The number one seeded Soviets meanwhile were in formidable shape, having won the previous three Olympic golds and had last lost an Olympic hockey game in 1968.
In the opening game the US drew 2-2 with Sweden and then beat Czechoslovakia 7-3 in the second game. They then beat Norway, Romania and Germany to finish the robin round with a 4-0-1 record. This set up a clash with the mighty Soviets.
The game was played on February 22 in front of a sold-out crowd at Lake Placid. The Soviets were first to score, through a deflected slap by Valery Krotov. Midway through the first period, the US struck back through Buzz Schneider, only to see the Soviet lead restored by Sergei Makarov. With barely seconds left in the first period, Mark Johnson levelled again for the Americans.
In the second period, the Soviets shocked everyone by replacing legendary goaltender Vladislav Tretiak with backup Vladimir Myshkin. Two minutes into the second period, the Soviets scored through Alesandr Maltsev. A wild shot from David Silk nine minutes into the period tied the contest at 3-3 before Mike Eruzione slammed a 25-foot shot past Myshkin. The US were in the lead for the first time in the game but there were still 10 minutes left to play.
The Soviets camped in the US half making shot after shot in an attempt to get a goal back but goaltender Jim Craig who had saved the US on many occasions during the game continued to keep the Soviets out. With just five seconds remaining, the Americans were finally able to get the puck out of their zone and spectators began to count down the seconds.
At the final horn, there was raucous celebration in the US camp while the Soviets waited quietly to shake their victorious opponents’ hands.
Aftermath of the Miracle on Ice
The implications of the game were far greater than pride on the rink; the US and the Soviets were at the height of the Cold War meaning that the political stakes were very high. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had heightened tensions between the two countries and the US was in fact considering a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. The Americans’ triumph over the Soviets was taken as another ideological upset over the Soviets, at par with the Apollo moon landing and the Berlin Airlift.
Two days later, the US completed their statement of competence with a 4-2 comeback win over the Finns to lift Olympic gold. The team was received heroically, with a visit to the white house and media houses across the nation. Their images featured on the covers of numerous products including cereal boxes, magazines and awards.
By orchestrating the Miracle on Ice, the US national hockey team had cemented for themselves a legacy that would last into the foreseeable future. Their images featured on the covers of numerous products including cereal boxes, magazines and awards. By orchestrating the Miracle on Ice, the US national hockey team had cemented for themselves a legacy that would last into the foreseeable future.