The most famous call in the sport of hockey was delivered on this day 43 years ago by Al Michaels. The final seconds were ticking on the clock in the semi-final game of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games as the underdog United States team upset the juggernaut Soviet Union dynasty 4-3 in Lake Placid, New York. The game has been dubbed “The Miracle on Ice.”
This is considered one of, if not the biggest upset in sports history. This is because the Soviets had won the previous four Olympics and were by far considered the best team in the world. They were allowed to use all of their best professionals. In comparison, NHL players were not allowed to participate, so only amateurs were allowed. This forced the Americans to play a bunch of college kids going against trained professionals, many of whom had played together for a decade or more.
Off the ice the U.S. and the USSR were engaged in the Cold War and had extreme tension. Times were not the best in the U.S. with the economy in the tank, so the American people were looking for a pleasant surprise to rally around. The Olympics hockey team had not won gold since 1960 and had only medaled one time over that span. Expectations were low but spirits were high.
In pool play, the U.S. had a very impressive showing with a record of 4-0-1. After a 2-2 draw with Sweden in the first game, the Americans went on an absolute tear. They beat Czechoslovakia 7-3, Norway 5-1, Romania 7-2 and West Germany 4-2. As dominant as they were on their half of the bracket, the USSR was much more dominant on theirs. They went 5-0 in pool play and had a seemingly impossible goal differential of plus-40 in those five games. They defeated Japan 16-0, the Netherlands 17-4, Poland 8-1, Finland 4-2 and Canada 6-4.
This set the stage for the David vs. Goliath matchup. The Soviets were led by superstar goalie Vladislav Tretiak whom many considered to be the best in the world. “If you score on him, keep the puck because it doesn’t happen often,” U.S. coach Herb Brooks said about him.
Tretiak was joined by the legendary superstar line of Valeri Kharlamov, Vladimir Petrov and Boris Mikhailov. In comparison, the Americans had former Boston University goalie Jim Craig, one of the best in the nation. The team’s leading scorer was Mark Johnson who played at the University of Wisconsin, and the captain was Mike Eruzione who also played at BU.
In the semi-final game, the Soviets got on the board first with a goal nine minutes in from Vladamir Krutov. Five minutes later, Buzz Schneider tied it right back up. This was the theme throughout the entire game: the Soviets would go ahead and the Americans would answer immediately. It was 2-2 after the second period with goals from Sergei Makarov for the USSR and Mark Johnson for the. U.S. In a shocking move, Tretiak was pulled after the first period. This game gave the Americans a burst and vote of confidence for the rest of the game.
Aleksander Maltsev scored early in the second period to make it 3-2. The next 30 minutes could be described as a dog fight with neither team giving an inch. This was until Johnson tied the game with 11 minutes to go. 81 seconds later Eruzione slapped the puck in the back of the net and gave one of the best celebrations of all time as he paraded and high-stepped in the air, overcome with joy. The Soviets would not go down quietly, but Jim Craig stood on his head and made 36 saves in the effort. Two days later the Americans beat Finland 4-2 to win the gold medal and our country rejoiced around a winner who had defied all odds and could make our great nation proud.
After this Olympic run, 13 of the 20 players went to play in the NHL. Five played in over 500 games and three played in over 1,000. Coach Herb Brooks went to the NHL with several teams. Those men will forever share a magical moment that they will never forget and where they truly shocked the world and reminded people what it was like to represent the red, white and blue.