At 5:00 pm on February 22, 1980. The reigning gold medal Russian Olympic hockey team took the ice against the youngest team in the Olympics, the USA team. The Russians were not only the winners of the last four Olympics and six of the last seven international tournaments, but only 10 days earlier, these two teams had met for an exhibition game. The Russians crushed the American team 10-3. This Soviet team had also beaten professional US teams soundly in their warm up to the Olympics.
The world looked at this game as a foregone conclusion: there was no way the USA team could win. It would take a miracle!
The hardened Russian front line controlled the opening face-off and pressured the Americans from the beginning. While the American’s were able to get back and play defense, they rarely had opportunities to go on the offensive. The crowd at Lake Placid, New York, was engaged yet apprehensive through the first 5 minutes of the contest. Goalkeeper Jim Craig, made dozens of saves in the first period, but playing with fire will burn you. After nine minutes into the contest, the puck got away from USA defender “Buzz” Schnieder and Russian wing Alexei Kasatonov made a goal for the Russians, putting the USSR up 1-0.
The crowd was silenced and tense as they saw the Red, White and Blue go down a goal the juggernauts. They remained quietly hoping something would happen as the young American’s struggled with the grown men in red. Eventually something did happen when Schneider took a pass from Mark Pavelich. He let the puck fly from 50 feet out and it swished past goal tender Vladislav Tretiak’s head and left arm. Tying the game.
The jubilation wouldn’t last long. Only three and a half minutes later the Russians would score again. During the opening period, the Soviet squad shot 18 times, while the USA only managed 8 shots on goal. Not usually something to get excited about.
With time almost gone in the first period, only 10 seconds remaining, the puck was on the USA side of the rink. Dave Christiansen fired a shot from 100 feet out, which was easily blocked by Tretiak, considered by most experts to be the best goal keeper in the world. The period was almost done, but Tretiak let the puck bounce off and away from him. With three seconds to go, Mark Johnson darted between two defenders and gathered the puck. He skated to the left of the Tretiak and put in a shot with one second left. The crowd erupted and the Russians left for the locker room.
In 1980 the Olympics were still supposed to be made up of amateurs. The USA team was mostly a group of college kids from two teams: The Minnesota Gophers and the University of Boston Eagles. USA Olympic Coach Herb Brooks, had previously coached the Minnesota Gophers and consequently many of the players. To make things more difficult for the underdog USA team, the players from Minnesota and Boston hated each other. Their deep-seated rivalry had caused a bench clearing brawl in 1976 at a semifinal game between the two teams. The four players from Boston hated their gopher teammates for the first few months. But Herb Brooks would give them cause to give up their collegiate rivalry and become a cohesive team. They would need it to beat any team in the Olympics, especially the Russians.
The Russians however, were a model of superiority in Hockey. They were state supported athletes that had skated together for years. Some of them had been part of the gold medal teams for three Olympics in a row. They were the best in the world and they worked at it relentlessly.
The second period was started fast and furious by the Russians. They replaced their goalie and put in the back up, Vladimir Myshkin, still a world-class option. After only two minutes of play, the USSR team took possession and Aleksandr Maltsev scored during a power play. Despite the Soviet team putting up 12 shots on goal, they only scored once. The American team managed just two shots on goal.
You also can’t ignore the social pressure of this game. While just a hockey game in the Olympics, the fans, media and world knew the US and Russia were in the middle of the Cold War. It was a tense time for the world. For many in the stadium and watching on television, it was a symbol of democracy versus communism. Brooks tried to keep it about hockey, but tell that to the screaming fans hoping for a miracle to prove something.
The third period started much like the second. The red hammer came down fast and furious on the Americans. Craig would stop nine more shots on goal to keep the Russians from scoring the rest of the game. At 8:39 in the period, USA team captain, Mark Johnson scored on a shot that came from a rare mistake by Sergei Starikov. Starikov let the puck bounce off his stick and Johnson coming by, shot it between Myshkin’s legs. The crowd erupted as David tied Goliath at 3 points each.
The American team was switching players every 35 seconds. It was to keep their legs fresh and challenge the strong, well-conditioned Russians. At 10 minutes left in the game, team captain Mike Eruzione came back in the game and immediately gathered the puck and put in a shot around a defender and under the arm of goalie, Myshkin. The crowd went wild, as did the USA team on the Ice. The USA team was up one goal on the Russians and they just had to hold on for a chance to play for gold.
As the time clicked down, the Russians became more and more desperate. The crowd worked itself into a frenzy as the final seconds ticked off. It was a miracle, but made possible by a group of boys that came together and played as a team.
Here is a link to a video of the actual game: www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2x9ITRY_ZA
Many times you can’t accomplish your goal alone. The 1980 USA team was made up of a group of athletes that hadn’t played together before and really didn’t like each other. But they were willing to work for the common goal of Olympic gold. No one person could be credited with the win. In fact, so many contributed that it was a true team victory.
Who would be willing to work with you to accomplish a common goal? How do their skills complement your own? Consider a coach that will push you to reach new heights.