The underdog U.S. Olympic hockey team defeats the Soviet Union in the semifinals at the Winter Games in Squaw Valley, California on February 27, 1960. The next day, the U.S. beats Czechoslovakia to win its first-ever Olympic gold medal in hockey.
The 1960 U.S. team was led by Jack Riley, the head hockey coach at West Point and himself a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic hockey squad. His players were college students and amateurs and included two pairs of brothers, Bill and Bob Cleary and Bill and Roger Christian. Interestingly, Bill Christian’s son David was a member of the “Miracle on Ice” Olympic squad in 1980 that defeated the heavily favored Soviet Union in the semifinals and two days later beat Finland to capture the gold medal. The last player cut from the 1960 U.S. squad was Herb Brooks, who went on to coach the “Miracle on Ice” team two decades later.
The Americans had taken home silver medals in hockey at the Winter Games in 1952 and 1956, but going into the 1960 Olympics they were considered a long shot. The team managed to win its first four games against Czechoslovakia, Australia, Sweden and Germany, however, and then scored an upset victory over Canada and went on to meet the Soviets in the semi-final round on February 27. A packed crowd was on hand at Blythe Arena in Squaw Valley to witness the U.S. defeat the Soviets, 3-2, in a tightly fought game. It was the first time an American hockey squad had ever defeated the long-dominant Soviets in Olympic competition. met the Czechs in the finals. After two periods, the U.S. was behind, 4-3; however, they scored six goals in the third period and went on to win the game, 9-4. It was America’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in hockey. Canada won the silver medal while the Soviets received the bronze.
Twenty years later, on February 22, 1980, history repeated itself when the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviet Union in the semifinals of the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. It was a major upset for the Soviets, who were considered the world’s best team at the time, even better than any professional team in North America. The victory was particularly charged because the U.S. and Soviet Union were still Cold War enemies. On February 24, the Americans defeated Finland, 4-2, for the gold. The Soviets won the silver and Sweden took the bronze.
AP Was There: An Olympic 'Miracle On Ice' as US shocks USSR
EDITOR'S NOTE — The victory by the U.S. men's hockey team over the heavily favored Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics is widely regarded as one of the greatest upsets in sports history. Former AP Sports Editor Wick Temple later wrote: “The old rule that there should be no cheering in the press box was broken at Lake Placid . Everybody was on a hockey high. And we soon found ourselves dashing out of the newsroom to cover the happy mob that snake-danced down Main Street." With the 40th anniversary of the game approaching on Feb. 22, The Associated Press is republishing two stories from that night as printed Feb. 23, 1980, in the Pottsville (Pa.) Republican:
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — Driven by their own emotion and the cheers of a frenzied, star-spangled crowd, the United States hockey team has delivered what may well be the most stunning upset in Olympic history and stands on the verge of a medal at the 1980 Winter Games.
Call it Team Excitement. This ambitious, energetic squad of college kids ignored adversity and bounced from behind on third period goals by Mark Johnson and Mike Eruzione to score a stunning 4-3 upset victory over the defending champion Soviet Union Friday night.
With roars of “USA! USA! USA!” ringing in their ears, America’s comeback kids rode the red-hot, 36-save goaltending of Jim Craig to a sensational victory that set off a wild celebration, first on the ice and then all over this Olympic town.
Just as the hockey game ended, fireworks exploded over Mirror Lake – part of the traditional awards ceremony saluting Friday’s medal winners, including American slalom racer Phil Mahre. But the coincidence was just too good for the flag-decked crowd that spilled happily into the narrow streets of this tiny village after the American hockey victory.
“In all due respect to that team and to the (American) silver medal team in 1972, this has to be the biggest win in our Olympic history,” said Coach Herb Brooks.
When the United States swept to the Olympic gold in 1960, the Soviet Union was not yet the hockey powerhouse it is today. The Russian team America beat 20 years ago was still refining its game. The one America beat Friday night is acknowledged by most hockey people to be the finest unit in the world – and that includes professionals, who these Soviets have often handled with ease.
Brooks knew all that when he delivered his pre-game speech to his team. It was simple and to the point. This is what he told newsmen: “You are born to be a player. You are meant to be here. This moment is yours. You’re meant to be here at this time. Let’s have poise and possession with the puck.”
And then he sent Team Excitement on the ice.
Three times the young Americans fell behind by a goal and each time they came back, first on a goal by Buzz Schneider and then one by Mark Johnson.
Johnson’s goal came with a single slim second left on the clock in the first period. But the Soviets regained the lead again in the second period and limited the Americans to two shots on goal in those 20 minutes. Again, they seemed in control.
Then, midway through the final period, Johnson and captain Mike Eruzione scored goals just 81 seconds apart, putting the United States in front.
Still, there were 10 minutes to play and that can be an eternity. It seemed like one for the Americans, who turned back every Soviet thrust and then exploded in joyful excitement at the final buzzer. They tackled each other and rolled happily on the ice like so many excited kids, while the Soviets stood and waited for the traditional handshaking ceremony.
The loss was the first in Olympic competition for the Soviets since 1968 and left the Americans needing only a victory over Finland Sunday to clinch the gold. But the Russians still have a shot at the gold. To win it, they would have to beat Sweden Sunday and hope that Finland defeats the United States.
Sweden tied Finland 3-3 in Friday night’s other medal round game. That left the United States with three points, the Soviets and Swedes with two and Finland with one in the mini-tournament to determine the medals.
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — For a change, it was the Soviet hockey players who looked on in envy. Downcast, they leaned on their sticks, awaiting the ceremonial handshake that concludes every international contest.
Usually, it is they who act the gracious winner’s role. But this time, this one Friday at the Winter Olympics, it was the Americans’ turn their 4-3 victory had made the conquerors the conquered.
Hockey gold medal hopes are alive and well in Lake Placid. The Americans are one victory over Finland away from making their gold medal dream a reality.
“I’m going to bite myself to make sure it’s true,” said right wing John Harrington.
Oh, it’s true all right – just as true as the dramatic pre-game pep talk by Coach Herb Brooks as true as the winning burst of third-period goals by Mark Johnson and Mike Eruzione in a 1:21 span . just as true as the phone call from President Jimmy Carter to the clamorous American dressing room.
“He said we had made the American people very proud that we reflected the ideas of the country and what we stand for,” said Brooks, who – along with the entire American Olympic delegation – has been invited to the White House Monday.
The invitation stands no matter what happens Sunday, and any number of things might. The Americans, this dramatic victory theirs forever, could still finish out of the medals chase if badly beaten by Finland. They could win a bronze, or a silver, or a gold.
This is how it stands: After Friday’s two medals round games (Sweden and Finland tied 3-3 in the other), the Americans have three points, the Soviets and Swedes two, and Finland one. If Sweden ties the Soviet Union Sunday and Finland beats the Americans, all would have three points. If Finland’s victory is a big one, the infamous “goal differential” (goals given up subtracted from goals scored) would break the tie and leave the U.S. with nothing to show for its smashing, upset triumph Friday.
If virtually anything else happens other than a lopsided U.S. loss, the Americans will win a medal.
“But we’ll worry about that tomorrow,” said Mark Johnson after the Americans had knocked goalie Vladislav Tretiak out of the game, rallied from three one-goal deficits, and stunned the Soviet team that has won the last four Olympic golds and was heavily favored to repeat.
If the Soviets went ahead, the Americans rallied. Finally, on a power play at 8:39 of the third period, a Dave Silk pass bounced off the skate of defenseman Sergei Starikov and bounded right to Johnson. A five-foot shot was all it took for a 3-3 tie, and Eruzione netted a 25-footer at the 10-minute mark to settle the issue.
For the fifth time in the six games they have played her, the Americans gave up the first goal. Vladimir Krutov tipped an Aleksei Kasatonov shot past goalie Jim Craig at 9:12 of the opening period.
Buzzy Schneider brought the United States back at 14:03, powering a 55-foot shot over Tretiak’s left shoulder and marking the beginning of the end for the internationally acclaimed net-minder. Tretiak’s vulnerability is long shots, and his muff of another one helped the Americans tie it with one second left in the period.
Sergei Makarov had fought away from a Johnson check to flip a 15-foot shot past Craig at 17:34, but – with the clock winding down and the crowd of 8,500 screaming “U-S-A, USA,” the U-S-A stormed back. Dave Christian took a 100-foot shot on Tretiak, who kicked it directly in front of Johnson.
A few fakes later, the game was tied 2-2 and Tretiak was gone. Vladimir Myshkin, who beat the National Hockey League all-stars 6-0 to win the Challenge Cup for the Soviets last February, took over.
He fared no better, and the Soviets suffered their first loss in an Olympic hockey game since 1968, when the Czechs beat them 5-4 at Grenoble, France.
People charged into the streets when it was over, waving the flags they had brought to the game, hollering the chant that is their trademark and going every bit as crazy as the players did themselves.
“We went nuts,” said (Rob) McClanahan. “ What do you do when you win a game like this? You whoop it up. You hug each other. You shake hands.”
U.S. Olympic hockey team beats Soviet Union - HISTORY
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Lake Placid, N.Y., Feb. 22 -- In one of the most startling and dramatic upsets in Olympic history, the underdog United States hockey team, composed in great part of collegians, defeated the defending champion Soviet squad by 4-3 tonight.
The victory brought a congratulatory phone call to the dressing room from President Carter and set off fireworks over this tiny Adirondack village. The triumph also put the Americans in a commanding position to take the gold medal in the XIII Olympic Winter Games, which will end Sunday.
If on Sunday morning the United States defeats Finland, which ties Sweden, 3-3, tonight, the Americans will win the gold medal regardless of the outcome of the game between Sweden and the Soviet Union later that day. If the United States ties Finland, the Americans are assured of at least a bronze medal.
The American goal that broke a 3-3 tie tonight was scored midway through the final period by a player who typifies the makeup of the United States team.
His name is Mike Eruzione, he is from Winthrop, Mass., he is the American team&aposs captain and he was plucked from the obscurity of the Toledo Blades of the International League. His opponents tonight included world-renounced stars, some of them performing in the Olympics for the third time.
The Soviet team has captured the previous four Olympic hockey tournaments, going back to 1964, and five of the last six. The only club to defeat them since 1956 was the United States team of 1960, which won the gold medal at Squaw Valley, Calif.
Few victories in American Olympic play have provoked reaction comparable to tonight&aposs decision at the red-seated, smallish Olympic Field House. At the final buzzer, after the fans had chanted seconds away, fathers and mothers and friends of the United Sates players dashed onto the ice, hugging anyone they could find in red, white and blue uniforms.
Meanwhile, in the stands, most of the 10,000 fans - including about 1,500 standees, who paid $24.40 apiece for a ticket - shouted "U.S.A.," over and over, and hundreds outside waved American flags.
&aposBorn to a Be a Player&apos
Later, the orchestrator of the team, Coach Herb Brooks, from the University of Minnesota, took out a yellow piece of paper, displayed the almost illegible scrawl on it, and said, "I really said this to the guys. I&aposm not lying to you."
Before the game, Brooks had taken out that card in the locked room and read his remarks.
"You were born to be a player," he read. "you were meant to be here." Though only one of the 20 players in the room ever had competed in an Olympics before, they proved him right.
The Americans were seeded seventh in this tournament, but they went through the opening round of play undefeated, with four victories and one tie to advance to the final round, which will decide the gold, silver and bronze medalists.
From the opening minutes fans and players fed off one another in the festive atmosphere at the arena. The tempo and emotion of the game was established early, when a longtime Soviet star, Valery Kharlamov, wearing the traditional lipstick-red uniform, was sandwiched between two Americans.
Suddenly, he was lifted between them and, looking like a squirt of ketchup, sailed into the air and them flopped to the ice.
Beyond the constant pressure of intimidating body checks, though, were the intricate passing patterns of the Americans, who have derived many of their techniques from the Russians.
The Soviet system is based on attack. The Russians more than doubled the shots on goal of the Americans, 39-16, but almost every one that the Russians took was stopped, often dramatically, by Jim Craig, a former goalie for Boston University.
As a result of tonight&aposs victory, the hockey players will be among the prouder contingents of the 150 American Olympians who will be honored at the White House on Monday morning at a two-hour session with the President.
Tonight, though, the Americans struggled until the final period, never leading until Eruzione&aposs goal. They trailed by 3-2 going into the last 20 minute period.
No hockey game is played nonstop for 60 minutes, but this one came close. The Russians have been famed for their conditioning techniques. They also were considered the finest hockey team in the world.
The Soviet Union broke through first, with its new young star, Valery Krotov, getting his stick in the way of Aleksei Kasatonov&aposs whistling slap shot. The puck changed direction and sailed beyond Craig&aposs reach in the first period.
Midway through the period, the only American who has been an Olympian, Buzz Schneider, drilled a shot over the left shoulder of Vladislav Tretyak, the Soviet goalie.
The goal was Schneider&aposs fifth of the series, giving him the team lead. That is a surprising performance for a player who once failed the tryout with the lowly Pittsburgh Penguins in the National League, and since has bounced around American leagues of less stature.
Holding Goes Unnoticed
But there were other highlights of that first period. The Russians had one when Sergei Makarov punched the puck past Craig while fans screamed in vain for Referee Karl-Gustav Kaisla of Finland to notice an American who was being held.
Only a few seconds remained when Ken Morrow, a draft choice of the New York Islanders, slammed an 80-foot desperation shot toward the goal. The puck caromed out to Mark Johnson, who struck it home with no seconds showing on the clock.
A goal cannot be scored with no time remaining. Actually, when the puck had sailed in there was a second left. It took another second for the goal judge to press the button signaling the score and stopping the clock.
The Soviet skaters left the ice, contending time was over, but after Kaisla spoke to other officials, the goal was allowed. The arena rocked with applause with the verification of the 2-2- tie.
Soviet Goalle Replaced
Back came the disappointed Russians from their dressing room, adjusting their shiny red helmets. They had a new player on the ice, too - Vladimir Myshkin had replaced Tretyak in goal for the final faceoff of the period. Later, the assistant Soviet coach, Vladimir Jursinov, explained the removal of Tretyak, saying through an interpreter, "He is not playing well and my feeling is he is nervous."
Myshkin kept the Americans at bay for the second period, although they tested him with only two shots. The Russians took a 3-2 lead when one of their veterans, Aleksandr Maltsev, scored with a man advantage.
But in the last period Johnson swatted home a shot that David Silk had gotten off while being hauled down, and the puck eluded Myshkin to tie the score. About a minute and a half alter, with exactly half of the period over, Eruzione picked up a loose puck in the Soviet zone, skated to a point between the faceoff circles and fired a screened, 30-foot shot through the pads of Myshkin for the winning score.
The goal set off cheering that lasted through the remainder of the game, as the youngest team of all the American squads, average age 22, put itself in a position to win only the second gold medal for an American hockey team.
Miracle milestone: The U.S. Olympic hockey team staged the upset of the ages 40 years ago
The 1980 United States Olympic hockey team struck gold and started a movement.
The American squad was a patchwork of college players from the Northeast and the upper Midwest under the direction of coach Herb Brooks.
They completed their improbable run to the gold medal on Sunday, Feb. 24, with a 4-2 victory over Finland at the Olympic Fieldhouse in Lake Placid, N.Y.
But the movement truly began two days earlier when the U.S. squad stunned the hockey universe with 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union. The CCCP crew was considered the greatest amateur hockey team ever assembled and equal to any NHL franchise.
The game became known as the “Miracle on Ice” and was later glorified by documentaries and motion pictures.
“I was shocked by it because we had no clue, we were just playing hockey and we had no idea that the country or the world was watching us,” said team captain Mike Eruzione of Winthrop. “But everyone was watching, and we were shocked by the reaction.”
The United States was in a nationwide state of malaise at the end of the 1970s, hungover from the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal while facing calamities both foreign and domestic.
The U.S. economy was reeling from runaway inflation, unmanageable interest rates and high unemployment. The imminent Cold War threat from the Soviet Union was unrelenting while America’s prestige abroad was diminished by the ongoing Iranian hostage crisis, which would last 444 days.
The Red Army had invaded Afghanistan and President Jimmy Carter would later follow through on his threat to boycott the Summer Olympics in Moscow.
The country needed a feel-good moment and a bunch of college kids in Tacks supplied it on a world stage from a small village in the Adirondack Mountains.
“I think at the time there was inflation and the economy wasn’t doing well and in general the country was in a difficult and disappointed state,” said Eruzione. “I think Americans were looking for something to feel good about and all of a sudden we showed up. But honestly at the time we didn’t know how much that moment meant to a lot of people. We were something the United States could take pride in and we took pride in representing the country.”
The ‘Gang of Four’
When Brooks finalized his Olympic roster, four Boston University skaters from Massachusetts made the cut. The quartet included Eruzione, goalie Jim Craig (North Easton), Dave Silk (Scituate) and Jack O’Callahan (Charlestown).
“It was good being around people that you know, but we all bonded right away,” said Eruzione.
The foursome was prepared for what Brooks had in store by their association with BU coach Jack Parker, whom Eruzione described as a “mentor that had the greatest influence on my career.”
Brooks was both a taskmaster and visionary who recognized the greater need for speed, stick-work and team play on the expansive Olympic ice sheet.
“He was a big motivator and he was ahead of his time when it comes to the game of hockey,” said Eruzione. “The way the NHL is today, that’s the way we were playing in 1980 because he was creative and smart.
“In the beginning he was in your face and demanded a lot from you and we responded because we had so much respect for Herb. We all bought in.”
The Red menace
The American team performed well enough in the preliminaries to advance to the medal round. They opened with a 2-2 tie with Sweden and then obliterated Czechoslovakia, 7-3. The U.S. completed the bracket with wins over Romania, Norway and West Germany.
Because they finished second to Sweden in goal differential, the USA squad was matched with the top-seeded Soviet Union in the semifinals.
This is what the youngest U.S. hockey team ever assembled was up against: The Soviets had won five of the previous six Olympiads and were unbeaten in the 1979 World Championships. They humiliated an NHL All-Star team 6-0 in 1978 and pounded the U.S. squad 10-3 in an Olympic tune-up match at Madison Square Garden.
“There was a lot of emotion and we were excited and we were serious, the other stuff was behind us and we were ready to play in a big game,” said Eruzione. “The other game we played against them was never mentioned and never discussed. I think as a team we were confident, but we knew it was going to be difficult and we knew we had to play well and we did.”
The Americans battled back from two deficits to tie the game, 3-3, in the third. Brooks was attempting a line change when Eruzione hopped over the boards and followed the play into the Soviet end. Eruzione took a pass, advanced the puck and scored on a wrist shot with 10 minutes remaining.
“I got into a shooting area and I was able to get it where I wanted to and gave us the lead,” said Eruzione. “That last 10 minutes took forever and although it felt like a long time, we were never threatened.”
The Olympic Village erupted in euphoric chants of “U-S-A” and broadcaster Al Michaels’ call of the game spread the jubilation from coast to coast. With the celebration in full swing, Brooks was busy regrouping for the gold-medal match with Finland.
“We beat the Russians on Friday night and Saturday’s practice might have been the hardest practice that we had all year,” said Eruzione. “It was a tough practice because Herb had to bring us back down to Earth and get ready for that game on Sunday.”
The U.S. took care of business and defeated Finland, 4-2, to become the first American team to win gold since 1960. The team’s wardrobe featured white cowboy hats and sheepskin suede coats, an ensemble that became a fashion craze in the hockey hotbeds of America.
Eruzione received a tumultuous welcome on his return trip to Boston.
“It was crazy,” said Eruzione. “Logan Airport was mobbed with people and the streets were lined with people through East Boston until I got to Winthrop.”
On This Date: Team USA Beats The Soviet Union In “Miracle On Ice” Game 41 Years Ago
41 years ago today, the U.S. National Hockey Team pulled off the upset of a lifetime in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, defeating one of the baddest teams the hockey world has ever seen: The Soviet Union.
Being the youngest team in the tournament, mostly made up of college athletes, coach Herb Brooks and the U.S. hockey team had about a 7-14% chance of defeating the Soviets, whose team boasted all professional players, and had won five of the last six Olympic Gold Medals.
They were once again the favorites to win it all in 1980.
This was only the medal round, but it might as well have been the championship game. I mean this was real life Rocky vs. Ivan Drago, David and Goliath type stuff.
The U.S. had shocked the world up to this game, outscoring opponents 25-10, while the Soviets had dominated, per usual, outscoring their opponents 51-12.
When the game began, the U.S. found themselves in an early hole, losing 2-1 in the first period. Keep in mind that The Soviet Union had the best goalkeeper in the world at the time, Vladislav Tretiak, so points weren’t easy to come by. However, Mark Johnson was able to squeak a shot past Tretiak to tie the game 2-2 with one second left in the first period.
In the second period, the Soviets regained the lead after a shot by Aleksandr Maltsev, making it 3-2. However, the U.S. charged back in the final period, as Mark Johnson scored again at the 8:39 mark, tying the game 3-3. With exactly 10 minutes remaining, U.S. Team Captain Mike Eruzione scored to give the U.S. the lead 4-3.
With the onlooking eyes of the whole world, the U.S. held on for the final 10 minutes to win the game, 4-3. The U.S. would go on to the championship game and defeated Finland, winning their first Gold Medal in hockey in 20 years.
Many have argued that this game was the biggest upset in sports history, given the histories of both The Soviet Union and the U.S. hockey teams. This game would be dubbed the “Miracle On Ice,” and was named the best sports moment in the 20th century by Sports Illustrated.
All I gotta say is, I’m making a toast to Mark Johnson tonight. TWO goals against the best goalkeeper in the world? Mad respect. Also, if this broadcast of the final minute of the game doesn’t give you chills, I don’t know what will.
In 2008, the International Ice Hockey Federation claimed the “Miracle On Ice” as the best international ice hockey story in the past 100 years. Hell, even Disney made a movie about it.
That Kurt Russell speech though…
PHOTOS: The Miracle on Ice, 40 years ago
FILE - In this Feb. 22, 1980, file photo, the U.S. hockey team pounces on goalie Jim Craig after a 4-3 victory against the Soviet Union. | Photo: AP Photo.
/> WNYT Staff
Created: February 21, 2020 01:57 PM
Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020 marks the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid. No one thought it was possible but the U.S. Olympic hockey team beat the previously undefeated Soviet Union that day. It was a moment that inspired the nation at a time when inspiration was needed. The American team went on to win the gold medal in the final game against Finland.
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An American flag and Soviet team banner are shown above the hockey rink where the the United States and Soviets played a medal round hockey match at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. The United States upset the mighty Soviets in a breathtaking moment freighted with the tension of the Cold War. After four decades, nobody is willing to stop talking about perhaps the greatest David over Goliath moment in the history of sports.
The U.S. hockey team pounces on goalie Jim Craig after a 4-3 victory against the Soviet Union in a medal round match at the the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. The United States upset the mighty Soviets in a breathtaking moment freighted with the tension of the Cold War. After four decades, nobody is willing to stop talking about perhaps the greatest David over Goliath moment in the history of sports.
Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak allows a goal by the U.S. team in the first period of a medal-round hockey game at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. A big reason the Americans were able to upset the Soviet Union in the 1980 'Miracle on Ice' at the Olympics was the benching of goaltender Tretiak by Soviet coach Victor Tikhonov with the score tied at 2 after the first period. Backup Vladimir Myshkin surrendered two goals and the U.S. won 4-3, then went on to capture the gold medal.
For moments, U.S. goalie James Craig lies stunned on the ice after being hit in the head by Soviet player Vladimir Krutov in the second period of the USA vs USSR ice hockey game at Lake Placid, N.Y., Feb, 23, 1980. The Americans won, 4-3.
The United States' Mark Johnson (10) prepares to shoot puck into the net for the second U.S. goal in the first period of a semifinal hockey game as the Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretjak defends at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. The U.S. won 4-3. Although Mark Johnson is sitting on the mother of all hockey motivational stories, he's waiting until just the right moment to break it out for the U.S. women's team. Johnson was the reason for the 'Miracle on Ice' 30 years ago, scoring two goals for the U.S. hockey team when they toppled the Soviets.
U.S. goalkeeper James Craig deflects a puck shot by Soviet player Helmut Balderis (19) in the first period action in semifinal game against the U.S.S.R. at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., Friday night, Feb. 22, 1980.
Herb Brooks, receives a phone call from President Carter in Lake Placid, New York Friday, Feb. 22, 1980, after the U.S. Hockey team that he coaches won over the Soviet team by a score of 4-3.
Jubilant spectators support the U.S. hockey team, Friday, Feb. 22, 1980 in Lake Placid as the Americans beat the Soviets 4-3.
Eric Strobel (19) applies a body check to Soviet player Juri Lebedev in a fight for the puck, during first period of USA vs. USSR ice hockey game in Lake Placid, New York, Feb. 22, 1980. At right is Soviet forward Sergei Makarov, in front is Michael Ramsey.
Miracle on Ice: USA beats Soviet Union in 1980 Olympics
Against the political backdrop of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent sanctions by the U.S. along with President Jimmy Carter's threat to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviet Union, 4-3, in the semifinal round of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 22, 1980.
The improbability of an American victory against the mighty Soviet team, combined with broadcaster Al Michaels' famous "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" call in the final seconds, led to this game being deemed the "Miracle on Ice."
A view of the ice hockey rink in Lake Placid where the U.S. team won a 4-3 upset victory of the Soviet team during the Winter Olympics on Feb. 22, 1980.
USA’s Eric Strobel checks Soviet player Juri Lebedeev in a fight for the puck during first period of their semifinal hockey game at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 22, 1980. At right is Soviet forward Sergei Makarov, in front is Michael Ramsey.
USA’s Jim Craig deflects a shot by Soviet player Helmut Balderis in the first period of the semifinal game against the U.S.S.R. at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 22, 1980.
USA goalie Jim Craig stops a Soviet shot in first period of the semifinal game at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 22, 1980. U.S. defenseman William Schneider is next to the net. U.S. forward David Christian (23) is hit by Soviet forward Victor Zhluktov.
USA’s Robert McClanahan crashes into Aleksandre Golikov of the Soviet Union during the first period at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, on Feb. 22, 1980.
USA's Steven Christoff, left, attacks the Soviet goal defended by Vladislav Tretjak during the first period in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. on Feb. 22, 1980. The U.S. upset the Russian team, 4-3. Two days later, the Americans came from behind with three goals in the third period against Finland to clinch the gold medal.
Mark Johnson prepares to shoot the puck into the net for the second U.S. goal in the first period of a semifinal hockey game as the Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretjak defends at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 22, 1980. The U.S. won 4-3.
Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak hits the ice after giving up a goal to USA’s Mark Johnson in the final seconds of the first period in the semifinal round of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 22, 1980. Team USA defeated the heavily favored Soviet Union, 4-3, in a game later deemed the “Miracle on Ice.”
Two U.S. hockey players trap a Soviet player on the ice during the semifinals of the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 22, 1980.
U.S. goalie Jim Craig reaches for the puck during a Soviet attack during the 1980 Winter Olympics on Feb. 22, 1980 photo in Lake Placid. U.S players are, from left: Craig, Ken Morrow and Dave Silk.
Jubilant spectators support the U.S. hockey team on Feb. 22, 1980 in Lake Placid as the Americans beat the Soviets in the Winter Olympics, 4-3.
Soviet forward Vladimir Petrov is trapped as the stick of USA’s William Baker gets threaded between the shoe and blade of his skate during the second period at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 22, 1980.
The puck goes past Soviet goalie Vladimir Myshkin on a shot by Mike Eruzione, a goal scored with 10 minutes left that broke a 3-3 tie as Team USA went on to beat the Soviet Union, 4-3, in the semifinals of the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 22, 1980.
Mike Eruzione, left, is hugged by teammates John O'Callahan, David Silk, and goalie James Craig after scoring the go-ahead goal that beat the Soviet Union in the “Miracle on Ice” at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid on Feb. 22, 1980.
U.S. hockey team members watch the final minutes of the game as their 4-3 lead holds up to beat the Soviet Union in the Winter Olympic semifinals in Lake Placid on Feb. 22, 1980.
USA coach Herb Brooks, center, looks on from the bench during the closing minutes of the semifinal game against the Soviets at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 22, 1980. The U.S. won, 4-3.
The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team members celebrate after their upset victory over the heavily favored Soviet team by a score of 4-3 in the Winter Olympics on Feb. 22, 1980, in Lake Placid, N.Y.
The U.S. hockey team pounces on goalie Jim Craig after a 4-3 upset victory against the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics as a flag waves from the partisan crowd in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 22, 1980.
Team USA members congratulate each other on the ice during the 1980 Winter Olympics after they upset the favored USSR team, 4-3, in Lake Placid on Feb. 22, 1980.
'Red Army' tells the brutal and tragic story of the Soviet hockey program
The most famous moment in American sports took place 35 years ago this week when the U.S. hockey team shocked the world by defeating the Soviet Union 4-3 at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. The victory led to "U-S-A! U-S-A!" chants, nationwide celebration, repeated honors for the "Do You Believe in Miracles?" team (including the 2002 Olympics torch-lighting), a dozen or so books, a 1981 made-for-TV movie, a 2001 documentary and a 2004 major movie starring Kurt Russell.
And all of that, naturally, was from the American perspective.
Now, 35 years later, we&rsquore finally seeing the Soviet view of what happened in the recently-aired ESPN 30-for-30 documentary "Of Miracles and Men" and the recently-released documentary "Red Army." Rather than write about the documentary made by my employers, I&rsquoll focus on the telling and entertaining "Red Army" which explores the fascinating story of the Soviet team.
As an old black-and-white clip of Ronald Reagan says in the "Red Army" trailer: "In the traditional motion picture story, the villains are usually defeated and the ending is a happy one. I can make no such promise for the picture you&rsquore about to watch."
"Red Army" describes the development of the Soviet team under coach Anatoli Tarosov, considered to be the father of Russian hockey. He is then followed by the brutal Viktor Tikhonov, who is more the Dictator of Russian hockey and, according to the documentary, got the head coaching gig due to KGB links.
Tikhonov, who declined interviews for "Red Army" and died in November, coached the 1980 Soviet team that lost to the U.S. in the medal round at Lake Placid after he made the terrible mistake of removing goalie Vladislav Tretiak. He went on to coach the Soviet teams to gold medals in 1984 and 1988, plus a third gold as the Unified Team in 1992 following the breakup of the USSR. Nonetheless, "Red Army" shows that his uncompromising tyrannical style developed player animosity toward him as much as it developed gold (and silver) medal teams.
He makes Reggie Dunlap from "Slap Shot&rdquo look laid-back and peaceful.
Tikhonov confined the players to training camp 11 months of the year and had workouts up to four times a day (and football players consider two-a-days rough?). There are shots of the players skating while dragging heavy tires behind them. He would kick players off the team if he thought they might defect while playing in tournaments outside the USSR.
In "Red Army," Slava Fetisov recalls that Andrei Khomutov&rsquos father was close to death and the player asked Tikhonov permission to go see him before he died. He tells him no, that he has to stay and get ready for the next game. He never gets to see his father again.
Fetisov is the most open and prominently featured of the players in "Red Army", telling the story of how hockey made him happy despite growing up in a home without running water or toilets. The captain of the Soviet team, he went from the devastating loss at the 1980 Games to winning two gold medals, and from being banned by the Soviets from signing with the NHL to finally winning the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings. He celebrated by taking the Stanley Cup to Moscow where he raised the trophy in front of St. Basil&rsquos Cathedral in Red Square.
Soviet Union has hosted the Games on one occasion.
|1980 Summer Olympics||Moscow||19 July – 3 August||80||5,179||203|
Unsuccessful bids Edit
|1900–1912||Russian Empire (RU1)|
|1924–1936||Latvia (LAT)||Lithuania (LTU)|
|1952–1988||Soviet Union (URS)|
|1992–||Unified Team (EUN)||Estonia (EST)||Latvia (LAT)||Lithuania (LTU)|
|1994–||Armenia (ARM)||Belarus (BLR)||Georgia (GEO)||Kazakhstan (KAZ)||Kyrgyzstan (KGZ)||Moldova (MDA)||Russia (RUS)||Ukraine (UKR)||Uzbekistan (UZB)|
|1996–||Azerbaijan (AZE)||Tajikistan (TJK)||Turkmenistan (TKM)|
Medals by Summer Games Edit
|1968 Mexico City||313||29||32||30||91||2|
|1984 Los Angeles||Did not participate|
Medals by Winter Games Edit
|1956 Cortina d'Ampezzo||55||7||3||6||16||1|
|1960 Squaw Valley||62||7||5||9||21||1|
|1980 Lake Placid||86||10||6||6||22||1|
Medals by summer sport Edit
|Totals (23 sports)||393||319||294||1006|
Medals by winter sport Edit
|Cross country skiing||25||22||21||68|
|Totals (10 sports)||78||57||59||194|
Soviet Olympic team was notorious for skirting the edge of amateur rules. All Soviet athletes held some nominal jobs, but were in fact state-sponsored and trained full-time. According to many experts, that gave the Soviet Union a huge advantage over the United States and other Western countries, whose athletes were students or real amateurs.   Indeed, the Soviet Union monopolized the top place in the medal standings after 1968, and, until its collapse, placed second only once, in the 1984 Winter games, after another Eastern bloc nation, the GDR. Amateur rules were relaxed only in the late 1980s and were almost completely abolished in the 1990s, after the fall of the USSR.  
According to British journalist Andrew Jennings, a KGB colonel stated that the agency's officers had posed as anti-doping authorities from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to undermine doping tests and that Soviet athletes were "rescued with [these] tremendous efforts".  On the topic of the 1980 Summer Olympics, a 1989 Australian study said "There is hardly a medal winner at the Moscow Games, certainly not a gold medal winner, who is not on one sort of drug or another: usually several kinds. The Moscow Games might as well have been called the Chemists' Games." 
Documents obtained in 2016 revealed the Soviet Union's plans for a statewide doping system in track and field in preparation for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Dated prior to the country's decision to boycott the Games, the document detailed the existing steroids operations of the program, along with suggestions for further enhancements.  The communication, directed to the Soviet Union's head of track and field, was prepared by Dr. Sergei Portugalov of the Institute for Physical Culture. Portugalov was also one of the main figures involved in the implementation of the Russian doping program prior to the 2016 Summer Olympics. 
Flag bearers controversy Edit
Soviet officials expected the flag bearer to show an example of an attractive, physically strong person and a distinguished athlete. He was expected to carry the flag through the Olympic ceremony in one hand unsupported by a harness. This presented a formidable physical task as the flag weighed 16 kilograms (35 lb) in the 1960s, and a sudden wind might further increase the physical load. Hence the Soviet flag bearers at the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics were selected from among heavyweight weightlifters or wrestlers, who did not have to compete the next day. 
Soviet officials also expected the flag bearer to win a gold medal at the given Olympics. This resulted in absurd situations at the 1952 and 1956 Summer Olympics, when the selected flag bearers, Yakov Kutsenko and Aleksey Medvedev respectively, were not allowed to compete because the officials did not believe they would win a gold medal. Both were top-level heavyweight weightlifters. Kutsenko placed second at the 1950 World Championships and Medvedev won the world title in 1956 and 1957. 
U.S. Olympic hockey team beats Soviet Union - HISTORY
MORE TEAM REEL FACES:
"You know, Willie Wonka said it best: We are the makers of dreams, the dreamers of dreams. We should be dreaming. We grew up as kids having dreams, but now we're too sophisticated as adults, as a nation. We stopped dreaming. We should always have dreams. I'm a dreamer." - Herb Brooks
Are all of the players in the film based on real members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team?
Yes. All of the players in the film, from the captain Mike Eruzione (Patrick O'Brien Demsey) to the goalie Jim Craig (Eddie Cahill), were based on actual players. The assistant coach Craig Patrick (Noah Emmerich) is a real person as well. You can see more Reel Face - Real Face photos here .
Was Buzz Schneider really played by his son in the film? (touch pic below)
Yes. Minnesota native Buzz Schneider, who scored team USA's first goal in their 1980 upset over the Soviet Union, was portrayed by his twenty-two year-old real life son Billy Schneider. Billy is currently studying business management at the University of Minnesota, the same school where his father played college hockey. Billy played hockey from pee-wees to high school, but his height held him back. He grew to enjoy baseball also, and in 1999 he played in the Legion World Series. Billy played baseball in college until an injury forced him to quit. -Disney
Had any of the actors actually played hockey before in real life?
Yes. The majority of the actors in the film who made up the 1980 Olympic team had significant prior hockey experience.
This included Michael Mantenuto (Jack O'Callahan in the film), who was a theater major at the University of Maine, where he also played Division I hockey. Nathan West, who portrayed Robbie McClanahan, had played in the OHL for a season. Nathan also appeared in 2000's Bring It On with Kirsten Dunst and was a hockey playing extra in Mighty Ducks 2. Patrick O'Brien Demsey (Mike Eruzione) played college hockey for two years, and Eric Peter-Kaiser (Mark Johnson) was a drama student at Potsdam University NY where he was playing Division 3 college hockey.
Did Herb Brooks really miss his chance to play in the Winter Olympics in 1960?
Yes. Brooks was the last person to be cut by coach Jack Riley from the 1960 gold medal winning U.S. Olympic team. At right is a photo of Herb Brooks in his shortly worn 1960 Olympic attire ( click to enlarge ). Brooks did however later play in the Olympic games in 1964, and he was the captain in 1968. -ESPN.com
How did the U.S. victory over the Russians and subsequent Olympic Gold Medal at Lake Placid in 1980 become known as the "Miracle On Ice"?
The "Miracle On Ice" catchphrase took hold after sportscaster Al Michaels exclaimed, "Do you believe in miracles?" just after the final seconds winded down in the United States' 4-3 victory over Russia. -Disney
What was the national reaction to the United States 1980 victory?
The Miracle on Ice was a monumental victory on both an athletic and political level. The nation was looking for a distraction from world events, which included the impending threat of nuclear war, the country's hostages in Iran, and the long lines at the gas pumps. With little good in the news, Herb Brooks and his ragtag hockey team of college kids soon became the national focus. Their victory over the Soviet Union, our Cold War enemy, gave the United States a symbol of hope. It also inflicted upon the Russians a scar of defeat. The players became celebrities, and still remain national heroes. Even U.S. coach Herb Brooks enjoyed the limelight a little. He dropped in for an unannounced appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on February 27, 1980 (above, right - click to enlarge ).
Did any of the players from the 1980 U.S. Olympic team go on to play in the NHL?
Yes. Sixteen of the twenty-seven players from the 1980 Olympic team went on to play in the NHL. See a list of the players and their NHL teams .
Did Herb Brooks ever coach another Olympic hockey team after 1980?
Yes. Herb Brooks first returned to the Olympics in 1998, coaching the French team at the Nagano Games. Then, in 2002, Herb Brooks coached the U.S. Olympic hockey team at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. To begin the Games, Mike Eruzione led other members of the 1980 Olympic team in the lighting of the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony. At Salt Lake City, Brooks led the U.S. team to a silver medal, defeated in the final game by Mario Lemieux and the rest of team Canada, who were coached by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. When asked why he decided to return to coach at the Olympics, Herb Brooks said the following, "Maybe I'm sort of like the players -- there's still a lot of little boy in me," Brooks said. "And maybe I'm a little smarter now than I was before for all the stupid things I've done." - olympic-usa.org
Did Herb Brooks ever coach in the NHL?
Yes. Following his 1980 Olympic victory at Lake Placid, Herb Brooks coached the New York Rangers (1981-85). There he set a franchise record, reaching 100 wins quicker than any other coach in the organization's history. After leaving the Rangers, Brooks coached the Minnesota North Stars (1987-88), the New Jersey Devils (1992-93), and the Pittsburgh Penguins (1999-00). - olympic-usa.org
What were the details surrounding Herb Brooks' death?
On Monday August 11, 2003, just six days after his sixty-sixth birthday, while on his way to the Minneapolis airport to board a flight to Chicago, Herb Brooks lost control of his minivan and veered onto a grassy area at a highway intersection north of the Twin Cities. Chucke Menke of USA Hockey said that Brooks was coming from a Hall of Fame celebrity golf event. State Patrol Lt. Chuck Walerius said that an inspection of the accident scene (above, right) revealed that Brooks had apparently not been wearing his seatbelt. His body was found about forty yards from the vehicle, which is thought to have rolled several times. Anoka County coroner's office said that Brook's died of multiple blunt-force chest and abdominal injuries when he was ejected from his vehicle (ESPN.com). The State Patrol's report confirmed Brooks wasn't drinking, speeding, talking on his cell phone or having health trouble before the crash. Officials also said that weather and road conditions were ruled out as contributing factors. The State Patrol concluded that he most likely fell asleep at the wheel (news.mpr.org). The following morning after the accident a makeshift memorial could be seen at the site of the wreck. Commuters slowed down to pay their respects, spotting the hockey jersey and the University of Minnesota hat on the side of the road. - olympic-usa.org
Did Herb Brooks know about the Disney movie Miracle before he died?
Yes. Brooks had visited the sets of Miracle around Vancouver, British Columbia. He had spoken with the actor portraying him on the big screen, Kurt Russell. He talked to Russell about possibly watching a game in which Russell's son played, who is a Tier II goaltender. - Post-Gazette.com
Were any other movies ever made about the Miracle on Ice?
Disney's Miracle wasn't the first movie to depict the 1980 U.S. victory at Lake Placed. In 1981, the TV movie Miracle On Ice aired with actor Karl Malden portraying Herb Brooks and Steve Guttenberg as goalie Jim Craig. The movie is not currently available to buy online, but keep an eye open for it on TV.
1980 Miracle On Ice Game Footage:
Watch the end of the real 1980 Miracle On Ice Olympic hockey game where we hear Al Michaels utter one of the most famous lines in sports history, "Do you believe in miracles!?" Also, check out video footage of Mike Eruzione scoring the game winning goal.
A miracle put on ice
This is the tale of a team you don't care about.
Admittedly, it's an unconventional way to kick off a story. But the sentiment is true. Unless you're some sort of hockey savant, and your walls are covered by posters featuring the likenesses of David Volek and Jim Dowd and Guy Carbonneau, you haven't given a thought to this topic since Feb. 15, 1984, the day the United States Olympic team wrapped up an absolutely miserable run of seventh-place sub-adequacy at the XIV Winter Games in Sarajevo.
Oh, millions upon millions of Americans still recall the glorious 1980 Miracle on Ice, when a ragamuffin band of overachievers shocked the mighty Soviet Union (and then Finland) to capture the gold at Lake Placid. Go ask Grandpa if he remembers where he was when Al Michaels bellowed his gilded, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" Go ask Dad. Mom. Aunt Leah. They'll all be able to recollect something. A moment. A feeling. A sensation. A state of sustained euphoria. A fluttering flag. Tears of joy. Squeals of delight .
But 1984? "Nothing," says Lou Vairo. "Most people remember nothing. I get it."
The words are stated without a sigh or even the slightest hint of remorse. They are simply a fact, in the same way the sky is blue and the rain is wet. Four years after Jim Craig and Mike Eruzione and Herb Brooks became household names, Vairo — perhaps the most unlikely head coach in the history of unlikely head coaches — guided the youngest team in U.S. Olympic hockey history (average age: 20.7 years old) on a quest to defend the un-defendable. "First off, we only had two guys on our roster who played in 1980, so we weren't actually defending our gold medal," says Vairo. "And second, it was an impossible task. What the 1980 team did was unmatchable. They shocked the world, they beat the Soviets during the hostage crisis, and they did it on American soil at Lake Placid. There was no possible way we could match that. Impossible."
"It was an impossible task. What the 1980 team did was unmatchable." Head coach Lou Vairo in 1984. (Getty Images)
The sentiment makes sense. The sentiment has always made sense. And yet, no matter how many times Vairo uttered such thoughts (and he uttered them repeatedly), nobody seemed to care. From the day he was hired (June 12, 1982, to be exact) to fill Brooks' Bob Lanier-sized shoes, Vairo told anyone who would listen that 1984 was not — under any possible terms — 1980. "How can you replicate that magic?" he says. "You can't."
That's not, however, what people wanted to hear. Before the Lake Placid Games, hockey in the United States was an Off-Broadway production, often played before half-empty stadiums and covered on page C6 of the sports section. It was a sport, but with the exception of a few cities, such as Boston, not one that registered on the radars of most Americans. "Then the 1980 Olympics happened," says Larry Johnson, the general manager of the 1984 team, "and people began to care." It wasn't merely about the hockey, or even mostly about the hockey. The Miracle on Ice came to symbolize patriotism, and the spirit and willingness of a nation devoted to freedom and liberty, and how a group of plucky amateurs, utter underdogs, could defeat a monstrous, militaristic dictatorship, seemingly through will alone. The game against the Soviets happened while 52 Americans were being held hostage in Iran, and emotions were bubbling over. There was a beauty in toppling the U.S.S.R. in its own sport in watching "our boys" play with passion and spirit and panache. As soon as the Games ended, and the 19 other members of the Miracle team joined Eruzione on the gold-medal platform, the national hunger kicked in for more. More hockey. More glory. More joy. More miracles.
He made no sense. Absolutely none. Herb Brooks, coach of the 1980 squad, had been born in the hockey hotbed of Saint Paul, Minn., and between 1960 and 1970 played on eight U.S. National and Olympic teams. He coached the University of Minnesota to three NCAA titles. Bob Johnson, the coach of the 1976 U.S. Olympic team, was also born in Minnesota, and guided the University of Wisconsin to three NCAA crowns. Murray Williamson, the coach of the 1968 and 1972 U.S. Olympic teams, was born in Winnipeg, and starred as an All-American at the University of Minnesota before coaching the U.S. national teams in the World Hockey Championships for three years.
Vairo? He was a 37-year-old Joe Schmoe from — inexplicably — Brooklyn, N.Y. one whose accent oozed B&G Pickles with a side of slaw. Hell, he had never even laced up a pair of ice skates until shortly after his 21st birthday. Growing up in the Bayview Housing Projects in the borough's Canarsie section, Vairo fancied himself a future member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. On hot summer days he would wake up at 6 a.m., head over to a vacant lot, kick away the glass shards and sprinkle flour to create baselines. "Man, I loved baseball and stickball," he says. "Just loved them."
When the Dodgers departed in 1957, however, the nearest professional sporting venue became Madison Square Garden — home of the NHL Rangers. "We'd take the No. 42 Rockaway Parkway bus and transfer to the Canarsie Line subway," Vairo once told The New York Times. "We'd take the subway to 14th Street and transfer to the uptown line and get off at 50th Street, at the Garden. Carfare was 15 cents each way. Then for 50 cents we could use our G.O. card from school to get into the side balcony, but we had to get in line early. My parents would give me a dollar, so that left a dime for a soda." Vairo still remembers attending his first game. New York beat Boston, 4-2. Don Head, the Bruins goaltender, slashed at any opponent who dared skate past. "Hockey had an excitement to it that captured my imagination," he says. "There was no boredom to it. It had a combative excitement."
A local exterminator named Ed Eskanazi introduced Vairo to roller hockey, and he purchased his first stick for 75 cents, then put friction tape on the handle. He spent two years in the Army, and when he returned to Brooklyn at age 20, a friend brought him out to the World's Fair ice rink in Flushing Meadows, Queens. He was roped into refereeing a game, but found himself holding onto the boards for dear life, his thin metal blades slipping out from beneath his feet. Still, there was an immediate bond between man and ice. Vairo began working as a fill-in coach for a midget team (he initially presumed all the players would be dwarves) and was surprised when Emile Francis, the Rangers coach at the time, allowed him to sit in during practices and take notes. "I learned a little about how and when to change lines and other stuff," he says. "And then I began reading up. Hockey changed from a hobby to a career."
His was a meteoric - and unprecedented - rise through the hockey ranks, one even Vairo would not have predicted.
In 1972, at age 27, Vairo used his life savings and a $3,500 bank loan to travel to the Soviet Union and attend a hockey seminar featuring the national team's coaches at the Institute of Sports and Culture. Over three and a half weeks, the kid from Brooklyn found himself eating, sleeping, dreaming and loving all things hockey. He felt a particular kinship with Anatoly Tarasov, the country's legendary coach who is often referred to as "the father of Russian Hockey," and gravitated toward the freewheeling, highflying European style of play Tarasov espoused. Back in the United States, Vairo coached junior teams in Brooklyn and the Bronx, and won multiple league championships and a state title. In 1975, itching to improve his hockey stock, he learned of a vacant coaching position with the Austin Mavericks, a Junior A team. Vairo was excited by the prospect of moving to Texas . before learning Austin was Austin, Minnesota. For a whopping $4,000, he took the gig — then shocked everyone by guiding the team from worst to first in the U.S. Junior Hockey League. "I also drove the bus," he says proudly.
Vairo went on to spend five years as coaching program director for the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States (AHAUS). He also coached the American entries at the Junior World Championships between 1979 and 1982, and was an advance scout for Brooks in 1980. His was a meteoric — and unprecedented — rise through the hockey ranks, one even Vairo would not have predicted. "Not in a million years," he says.
When it came time for Walter Bush, the president of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Committee, to select a coach for the 1984 team, he possessed a long list of desired candidates. The first choice, Bob Johnson, decided to instead take the head job with the NHL's Calgary Flames. The second choice, Yale coach Tim Taylor, declined. "There were a bunch of terrific coaches with much more experience than I had, and they were approached," says Vairo. "They all came up with excuses — family, another commitment, school. Truth is, the real reason was simple: Who would want to follow? Talk about a thankless job . "
When Bush broached the subject to Vairo, he, too, brushed it off. "Then one of my closest pals asked me, ‘When are you going to get a chance like this again?'" says Vairo. "I'm a patriot. I love America. I couldn't say no."
What ensued was nothing short of, well, pick a word: Weird. Amazing. Wacky. Unpredictable. Fascinating. In June, 1983, 80 of the nation's top amateur ice skaters came to Colorado Springs to participate in the National Sports Festival, which served as an Olympic trial. The players were split into four teams, with Vairo and his assistants seeking out skills past American coaches tended to overlook. To hell with physicality — this edition would be based upon the Soviet model Vairo had learned long ago. He wanted speed. And precision. And more speed and precision. The 1984 team would weave and pass and set one another up. Vairo termed it "sophisticated pond hockey," and nary a goon was allowed.
Pat LaFontaine tapes his stick before a Canadian junior game in 1982. He finished his NHL career with over 1,000 points and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.(Getty Images)
One by one, many of the most rugged men on the ice were shocked to find themselves on the next bus home. Those who stuck often looked more like junior high kids than international hockey participants. There was Pat LaFontaine, a water bug-quick, 18-year-old center who had recently been drafted third overall by the New York Islanders. LaFontaine spent the previous season scoring 234 points in 70 games with the Verdun Juniors of the Quebec Major Junior A Hockey League, and was considered by many to be the American answer to Wayne Gretzky. There was David A. Jensen, a junior at Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass., whose blinding speed caused Vairo to check his stopwatch, then check it again and again. There was Ed Olczyk, a tough 16-year-old kid from Chicago who chugged up the ice like a fullback, but shot the puck with glass-shattering strength. "I was turning 13 when they won in 1980, and it was my dream to be a part of something like that," Olczyk says. "But I was thinking 1988, not 1984. I was so young and naïve . "
There was also controversy and, in the locker rooms, anger and angst. Before 1980, American's youth hockey programs were thought by the NHL to be second-rate, usually worth rummaging through only as a last resort. After the miracle, however, the NHL reconsidered. On June 8, 1983, the league held its annual draft, and three of the first five players selected were Americans. Brian Lawton, a center from Rhode Island, went No. 1 to the North Stars. LaFontaine was chosen third, by the Islanders, and goaltender Tom Barrasso was selected fifth by the Buffalo Sabres. Because the Olympic team needed as many top-shelf players as possible, guaranteed roster spots were promised to approximately 15 players in the weeks and months before tryouts. Hence, while men like Lawton, Barrasso and University of Wisconsin defenseman Chris Chellios went through the motions (while keeping their mouths shut) and played all the games, they were — secretly — locks (though Lawton ultimately decided to turn pro instead which then disqualified him from Olympic competition.)
That meant the 80 invitees were battling for only 10 or so spots. "When I found that out, I was pretty upset," says Ed Lee, a defenseman from Princeton who survived multiple cuts before being let go. "There was an agent who was pretty influential, and some real unfairness. I'm not bitter about it — I loved the guys I played with — but was it fair? No."
On July 4, 1983, at the conclusion of the National Sports Festival, Vairo gathered all 80 aspirants inside a room at the Olympic Training Center. One by one, in alphabetical order, he read the names of the 26 players who made the cut (five more would be cast off over the ensuing year.) "He went in alphabetical order," says Olczyk. "And when he said ‘Edward Olczyk' — I couldn't believe it. First, no one ever calls me that unless I'm getting my driver's license. And second, I was on the Olympic team. Man, oh man . "
Vairo's roster was a quirky mix of youngsters who'd never sniffed a beer and college juniors and seniors who knew their way around a rink.
Chris Chelios in a 1984 exhibition against Sweden. He went on to play more NHL games than any American-born player and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013. (Getty Images)
Vairo's roster was a quirky mix of youngsters who'd never sniffed a beer and college juniors and seniors who knew their way around a rink. There were two David Jensens (David A., the high school kid and David H., a gritty defenseman from the University of Minnesota), a pair of brothers (Mark and Scott Fusco from Burlington, Mass.,), five teenagers and three goaltenders — Barrasso, Marc Behrend from the University of Wisconsin and Bob Mason from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. The humble LaFontaine was immediately nicknamed "Franny" — short for "Franchise." Chelios, a star at Wisconsin, was the biggest talent on an iffy defense. Perhaps most noteworthy, two players from the 1980 squad — forwards John "Bah" Harrington and Phil Verchota — stuck (most of the other members of that team either turned professional or retired from the sport.) "I was 27, and I just wasn't ready yet to get a full-time job," says Verchota, who scored the tying goal against Finland in the 1980 gold-medal game. "The NHL didn't interest me — in my analysis of the cost-benefit, the cost outweighed the benefit. But I still loved hockey, and I wanted one last spin."
Because he had lived the 1980 experience, Verchota presumed much would be the same this time around. As was the case four years earlier, USA Hockey pieced together a lengthy, grinding pre-Olympic schedule consisting of 65 games against college, minor league, NHL and foreign teams that would take the players and coaches on a dizzying national and world tour. "That's good — it's the way it should be," says Verchota, who was named the U.S. captain. "You want to bond as a team, get used to one another, play a lot of hockey. In 1980, it worked great. We'd go into towns, play, grab a bite to eat, sleep and leave the next morning. No big deal."
Beginning with its first game, an Aug. 22, 1983 face-off against the Soviet (a touring Russian ice hockey club) in Fairbanks, Alaska, the 1984 U.S. Olympic hockey team was treated as if it were the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. In nearly every city, town and hamlet, there was a pregame meeting with a mayor, or a city council member. There were clinics with elementary school children and visits to nursing homes and banquet halls and baseball stadiums to throw out first pitches. There were nonstop interview requests — with AM radio stations and cable television networks and seemingly every weekly newspaper sports editor the planet could muster. "Wherever we went, we were mobbed," says Mason. "We were the circus coming to town."
Bob Brooke, a forward with the team, later penned a piece for The New York Times about the experience: "We rode the crest of a media wave all year," he wrote, "basking in the sunshine of little boys and girls tugging at our coattails for autographs, drinking in the prospects of appearing in commercials and [on] posters."
After most games, the players would be treated to the finest in rubber chicken banquet food, and be forced to listen as some mid-level political figure spewed inane puns about blue lines and checking and icing — words the speaker often did not understand. Bob O'Connor, an assistant coach and the team's video coordinator, carried his camera everywhere, and later pieced together a two-hour documentary titled "USA Hockey: From Sports Festival to Sarajevo." The footage is often jaw-droppingly painful — in one squirm-worthy moment, the players sit at long tables eating what looks to be a tuna-and-fruit salad medley as an elderly man at a podium begins, "A lot of you might not know that Kalamazoo was founded in 1830 by . "
"We were all hockey players, and we loved hockey. We had fun. Lots of fun. But it beat on us."
Johnson was responsible for putting together the schedule, and he sent the team to some of the nation's most yawn-inducing locations, ranging from Soldotna, Alaska (home of the Soldotna Historical Society Museum) to Warroad, Minn., (the temperature dipped to 20 below zero the night of the game.) Vairo's minions played two games against each Central Hockey League team, which meant trips to Tulsa, Salt Lake City, Indianapolis and Billings. They faced a bevy of top-level college squads, including Wisconsin and Minnesota, as well as NHL matchups with six different teams. "It was really exhausting," says Scott Bjugstad, a forward from the University of Minnesota. "We were all hockey players, and we loved hockey. But there'd be a dinner, then a game, then another dinner. Then you'd go to the next town, and it'd be the same thing. We had fun. Lots of fun. But it beat on us."
"It was all USA Hockey's idea," says Johnson. "I was just the GM — I had nothing to do with all the PR commitments. I was pissed, but they needed to make money to support the program, and they also wanted to build on the momentum of 1980. I understood. But I wasn't happy. We wore those kids down."
Worse than the travel was the awkward position the participants often found themselves in. Despite never having won an Olympic medal of any sort (with the obvious exceptions of Harrington and Verchota), the players were feted upon as if they were returning champions — not developing hopefuls. On one commercial flight, for example, O'Connor captured a pilot speaking over the PA system: "You may not be aware, but we have the U.S. Olympic hockey team on board. You may want to wish them luck, though they may not need it. I'm sure they're skillful enough to win it again this time." O'Connor flashes to several team members, who look as if they'd like to leap from the plane.
On Sept. 29, five months before the Olympic opening ceremonies, the team was hosted at the White House by Ronald Reagan. Resplendent in identical blue blazers, with American flag patches stitched above their hearts, the players stood in line as the president went man to man, shaking hands and nodding as they introduced themselves. Verchota was asked to the podium, and he presented Reagan with a red, white and blue Olympic jersey. The team captain said something softly to the president, who cracked, "Just got an offer to play tomorrow night."
The players chuckled heartily. What else were they supposed to do? Verchota then handed George Bush, the vice president, a small team pendant, which he accepted with the enthusiasm of a 10-year-old finding tube socks beneath the Christmas tree. Harrington followed by giving Reagan a hockey trophy (one that looked, quizzically, like a gold-painted bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken), and the president closed by shooting a puck past Behrend into a makeshift net.
"In 1980, we didn't meet the president until after the Olympics," says Verchota. "We had to earn the honor."
Around the same time the hockey team was establishing itself as an American phenomenon, movie theatres across the country were showing "Rocky III." This time around, Rocky Balboa is the reigning heavyweight champion, softened by success and accolades and myriad commercial opportunities.
Unbeknownst to the pugilist, his people have been feeding him creampuffs — one soft opponent after another. When it's finally brought to his attention that the fighters have been selected for their mediocrity, Balboa is incredulous. "What do you mean?" he says to Mickey, his manager. "They was hand-picked? Set-ups?"
"No," Mickey replies. "They weren't set-ups. They was good fighters. But they weren't killers."
Yet the schedule convinced many that this team was not only great, but potentially greater than the 1980 edition.
U.S. fans celebrate in Lake Placid. (Getty Images)
In the course of its 65-game lead-up to the Olympics, the U.S. Hockey did not face many creampuffs, per se. Yet the schedule — intentionally or not — convinced many that this team was not only great, but potentially greater than the 1980 edition. The final record (39-18-8) suggested a unit at the top of its game. But numbers didn't equal reality. In the matchups against NHL clubs, for example, the pace was fast and the intensity real — but only so real. Checking was kept to a minimum. The notable size and strength advantages enjoyed by the pro teams were not fully utilized. The last thing a Red Wing or North Star or Capital wanted to be known for was breaking the shoulder of a golden boy like LaFontaine or Olczyk. Goons — staples of play in the NHL of the 1980s — were kept in check. Hence, when people tuned in to the evening news, the images were often of American players soaring unencumbered toward the goal like bald eagles in flight. There were no forearm shivers no pointed elbows no groin shots or broken teeth.
Though the NHL encounters generated great buzz, the most anticipated confrontations came against the Soviet Union. Thanks in large part to Vairo's warm relations with the nation's hockey officials, the U.S.S.R. agreed to send its players to America for a six-game, six-city series that opened in (of all places) Lake Placid on the evening of Dec. 9, 1983.
Were one to believe the headlines and the hype, he would have thought this was a rematch of the Miracle, featuring Craig in goal and Brooks behind the bench and a Soviet squad loaded with greats like Viacheslav Fetisov and Boris Mikhailov. The town of Lake Placid (population: 2,524) was awash in red, white and blue. Across the street from the U.S. Olympic Training Center, where both teams stayed the night, a highlight video of the 1980 game ran on an endless loop in a storefront window.
When Verchota's game-winning shot trickled past goaltender Aleksandr Tzyhnykh with 1:18 remaining in the third period, sealing a 5-4 triumph, the overflow crowd of 9,110 exploded into cheers, then the familiar chant of USA! USA! Thirty years later, many of the American players still consider it the landmark moment of their hockey lives — a merging of patriotism and accomplishment, encased in the perfect venue.
Shortly after the final horn sounded, Vairo was in the dressing room, congratulating his players, when the telephone was passed his way. Ronald Reagan was on the line, calling to congratulate him on such a "miraculous" victory.
Truth be told, while certainly thrilling, there was little miraculous about it. First off, the 23-member Soviet team arrived in Lake Placid on the night before the game, following a 10 1/2-hour flight, then a five-hour bus trek. Second, the actual squad was assembled by coaches and officials only four days earlier — a collection of not-ready-for-prime-time-hockey players who, as a whole, were considered to be merely good, not Olympic-caliber. The actual Soviet A team was in Moscow, preparing for the Games. "The Russian Selects are going to be as good as any team we'll see in the Olympics except for the Russians themselves," Vairo said beforehand. "They're probably one of the top-six teams in the world." That sentiment, in hindsight, was incorrect.
That the Americans proceeded to take the six-game series (three wins, two losses, one tie) only raised expectations. The team was the subject of back-to-back "Nightline" segments was featured in Time and Newsweek and Sports Illustrated played before one sellout crowd after another. The U.S. split 12 games with the (real) Canadian Olympic team and — once again — American sports enthusiasts were talking up the dream of another medal.
People who grasped the intricacies of the sport realized that Vairo's club faced legitimate troubles.
Bob Mason, who became a key piece of the '84 roster after Tom Barrasso left the team. (USA Hockey)
Behind the scenes, however, people who grasped the intricacies of the sport realized that Vairo's club faced legitimate troubles. At the conclusion of the National Sports Festival, the one thing coaches knew was that, in Tom Barrasso, they possessed a potentially elite netminder. Though only 18 at the time of the tryouts, the Stow, Mass., native possessed the flexibility of a gymnast and the self-confidence of a bullfighter. The Buffalo Sabres had recently tabbed him with the fifth overall pick in the 1983 NHL Draft, but Vairo was satisfied when, at the festival, Barrasso assured him of his Olympic participation. Less than two weeks later, while the U.S. team was in Anchorage for an exhibition against the Soviet Wings, Seymour Knox, the Sabres owner, asked permission to visit with Barrasso. According to Vairo, Knox made clear he simply wanted to meet his team's top draft pick — nothing more. "Tommy played for us that night against the Wings, and played well," says Vairo of the 3-3 tie. "Well, come the next morning Knox flew Tommy out on private plane, and took him to Buffalo. I never heard from either guy again." Barrasso went on to win the Vezina Trophy later that season as the NHL's best goaltender and Vairo found himself without a top-shelf goaltender. "The guys we had were very good," he says of Mark Behrend and Bob Mason. "But just look what Tommy went on to accomplish . "
The other major issues were experience and leadership. Or, in truth, lack thereof. Throughout the exhibition season, much was made of America's "Diaper Line" — the highly productive first line of LaFontaine, 18, Olczyk, 17, and David A. Jensen, 17. All three were teenagers, all three were quick and smart and savvy and skilled, all three played well together . and all three had limited international experience. Still, in the six games against the Soviets, LaFontaine, Olczyk and Jensen scored 11 of the team's 20 goals, and a phenomenon was born. "I don't know about the nickname," LaFontaine told the Associated Press in January 1984. "I outgrew my diapers a long time ago."
"I don't particularly like the diaper bit," added Jensen. "But it's something you have to live with."
Although Verchota was considered the team's leader, he was (unlike Mike Eruzione, the 1980 captain) understated and reluctant to speak up. Vairo, meanwhile, was a coach who, behind his back, suffered from a lack of respect with some players. Early on during the exhibition season, Chelios — the team's best defender — was arrested in Anchorage for snatching a woman's purse, and spent the night in a local jail. According to one American player, who witnessed the scene, Chelios was drunk, and had escorted the woman into a hotel room. "He was wasted, and he came staggering in with her," the teammate says. "I jumped up and said, ‘What the hell is going on here?' He handed the woman some money, then he ran after her outside the hotel to grab her pocket book to get the money back. A police officer was walking by at that exact moment.
"Any other player gets kicked off the team. We were the U.S. Olympic team. You can't do stuff like that. But he stuck. I thought it was pretty weak." (Chelios failed to respond to an interview request.) There were also questions about Vairo's ability to strategize on the fly and grasp the inner-workings of a game he'd never played competitively. He was an awful skater, and members of the team (Verchota in particular) took delight in mimicking his "Weeble's wobble but they don't fall down" antics. "I like Lou, and he knows his stuff," says Bjugstad. "But I'm not sure he was experienced enough to handle everything that came with a really difficult job."
"We had a coach who never played hockey," adds Lee. "Great guy, but never played. That's tough."
"I liked Lou a lot," says Tim Thomas, a University of Wisconsin defenseman and the final player cut from the Olympic roster. "He's genuine, and he has a big heart. But he was a textbook coach. He was a bad skater, and he had a lot of assistant coaches giving him a lot of opinions at the same time. At times, the team would go one direction, then an entirely different direction. You can't help but like him as a man. But as a coach? I'm not sure he was ready."
After all of the hype, and all of the exhibitions, and all of the handshakes and meetings and interviews and practices and tape sessions and autograph requests and flights and bus rides, the Olympic Games finally arrived.
And then — snap — the Olympic Games ended.
Like that. Truly — snap — like that. It's a weird phenomenon, the way these things often work. You spend so much time preparing for an event, building it up as the pinnacle of an existence — and then the event underwhelms. Think about a year's worth of planning for a four-hour wedding, or all those Torah lessons to partake in a Bar Mitzvah that runs the length of "Les Misérables."
"That," says David H. Jensen, "was the 1984 Olympics for us."
In a strange bit of scheduling oddness that — three decades later — still perplexes members of the team, the U.S. was slated to play its first game on Feb. 7, the day before the opening ceremonies were to be held in Kosevo Stadium. America was placed in Group B, alongside three teams (Czechoslovakia, Canada and Finland) widely thought to be its superiors. In order to advance to the medal round, the U.S. would almost certainly have to beat the Canadians in the opener or the Czechs two days later. "Both were great teams," says David A. Jensen. "Especially the Czechs. They were, in my mind, as good as the Russians. And the Russians were the best team in the world."
"I think we all believed we'd win that game. But then, bad things started to happen . " David's Jensen's two goals against Canada.
On paper, Vairo's team matched up well with Canada. Having faced off a dozen times over the ensuing four months, there were few remaining secrets to be uncovered. In their final meeting, in Milwaukee two weeks before the Olympics, the U.S. cruised to an 8-2 demolition. The Americans then wrapped up their exhibition schedule with 9-2 and 9-3 routs of Austria. Canada, meanwhile, had won only two of its last 19 contests, and would be playing without two key performers, center Mark Morrison and defenseman Don Dietrich, who were withdrawn for eligibility issues. "We were rolling along," says Mark Fusco. "I think we all believed we'd win that game. But then, bad things started to happen . "
The Canada-United States contest was to be played at 1:30 p.m. inside the Zetra Arena, a brand new $32 million facility located in the heart of Sarajevo. Wanting to make sure the team had plenty of time to prepare, Johnson asked that the bus leave the Olympic Village three and a half hours beforehand. The vehicle arrived on time, and the players and coaches boarded. "Everything from that point on went wrong," says Vairo. "Not some things. Everything." According to the coach, the man driving the bus was intoxicated, and made multiple wrong turns en route to the arena. Then, as soon as the bus was headed rightly, it ran into traffic. Thick traffic. Unyielding traffic. The type of traffic that hits a place like Sarajevo once in a lifetime — during the running of the Olympic torch through the city's streets. "We were, literally, stuck behind the torch bearer," says Johnson. "We could only go as fast as he could go. I can't remember how far it was from the Village to the stadium. It wasn't too far but, God, we were jammed."
The sense of anxiety among the Olympians was palpable. The bus was largely silent — all nervousness and fear, no glee and laughter. Most good teams have one of two players who exist to break the ice, crack a joke, fart, burp, something. The U.S. did not. It hardly helped that, earlier in the morning, Bud Kessel, the team's 56-year-old equipment manager, suffered a heart attack in his room and had to be rushed to a hospital. Or that LaFontaine woke with a 103-degree fever. Or that the previous evening's Ćevapi and Pljeskavica — Balkan fried sausages and burgers — didn't go down well. "A bunch of us were sick with food poisoning," says Mark Fusco. "The food at the Olympics was beyond belief in how awful it was. The Italians brought their own cooks and food, and we'd wait for them to go through the line, then we'd scoff up what they left behind."
By the time the bus pulled up to the arena, it was 12:55. Players rushed into the dressing room, yanked off their street clothes, pulled on their pads and jerseys. Bjugstad, a key U.S. forward, was dismayed to learn that his sticks - manufactured by Christian Brothers — had been left behind in Minnesota. "I was stuck using Titans," he said. "Not an excuse — but ask any player about using sticks he's not used to."
Two days earlier, an ABC production assistant offered Vairo a highlight video of the 1980 Miracle on Ice, in case he wanted to use it as a pregame locker room motivator. Vairo declined, insisting this was a new team with a new identity. So, instead of preparing to the sounds of Al Michaels, the Olympians dressed in silence. "Our guys were young, and they were nervous," says Vairo. "That's on me. I'm the coach."
In O'Connor's documentary, one can watch the Americans walk from the dressing room, up a green staircase and onto the ice. The sight brings to mind a funeral procession — straight faces, little emotion. "My God, our guys were scared to death," says Johnson. "I didn't really see that coming."
If Eruzione's game winner against the Soviets at Lake Placid was the highest moment in U.S. hockey history, perhaps the lowest took place exactly 27 seconds into the game. That's when Canada's Carey Wilson unleashed a 20-foot slap shot toward the net. Behrend positioned himself for the save but Pat Flatley, the star right wing (and Behrend's teammate at Wisconsin) tipped the puck into the goal.
"I really thought I had it," says Behrend. "It was a low shot on my catching glove side, and went just off my glove and in. It's hard for a goaltender to give one up that quick in a game. As a goaltender, each game you go out, and the first period is so important to jump out on right foot. That was pretty demoralizing."
"That first goal was a really strong psychological factor," Vairo said afterward. "It seemed we were skating uphill all day."
"I was so mad that I wanted to tear that room apart."
America tied the score on David A. Jensen's goal at 10 minutes, 10 seconds of the opening period, but two minutes later Wilson pushed a back-hander past Behrend and into the net for a 2-1 lead. The first period ended with Canada holding the advantage, and Vairo was furious. Where was the aggression? Where was the passion? They were superior to the Canadians — he just knew it. "I was so mad that I wanted to tear that room apart," Vairo told Sports Illustrated's E.M. Swift. "Really rip into them . get mad at somebody. That was my gut feeling. We weren't skating, we weren't passing, they were beating us to loose pucks. But then I thought about how young our team was. I didn't want to panic them."
This, several members of the team now agree, was one of Vairo's two mistakes. The other blunder — the bigger one — was his inability to match wits with Dave King, Canada's coach. While the Americans hadn't concealed any secrets from the Canadians during the 12 exhibition contests, King held back his key strategic plan. Throughout the game, Dave Tippett, a 22-year-old left wing who had once starred at the University of North Dakota, was assigned to serve as LaFontaine's shadow, something he had not done in previous matchups. Wherever the American star went, Tippett went, too. One week earlier, in a game against West Germany, Tippett practiced the tactic by attaching himself to Erich Kühnhackl, the legendary center. He was held scoreless. Now, so was an increasingly frustrated LaFontaine.
Throughout the game, Vairo did little to free up his star. He juggled the lineup but one time. "Could Lou have made some more adjustments?" says Olczyk. "Could he have strategized differently? Sure. But it's easy to say in hindsight."
The teams traded goals in the second period, but the United States never played with a sense of urgency. "The players," wrote Sports Illustrated's Swift, "looked like zombies." The 4-2 final reflected a game that was neither particularly close nor exciting. "It was like they threw their jerseys out on the ice and said, ‘We won in 1980, so we'll win it this year,'" said Eruzione, who was on hand providing commentary for ABC. "I've said it before and I'll say it again. Our team won on character, not talent. No one cares if you lose. Better teams than them are going to lose. But they didn't lose playing the way they're capable of."
The United States had one day to recover from a seemingly unrecoverable setback. The Canada game was the one they needed to win — and the players knew it. Unless something truly odd were to transpire, a team with two loses would not advance out of Group B and into the medal round.
Sochi Hockey Coverage
The Czech club that awaited the Americans was superior in, literally, all aspects. They were stronger, faster, tougher, better coached, better prepared and more experienced (Coach Stanislav Nevesely's men surely also had some revenge in mind — four years earlier they fell to the U.S., 7-3.) In their '84 Olympic opener, they debuted with a 10-4 pounding of Norway, during which the team attempted a ridiculous 66 shots on goal. "I remember watching the Czech team practice and thinking, ‘We'd better play good against these guys,'" says Bjugstad. "The way they played was absolutely scary. They never missed a pass."
Following the Canada defeat, Vairo's players repeatedly heard of their listlessness and apparent apathy. In a classic example of Overcompensation: 101, the Americans came out behaving more like Andre the Giant than Paul Andrea. Despite having a man advantage, they fell behind at 12:23 of the first period when Czechoslovakia's Igor Liba stuffed the puck past Behrend. Seconds later, most of the arena's lights shut off, and the darkness resulted in a nearly half-hour delay. When action finally resumed, the U.S. tied the score on a Mark Kumpel slapshot, and for a fleeting second there was hope of life.
The overaggressive Americans committed one senseless penalty after another, and the results were disastrous. David H. Jensen was called for hooking — and the Czechs scored on a power play for a 2-1 lead. Chelios was called for cross-checking — and the Czechs scored on another power play for a 3-1 lead. The final score, 4-1, was ugly, but not as ugly as the game. Nevesely rightly accused the U.S. of playing without class or dignity of playing more in the name of nonsense machismo posturing than sportsmanship. There were an estimated 7,000 fans in attendance, and as the game reached its conclusion, many chanted not USA! USA!, but USA Goodbye! USA Goodbye!
"We were a very good team," says Mark Fusco, "that didn't cut it."
And that was pretty much that.
For many players, the Czech setback ended any real interest in Olympic hockey. There were professional contracts to sign, NHL teams to join, lives to live, schools to attend. They were tired and defeated and anxious to get home. "You have pride as a hockey player," says Verchota. "But it's hard to stay motivated once you're knocked out of contention. For a lot of the guys, the remaining games could have been used as auditions for pro hockey."
On Feb. 11, the U.S. tied lowly Norway, 3-3 — a new benchmark in American awfulness. A 7-3 victory over Austria followed, then a 3-3 tie to Finland and a 7-4 win over Poland to decide seventh place before, mercifully, the team ran out of games.
The players were branded "disappointments," "slackers," and "overrated." (USA Hockey)
"We were all ready to move on," says Scott Fusco. "It's hard to maintain focus once you have no hope."
Although members of the team were sheltered by a continental divide, the reaction on the mainland was not good. ABC went from devoting itself to hockey to — after the Czech loss — behaving as if the sport no longer existed. The players were branded "disappointments," "slackers," and "overrated." In a scathing piece for the Dallas Times Herald, columnist Skip Bayless wrote, "It wouldn't have been quite so embarrassing if our kids had been half as good as their hype." Vairo, in particular, caught most of the heat. He was in over his head. He was no Brooks. His style was too basic. He was an amateur. "I can tell you it didn't hurt," he says. "But it did. Of course it did. I'm human."
On the afternoon of Feb. 20, the United States Olympic hockey team returned to America, landing at Minneapolis' international airport following a 30-hour journey. One by one, the players and coaches walked off the plane, where they were greeted by, according to the Associated Press, no more than 50 people. There were no signs or banners or kids seeking out autographs. Most were relatives or friends. "The return was pretty depressing," says David A. Jensen, who — two days later — appeared in a game for Lawrence Academy, his high school. "It's like, ‘It's all over? Just like that?'"
In the ensuing three decades, members of the team have traveled divergent paths. LaFontaine and Chelios were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame after stupendous professional careers. Behrend has devoted much of his life to working as a firefighter in his hometown of Madison, Wis., and Verchota is a veteran banker. Vairo spent a couple of years as an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils, and works as the director of special projects for USA Hockey. "I've had a wonderful life," he says. "Hockey is still a passion."
Every so often, somebody broaches the idea of a reunion. Nothing fancy or official just a bunch of old hockey players reminiscing over beers and wings and memories of gold-deprived days that, in hindsight, still feel golden. Nothing, regrettably, has ever come of it. Generally speaking, sports reunions are for teams that win championships. Not for those that placed seventh.
"It would be great to see those guys, because we all experienced something remarkable together," says David A. Jensen, who played 69 NHL games and now runs a youth hockey center in Foxboro, Mass. "I know we didn't meet expectations, and I know some people would view that as a failure. But I don't see it that way. A gold medal would have been great. But that was the year I became a young man. That was the year that's given me so many amazing memories. That took me around the world.