Shamrock Thoughts: Reflecting On The 1980 “Miracle on Ice”

Miracle on Ice, February 22, 1980, Lake Placid, NY.
As USSR backup Goalie Vladislav Tretjak (20) contemplates his team’s loss, Team USA celebrate their 4-3 upset defeat of the Soviets at the XIII Winter Olympics on February 22, 1980, at Lake Placid, N.Y.

38 years ago today was one of the most incredible sports feats in the history of mankind as the United States, an underdog squad, defeated the heavily favored and winner of four straight gold medals, Soviet Union, in the 1980 Olympics in the hockey semi-finals. What was remarkable was that most of the players on the U.S. squad were college players/amateurs. While technically the Soviet players were also amateurs, they also played in the Soviet Championship League which was supposedly on par with the NHL. Pulling off a feat like this was a tall order for the Americans and when they won, it was dubbed the “Miracle on Ice.”

Another thing about this matchup that made things all the more interesting is this was during the Cold War. While technically was never a full-fledged war, the United States and it’s Western allies had an ideological war with the Soviet Union beginning from the end of World War II till the collapse of the USSR in 1991. The world seemed to be on it’s collective end as war between the two countries looked to be inevitable even coming dangerously close with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. It was essentially communism versus democracy (even though technically the U.S. is a republic), but most importantly it was the fear that nuclear war would break out. There had been some actual wars fought during this time (Korean War and Vietnam War), but never directly between the two main countries.

So during this time, any sporting event that featured both the U.S. and the USSR was looked at with close eyes. Yes, even the Cold War went as far as sporting events. That’s what makes this particular event even more incredible.

The Americans were led by then little known coach Herb Brooks. What helped his squad play so well was his style of play where he consistently kept switching out his lines keeping his team’s endurance, but they were also very physical. The U.S. surprised many in their group play, but they also played convincingly. The Soviets on the other hand absolutely dominated their play even winning some games with double digit amount of goals. When it came to the point the two nations were about to face one another in the medal round, it seemed inevitable that the Soviet Union would win easily as one writer said it would take a miracle for the Americans to win.

That would not be the case. Herb Brooks probably knew his team had a chance at winning.

If you are a hockey fan, this would probably be one of the best games one could watch. It was hard fought and back-and-forth affair. I have watched the replay and it really was fun to watch. The U.S. took a 4-3 lead in the third period with 10 minutes left, but there was plenty of hockey left to play. However, that turned out to be the difference maker in the game. The last 10 minutes, both sides grinded it out in such a grueling game already and that made the game even more exciting. When it came down to the final seconds, broadcaster Al Michaels uttered the famous line: “11 seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

The U.S. won 4-3 signifying one of the more improbable sporting events a fanatic will ever see. The fact that it is still talked about to this day shows incredible it was. But also it has brought inspiration for the current Olympians at these 2018 Olympics as while most of us were sleeping, the U.S. women’s hockey team defeated Canada for gold in another grueling game that went into a shootout. Yes, the circumstances were a little bit different for the 1980 version (as that wasn’t even the gold medal game and it was also during the time of the Cold War), but the similarities are there. The fact that it came on the same day is remarkable and that they defeated a nation that also had won four straight gold medals. Canada was favored, but this U.S. hockey team also was a very good squad. It might not quite seem like a miracle, but it sure feels like it. “Miracle on Ice” part 2?

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