Remembering the Miracle on Ice

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One of the more memorable moments of the Winter Olympics came in 1980 when the amateur US men’s hockey team upset the defending gold medallist Soviet Union side in what has become known as the Miracle on Ice. Lake Placid in eastern New York was the venue for the Olympics and despite an undefeated run through the first stage of the tournament, many expected the Soviets to be far too strong when they met in the first game of the medal round.

With a restriction on professional players the Soviets found a loophole, hiring hockey players as employees of local companies to allow them to preserve their amateur status. The gulf in class was obvious as the Soviets scored 51 goals in their first five games including 16-0 wins over Japan and 17-4 over the Netherlands in back to back contests. America meanwhile, had brought a young team, full of college students with an average age of 21. With only one holdover from 1976, this was a new experience for many of them.

On February 22, the US and Soviets faced off at 5pm local time, although without social media or the internet to worry about, the game was broadcast on tape delay by the US broadcaster to get it in prime time. Legendary play by play man Al Michaels was assigned to call the game as, he had the most experience out of the entire broadcast crew, one game eight years prior, a story he willingly shares every time he is interviewed about this game.

With a home crowd behind them, the US held their own in the first period able to respond both times the Soviets scored to head into the first intermission 2-2. The second goal coming with mere seconds remaining in the period as Mike Johnson pounced on a rebound. The second frame was all Soviet as they turned up the pressure on the US but only managed a single goal despite having the run of play and a 12-2 shot advantage. Going into the final period, it was 3-2 to the Soviets.

Johnson grabbed his second of the game eight minutes into the final period to bring the scores back to level. Mike Eruzione managed to etch his name into the history books scoring what would turn out to be the winning goal with ten minutes remaining. A panicked Soviet side became more and more desperate pushing for an equalising goal. Despite trailing they never pulled their goalie to create a six on five advantage on the attack.

The clock ran down and Al Michaels uttered one of the most famous phrases in sports broadcasting, “Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” as the underdogs finished off a stunning win that even the most optimistic of fans would have seen as unlikely. Despite their win, the job was not finished for the US, as they needed to beat Finland in their final game to ensure the gold medal. They did just that going on a 3-0 run in the third period to finish on top of the group in the final round. The Soviets got some small consolation, crushing Sweden to finish second on the table and claiming the silver medal. For many Americans, the Miracle on Ice remains one of their most iconic Olympic memories as it was a true underdog performance against a heavyweight opponent which, given the political climate at the time, meant so much more.

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