This Month In History
February 2016

This Month in NYS History – Team USA Beats Team USSR in “Miracle on Ice” Hockey Game in Lake Placid, New York – February 22, 1980

The “Miracle on Ice” is enshrined as an example of American spirit and an example of the grittiness of American sports.
The “Miracle on Ice” is enshrined as an example of American spirit and an example of the grittiness of American sports.
The 1980 Winter Olympic games in Lake Placid, New York were seen as the place where the Soviet Union’s men’s ice hockey team would go on to win its sixth Gold Medal in the last seven Winter Olympic Games. With the Soviets being the undisputed powerhouse of international hockey, the U.S. team was little more than a scrappy underdog. Equipped with almost entirely college players, the U.S. squad had grit and heart but matched up poorly with the Soviets, the Czechoslovakians, the Finnish and the Swedes in terms of pure skill.

Led by Coach Herb Brooks, goaltender Jim Craig, Captain Mike Eruzione and future National Hockey League stars such as Ken Morrow of the New York Islanders, Mike Ramsey of the Buffalo Sabres and Mark Pavelich of the New York Rangers, the U.S. faced off against the Soviets in front of a capacity American crowd of 8,500 at the Lake Placid Olympic Center’s Field House (recently renamed Herb Brooks Arena). The game began with the narratives playing true, with the Soviets getting out to the early lead, but the Americans clawing back several times. After being down 1-0 and then 2-1, the Americans fought their way back from deficits each time and stood strong against the skilled Soviets under stellar goaltending from Craig. After having tied the game at 2-2 late in the first due to a misplay by Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, the Soviets made a game-changing decision by deciding to switch to their backup goaltender. Initially this appeared to be the correct decision, as the Soviets took a 3-2 lead into the third and final frame.

The Soviets took a costly penalty a little under halfway through the third period, and the Americans capitalized. Center Mark Johnson tied the game for the Americans, pushing momentum in their favor. Only a short time later, Eruzione sprinted onto the ice to begin his shift, found himself alone in front and fired a shot past the screened Soviet goaltender. The Americans led 4-3, and the Soviets began their push back. Craig faced an onslaught of shots from the Soviets, but stood strong as the clocked ticked to zero and the Americans had defeated the Russians in the game later denoted as the “Miracle on Ice”. However, they still needed to beat Finland in the final game of the Round Robin. They beat Finland to a final score of 4-2, once again coming back from a 2-1 deficit. This marked the United States’ first Gold Medal since 1960, and the defeat of the Soviets to reach the final game brought about grand feelings of patriotism at the height of the Cold War.

“Great moments are born from great opportunity,” Brooks had told his players. The “Miracle on Ice” is enshrined as an example of American spirit and an example of the grittiness of American sports. In 1999, Sports Illustrated called the game the number one sports moment of the 20th century. Legendary Sportscaster Al Michaels’ final call of “Do you believe in miracles? YES!” has consistently ranked amongst the best play by play calls in American sports history. Though he passed in 2003, the story of Coach Herb Brooks and the 1980 team was depicted in the 2004 movie Miracle. Today, Herb Brooks Arena and the Lake Placid Olympic Center in Upstate New York stand as an eternal memory of the heroics and drama of the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic hockey team.