1980 U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey Team

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1980 U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey Team

American hockey team

History is replete with examples of epic struggles where ordinary people face overwhelming odds to achieve monumental victories. David, a simple shepherd boy, bore the weight of a nation and armed with only a sling slew the most feared and seasoned warrior Goliath. Local militias comprised of farmers, artisans, and volunteers defeated the professional armies of the British Empire in securing independence during the American Revolution. In U.S. Olympic history, perhaps there is no greater example than when a group of college kids came together in February 1980 to strike gold and ignite a long dormant flame of national pride and patriotism.

On November 4, 1979, militant Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran taking several American citizens hostage. One month later military forces from the Soviet Union invaded neighboring Afghanistan lowering the temperature of an already frigid Cold War. In the United States inflation and unemployment rates were on the rise and lines for gasoline were growing longer. In February of 1980, as the Winter Olympics approached, world events had served to foster a growing sense of national pessimism and hopelessness.

Low Expectations

Overall, international amateur ice hockey was thoroughly dominated by the Soviet Union. The Soviets had captured gold in five consecutive Olympics prior to Lake Placid and with Vladislav Tretiak in net, widely regarded as the best goaltender of all time, they were expected to tally a sixth. Although technically amateurs, the men of the Soviet hockey team were officially members of the Red Army whose only responsibility was to eat, sleep, and breathe ice hockey. Despite growing rumblings within the international community over a boycott

of the upcoming 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow in protest of the Afghanistan invasion, the Soviet government was determined to send a team to Lake Placid to not only compete but win on American soil.

Expectations were low for the U.S. Hockey team going into the 1980 winter games. Since 1960, American presence on the world hockey stage had been dwindling. To counter this trend, the U.S. turned to the gruff hard-edged coach from the University of Minnesota, Herb Brooks . During the 1970's, Brooks was the most successful college hockey coach in the nation. He led the University of Minnesota to three NCAA ice hockey championships. Coach Brooks' first responsibility was to recruit a team that would be able to compete on the world stage. In doing so he relied heavily on his successful Minnesota squad. More than half his roster was comprised of Minnesota players such as Mike Ramsey, Neal Broten, and David Christian. In order to avoid the appearance of favoritism, Brooks rounded out his team with players from several mid-western schools such as Wisconsin, Bowling Green, and the University of Minnesota at Duluth. Other notable additions to the team were supplied by long time Minnesota rival Boston University, namely goaltender Jim Craig and team captain Mike Eruzione.

Divide and Defeat, Unite and Conquer

The next problem that befell Coach Brooks was how to eliminate the regional rivalries amongst the team and unite them into a single American squad. To accomplish this Herb Brooks created an adversarial environment pitting him against the team. He went so far as to bring in new tryouts only weeks prior to the start of the Olympics threatening to replace the current team. The move forced his players to threaten to quit thus galvanizing them into a solid, single unit. Although abrasive and confrontational, the style worked well.

In preparation for Lake Placid, the U.S. team engaged in several pre-Olympic matches against World Class opponents in both Europe and North America. The American squad performed extremely well posting a 42-15-3 record. During a Christmas tournament in 1979, held in Lake Placid, the U.S. defeated the Soviet National B team to claim a gold medal. The success of the Americans began to raise questions as to whether or not the team had the potential to seriously compete for a medal. Any bourgeoning hopes were soon to be dashed.

On February 9, 1980, just three days prior to the opening ceremonies in Lake Placid, an exhibition game was held in Madison Square Garden in New York City between the streaking U.S. squad and the Soviet national team. Given the deep freeze of the "Cold War," further aggravated by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and boycott talks, the crowd was rather hostile towards the visiting Russians. The men of the Red Army completely dominated the youthful Americans. The final score was eleven to three and left no doubt in the minds of U.S. hockey fans as well as the rest of the world as to just who would win gold in Lake Placid. The Americans were left wondering how they could compete.

Let the Games Begin

Opening ceremonies for thirteenth Winter Olympic Games were held February 12, 1980. In the ice hockey competition there were twelve teams competing, organized into two pools of six. The U.S. team was seeded seventh and there were some who believed the Americans would be able to compete for the Bronze. It was widely believed the Soviet Union had all but claimed the Gold and that Czechoslovakia and Sweden would be the main contenders for the Silver.


1979Win Christmas exhibition tournament against the Soviets
1980Coach Brooks brings in new try-outs in January in an attempt to unite current team
1980Lose 11-3 to the Red Army Team during an exhibition game
1980Olympic games begin February 12
1980Defeat the Soviets on February 22
1980Win the Gold medal by defeating Finland February 24
2002Reunite to light the Olympic Cauldron February 8

During the first round of pool competition, the Soviet hockey machine rolled to a perfect 5-0 record outscoring their first two opponents, Japan and The Netherlands, 33-4. The U.S. did not have as easy a time.

The U.S. faced Sweden as their first opponent in the first round. The Swedish team was heavily favored and took a 2-1 lead late into the third period. With only 41 seconds remaining in the game, Herb Books pulled goaltender Jim Craig from the net and added an extra forward. With just seconds remaining, forward Bill Baker put a shot passed the Swedish goaltender. The U.S. held on and skated off with a 2-2 tie.

The next opponent in the first round for the young American squad was Czechoslovakia. The Czechs were widely regarded as the only team with any real chance of beating the Soviet juggernaut. Relishing their role as the underdog, the U.S. thoroughly dominated the Czech team by posting a commanding 7-3 victory.

The Americans went on to easily defeat Norway and Romania and struggled slightly to pull out a come from behind win against Germany. The U.S. captured Pool A with a 4-0-1 record and advanced to the medal rounds and a date with destiny.

Battle Against the Red Army

Friday, February 22, 1980, the United States met the Soviet Union on the ice in Lake Placid during the medal round of the Winter Olympics ice hockey competition. Just fifteen days prior the Soviets devastated the U.S. team in an exhibition game, winning 11-3. On this date, bolstered by their own remarkable accomplishments in the first round and an inspirational speech from coach Herb Brooks, the American boys were ready to leave the memory of Madison Square Garden behind and take on the Red Army.

During the opening minutes of the game, the Soviets were met by a significantly different team than they were expecting. The Americans were playing with strength and emotion previously unseen. However, the Russians adapted and put the first point on the board at just over nine minutes into the first period. At the fourteen minute mark, Buzz Schneider took the puck up the left side and entered the Soviet zone, releasing a soft shot which surprisingly beat Vladslav Tretiak. The goal rejuvenated the U.S. team and fired up the home crowd. The goal did not affect the Soviets and they responded quickly with a go ahead goal to make the score 2-1. With seconds remaining in the first period Mark Johnson took advantage of a rebound and tied the game at two apiece.

During the first intermission, Soviet coach Viktor Tikinov was so disappointed with the play of his team that he made the decision to bench the greatest goaltender in the world. Vladislav Tretiak would shoulder the responsibility of his team's first period performance and remain out of the game. Perhaps inspired, perhaps threatened by the removal of their star net minder, the Soviet team commanded the second period. They took an early 3-2 lead and dominated shots on goal by a 12-2 margin. If not for the magnificent play of Jim Craig in the American goal, the game would have been lost.

The U.S. was not disheartened by being down a goal going into the start of the third period. They had been down to Sweden and Germany and were able to come back, so they felt comfortable with the position they were in. At about eight and a half minutes into the third period, Mark Johnson once again scored the game equalizer. Eighty-one seconds later a deflected pass found its way to the stick of American team captain Mike Eruzione. He skated to the center of the Soviet zone and snapped a wrist shot beating Soviet goalie Myshkin to his right. The team, the crowd, and the entire country erupted into celebration as for the first time ever this group of college kids took the lead in a game against the Soviet Union. With nearly ten minutes remaining in the game the U.S. team relied entirely on the skills of Jim Craig to protect the lead. The Soviets poured everything into an effort to score.

1980 U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey Team Roster

DBill Baker22Grand Rapids, Minn.Minnesota
FNeal Broten19Roseau, Minn.Minnesota
DDave Christian20Warroad, Minn.North Dakota
FSteve Christoff21Richfield, Minn.Boston Univ.
GJim Craig22North Eaton, Mass.Boston Univ.
FMike Eruzione25Winthrop, Mass.Boston Univ.
FJohn Harrington22Virginia, Minn.Minn.-Duluth
GSteve Janaszak22White Bear Lake., Minn.Minnesota
FMark Johnson21Madison, Wis.Wisconsin
FRob McClanahan21St. Paul, Minn.Minnesota
DKen Morrow22Flint, Mich.Bowling Green
DJack O'Callahan21Charlestown, Mass.Boston Univ.
FMark Pavelich21Eveleth, Minn.Minn.-Duluth
DMike Ramsay18Minneapolis, Minn.Minnesota
FBuzz Schneider24Babbitt, Minn.Minnesota
FDave Silk21Scituate, Mass.Boston Univ.
FEric Strobel21Rochester, Minn.Minnesota
DBob Suter22Madison, Wis.Wisconsin
FPhil Verchota22Duluth, Minn.Minnesota
FMark Wells21St. Clair Shores, Mich.Bowling Green

Where Are They Now?

Ironically, less than half of the "Miracle On Ice" 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team pursued careers in hockey. Goaltender Jim Craig became an advertising salesman. Defensemen Bill Baker is an oral surgeon. Mike Eruzione works for his alma mater in the alumni office of Boston University. Several players now work as investment bankers and stockbrokers, while a handful are coaching hockey at either the professional or high school level. David Christian, Mike Ramsey, and Neal Broten have played hockey professionally. Finally, Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 team, owns a manufacturing agency in Minnesota and returned to the Olympics to coach the 2002 Olympic hockey team to a Silver medal.

The moment finally arrived and the country joined those in the arena in Lake Placid counting down the seconds until victory. The final seconds were punctuated by

ABC commentator Al Michaels as he shouted the gleeful question "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" The victory, as well as those famous words, have now become an unforgettable part of sports history.

On To Victory

The task for the U.S. team was not complete however. Two days later, on Sunday February 24th, the Americans faced Finland for the Gold medal. Once again the Americans fell behind in the game. After two periods they were trailing 2-1. Returning to the ice for the third period the U.S. team found themselves with a familiar goal deficit. Inspired by their victory over the Soviets, and the emotion and support of the home crowd and the prospect of claiming gold, the U.S. squad exploded. They scored three unanswered goals in that final period and completed the incredible feat of securing Olympic Gold.

Perhaps the most indelible images of the "Miracle On Ice" were provided by the medal ceremony. Team captain Mike Eruzione stood alone atop the medal stand while his teammates were aligned behind him. The "Star Spangled Banner" played and the flag of the United States was raised prominently above those of the Soviet Union and Finland, the Silver and Bronze medal finalists respectively. All the players stood with their hands over their hearts singing enthusiastically. Upon completion of the anthem, an exuberant Eruzione turned to his team and beckoned them to the stand. All twenty players squeezed onto the platform embracing and holding their fingers aloft in the classic "number one" sign.

Miracles Do Happen with Team Work

The accomplishment of the 1980 U.S. Men's Olympic hockey team served to boost the nation's spirit, patriotism, and hope during a darker period of the country's history. Their victory did not drive down gas prices or inflation, it did not free the U.S. hostages in Iran, and it did not drive the Soviet Army out of Afghanistan. It did however serve to inspire the nation. It showed that adversity could be over-come and gave the nation hope in a time of hopelessness.



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Sketch by Barbra J. Smerz

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1980 U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey Team