The origins of this article go back to 2000 when I wrote for Ranger Fan Central. This piece served as a tribute to the 20th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice”. Five years later, I updated it for the 25th piece. Now, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary, I have updated it again as we travel back to that fateful Friday night in February 1980 and the impact it has on my life.

It is fitting that just one night prior to the 30th anniversary of the biggest night in American hockey history, the United States hockey team pulled off one of its greatest Olympic victories in defeating Canada in Vancouver. It is further fitting because the USA’s victory was the first over Canada in the Winter Olympics since 1960 when America pulled off its first “Miracle on Ice”.

It is unfortunate that we often celebrate the exploits of the 1980 team while forgetting that America’s first gold was won in 1960 at Squaw Valley, CA. The seeds of the victory at Lake Placid were sown in Squaw Valley as the man behind the 1980 miracle, Herb Brooks, was the final cut from the 1960 squad. The Christian Brothers, now synonymous for their hockey sticks as well as their victory in 1960, served as link to the 1980 team through Dave Christian (son of Bill and nephew to Roger).

We also give short shrift to the USA’s 1972 silver medal hockey team, but those are subjects for a later date.

Still, is it at all possible that 30 years have passed since the greatest upset in the history of sports? Is it possible that 30 years have passed since a group of American college students defeated the Soviet Union hockey team – perhaps the greatest of all time?

“Do you believe in miracles?”

It is a question whose answer was burned into the minds of every sports fan and every American who was glued to their television sets on that fateful Friday night, February 22, 1980.

Roger Kahn immortalized the Brooklyn Dodgers of his generation as “The Boys of Summer”. The heroics of the 1980 Olympic hockey team transformed the youngest
American Olympic hockey team ever (average age 22) into “The Boys of Winter” – ironically enough, the name of Wayne Coffey’s book about the events of February 1980.

Now some 30 years later, my eyes still swell with tears whenever I hear those words echoing in my mind.

“Do you believe in miracles?”

There were times when we were younger when we believed miracles happened all the time. I know there was a time when I believed in miracles. Unfortunately, that belief
Came crashing down some six months prior to the start of the 1980 Winter Olympics. After a long and tiring battle with cancer, my mother passed away in August 1979. The time after her death seem like a blur to me now. I did know that it was a time filled with my attempts to put together a life that was ripped apart at the age of 15.

Prior to February 22, 1980, I had no reason to believe in the hockey miracle that would take place on that Friday night. After watching the vaunted Soviet Union hockey
machine dismantle the Americans by a 10-3 score two weeks earlier at Madison Square Garden, an American victory would rank up their with David’s victory over Goliath.

The powerful Soviets did not start playing Olympic hockey until 1956, but boy did they ever catch on fast. Except for America’s first “miracle on ice” in Squaw Valley in the 1960 Olympics, the Soviets had won every gold medal to be won in Olympic hockey as the Lake Placid games rolled around.

This was a Soviet monster that had not lost an Olympic hockey game since 1968 as they ran up an impressive 21-game winning streak. Heck, a year earlier the Soviets defeated an NHL All-Star team in a best of-three series that featured a 6-0 manhandling of the NHL’s best in the final game at Madison Square Garden in 1979.

“Do you believe in miracles?”

How could you when the Soviet lineup resembled a veritable who’s who of international hockey? Vladislav Tretiak was regarded as the best goaltender in the world. Valery Kharlamov, Alexander Maltsev, Boris Mikhailov, and Vladimir Petrov were to Russian youngsters what Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, and Maurice Richard were to Canadian youngsters.

The Soviets also featured future NHL players when they were in their prime. Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov were at the start of their international superstardom and would later unite as the KLM Line – a line that would strike fear in their opponents much in the same way the Production Line, the GAG Line and the French Connection Line struck fear in NHL opponents. Viacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov and Sergei Starikov patrolled the Soviet blue line in a way NHL fans never saw.

On the other hand, the Americans did feature players who would go on to star in the NHL. Names like Neal Broten, Dave Christian, Mark Johnson, Ken Morrow and Mike Ramsey proved that the games in Lake Placid were a prelude to bigger and better things in hockey.

Outside of Mike Eruzione and Buzz Schneider, the American team was made up of a bunch of college kids who were probably too young to realize how much their lives were going to change. During the prelude to glory, we all received a geography lesson and added the words Iron Range to our vocabulary. We even managed to meld “Saturday Night Live” into the hockey world, as the line of John Harrington, Mark Pavelich and Buzz Schneider were known as the “Coneheads”.

After pulling out a tie against Sweden in closing seconds of their opening contest (thank you Bill Baker), the Americans went on to route Czechoslovakia 7-3. What followed were three less-than-inspiring victories over such “hockey powers” like Norway, Romania and Germany – with the Romania game being the only one where the Americans scored first.

Wayne Coffey offers a glimpse at into the coach’s pre-game speech in his book “The Boys on Winter”. Brooks told his team, “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.”

“Do you believe in miracles?”

Not bloody likely, especially when it appeared that the Soviets would take a 2-1 lead into the first period. However, appearances can be deceiving because someone forgot to tell Mark Johnson.

It started innocently enough as Christian fired a long-range mortar on goal as the final seconds ticked off the clock. As everyone on the ice relaxed, Johnson blew past two Soviet defenders and banged home Tretiak’s careless rebound to tie the score 2-2.

Or did he? The Soviets claimed that the goal had happened after time had expired. Replays showed the world that the man his teammates nicknamed “Magic” had beaten the clock — with one second to spare. For the first time I felt like the USA had a chance. It was at this point that I was swept with mixed emotions. I was glad that I had tombed myself up and not watched TV or listened to the radio. Yet part of me wished I did know the final result because I knew it would be agony watching the tape delay broadcast.

The Americans were alive as the great Tretiak found himself on the bench to start the second period. Vladimir Myshkin had gone between the pipes as the referees hurriedly dropped the puck to end the first period. With Tretiak benched, my emotions were running high. Yes, I was well aware that Myshkin was the goalie during that fateful 6-0 whitewashing on the NHL a year ago — but he wasn’t Tretiak. To this day we don’t know if Russian coach Viktor Tikhonov panicked, if Tretiak was hurt or if Tretiak was not mentally or physically ready to play. All that mattered was that the great Tretiak was out of the game. I was looking for an edge, grasping at any straws and whistling through any graveyard I could find.

I have to admit the old faith wavered as the Soviets poured it on in the second period and took a 3-2 lead early in the second period. Little did anyone know that Jim Craig was going shut the net tighter that a duck’s ass. The goalie on the white mask with the tiny green shamrocks on it would keep the Soviets off the scoreboard for the final 37 plus minutes — thus setting the stage for the most emotional 20 minutes of hockey.

For those of you who are too young too remember, the United States was in one of its lowest periods since the Great Depression. The Cold War with the Soviet Union was at its height. American citizens were still being held hostage in Iran. The Soviet army has invaded Afghanistan, thus prompting President Jimmy Carter to put into motion the series of events that saw the U.S. boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Both inflation and unemployment languished in the double digits.

By the time the third period rolled around it seemed like the American way of life was in danger. Once again those evil Communists were going to find a way to one-up mom and her apple pie.

Except someone forgot to tell the 20 hockey players wearing the red, white and blue proudly. They were not ready to go gently into that good night. Instead, they were ready to skate into immortality.

Once again it was Johnson stepping up and living up to his “Magic” moniker. The son of “Badger Bob” Johnson was in the right place at the right time — again. The opportunistic Johnson converted a Dave Silk shot that bounced off of Starikov’s skate. Myshkin never had a chance. Destiny was in the building and she was waving the stars and stripes.

A little more than a minute later Mike Eruzione converted on a Pavelich pass — and miracle of miracles — the U.S. was ahead 4-3. Eruzione’s celebratory dance may not have evoked memories of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”, but it was enough to help usher in the beginning of the end of the Soviet machine.

I can remember thinking that the next 10 minutes of hockey were going to be the longest minutes of my life. Those 10 minutes felt like 10 hours because of the inevitable Russian onslaught that was about to come. I would not experience this dread of time standing still until the third period on June 14, 1994 as the Rangers held on to win the Stanley Cup.

The Soviets did come and they went at the Americans in droves. It was a scene that international hockey fans had lived over and over again. The Soviets would be on the verge of losing and then unleash an offensive barrage that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Twice during the 1980 Olympics the Soviets stared defeat in the face before the slumbering Russian bear woke up from its hibernation with a vengeance. Finland had a 2-1 lead with five minutes to go (half the time the American had to kill). In less than 90 seconds, the Finns found themselves on the wrong end of a 4-2 score. Canada held a two-goal lead in the closing seconds of the second period when they missed converting on a breakaway. The Canadians rued that lost opportunity as the Soviets won that game 6-4.

That would not be the case on February 22, 1980. For the first time since 1968, the Soviet machine could not find a way to win. They tried, oh, how they tried. This time an opponent, the Americans, found a will and a way to win. Whether it was a big time save by Craig here, or a blocked shot there, the Americans were not going to be denied.

As the clock slipped under a minute, the crowd in Lake Placid was on its feet. That 15-year-old in Mount Vernon, New York was on his knees praying for the clock to read 0:00. As the final second ticked off the clock, ABC play-by-play announcer Al Michaels uttered the most famous six words in sports history — “Do you believe in miracles?” and his equally famous one word reply, “Yes!”

It had truly happened. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar. Donkeys did indeed fly. And that 15-year-old in Mount Vernon cried, and for the first time in six months, they were tears of joy. In fact, my eyes are misting as I sat and wrote that last paragraph.

The impact of the game was so great that the March 3, 1980 “Sports Illustrated” cover (a picture of the post-game celebration) ran without any caption – a first for the magazine. Heinz Kluetmeier, the man who captured the scene explained why in a December 2009 interview with SI. “It didn’t need it. Everyone in America knew what happened,” Kluetmeier explained to Richard Deitsch.

Many people forget that the Americans victory over the Soviet Union didn’t clinch anything. It was still possible for the USA to miss out on a medal if they did not defeat Finland – a message that Coach Brooks managed to impart to his team prior to their final game.

In HBO’s 2001 documentary on the “Miracle on Ice”, Eruzione repeated that Brooks told them if they lost to Finland, “”If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your fucking graves … your fucking graves.”

On that Sunday afternoon, the Americans made “this impossible dream come true” (yet another great line from Al Michaels). While it was anticlimactic after the stunning victory over the Soviets, it was not an easy victory. Once again the Americans would have to summon their resolve for another third period rally.

The Americans trailed Finland 2-1 and were 20 minutes away from rendering their miraculous victory over the Soviets meaningless. They had fought too hard and for too long. They did not put their college and professional hockey careers on hold to come this close and not win the gold medal.

Six minutes into their final period of hockey together as a team, the Americans erased that one goal deficit on goals by Phil Verchota and Rob McClanahan. With four minutes left in a one-goal game, “Magic” Johnson struck again as the U.S. clinched the gold with a 4-2 victory and earned their place in sports history.

“Do you believe in miracles?”

There was a period of time when I did not believe. Then along came a group of 20 hockey players who would not take no for an answer. They were the personification of teamwork and dedication.

At the start of the Olympic Games, many people viewed them as modern day Don Quixotes. Instead of jabbing at the windmills with lances, they were using hockey sticks. Little did we know that they really would slay dragons with those lances and help a country find a way to start healing itself. Little did they know they would help a 15-year-old slay his own dragons and find a way to help heal himself.

“Do you believe in miracles?”

“Yes!”

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