The "Miracle on Ice" is the nickname given to a February 22 medal-round men's ice hockey game during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, in which a team of amateur and collegiate players from the United States, led by coach Herb Brooks, defeated the Soviet Union team, who were considered to be the best hockey team in the world.
The U.S went on to win the Gold Medal by beating Finland (4–2) in their final medal round game. The Soviet Union took the Silver Medal by beating Sweden in their final game. Sweden took home the Bronze Medal.
As part of the its 100th anniversary celebrations in 2008, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) picked the Miracle on Ice as the number-one international hockey story of the century.
The Soviet Union entered the Olympic tournament as heavy favorites, having won every ice hockey gold medal but one since 1956, the lone exception being the gold won by the United States team in Squaw Valley in 1960. Though classed as amateurs, Soviet players essentially played professionally (the players were active-duty in the Red Army) in a well-developed league with world class training facilities. They were led by legendary players in world ice hockey, such as Boris Mikhailov (a top line Right Winger and team captain), Vladislav Tretiak (considered by many to be the best ice hockey goaltender in the world at the time), the speedy and skilled Valeri Kharlamov, as well as talented, young, and dynamic players such as defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov and forwards Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov.
In exhibitions that year, Soviet club teams had gone 5–3–1 against National Hockey League (NHL) teams, and a year earlier the Soviet national team had routed the NHL All-Stars 6–0 to win the Challenge Cup. In 1979–80, virtually all the top North American players were Canadians, although the number of U.S.-born professional players had been on the rise throughout the 1970s. The 1980 U.S. Olympic team featured several young players who were regarded as highly promising, and some had signed contracts to play in the NHL immediately after the tournament.
The Soviet and American teams were natural rivals due to the decades-old Cold War. In addition, President of the United States Jimmy Carter was at the time considering a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics, to be held in Moscow, in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which had begun the year before. Carter eventually decided in favor of the boycott.
On February 9, the two teams met for an exhibition match at Madison Square Garden in order to practice for the upcoming competition. The Soviet Union won handily, 10–3.
In Olympic group play, the United States surprised many observers with their physical, cohesive play. In their first game against favored Sweden, the U.S. earned a dramatic 2–2 tie by scoring with 27 seconds left after pulling goalie Jim Craig for an extra attacker. Then came a stunning 7–3 victory over Czechoslovakia, considered by many to be the second best team after the Soviet Union and a favorite for the silver medal. With their two toughest games in the group phase out of the way, the U.S. team reeled off three more wins, beating Norway 5–1, Romania 7–2, and West Germany 4–2 to go 4–0–1 and advance to the medal round from their group along with Sweden.
In the other group, the Soviets stormed through their opposition undefeated, often by grossly lopsided scores – knocking off Japan 16–0, the Netherlands 17–4, and Poland 8–1 – and easily qualified for the next round although both the Finns and the Canadians gave the Russians unexpectedly tough games for two periods. In the end, the Soviet Union and Finland (who overcame a disastrous start after sensationally losing to Poland in their opening game of the tournament but then rallied to upset Canada) advanced from their group.
The U.S. and USSR prepared for the medal round in different ways. Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov rested most of his best players, preferring to let them study plays rather than actually skate. U.S. coach Herb Brooks, however, continued with his tough, confrontational style, skating "hard" practices and berating his players for perceived weaknesses.
The day before the match, columnist Dave Anderson wrote in the New York Times, "Unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle, as did the American squad in 1960, the Russians are expected to easily win the Olympic gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments."
"Do you believe in miracles?"
The home crowd, energized by the U.S. team's improbable run during group play and the Cold War "showdown" mentality, were in a patriotic fervor throughout the match, waving U.S. flags and singing patriotic songs such as "God Bless America." The rest of the United States (except those who watched the game live on Canadian television) would have to wait to see the game, as ABC decided to broadcast the late-afternoon game on tape delay in prime time.
As in several previous games, the U.S. team fell behind early. Vladimir Krutov deflected a slap shot by Aleksei Kasatonov past U.S. netminder Jim Craig to give the Soviets a 1–0 lead, and after Buzz Schneider scored for the United States to tie the game, the Soviets struck again with a Sergei Makarov goal. Down 2–1, Craig improved his play, turning away many Soviet shots before the U.S. team had another shot on goal (the Soviet team had 39 shots on goal in the game, the Americans 16).
In the waning seconds of the first period, Dave Christian fired a slap shot on Tretiak. The Soviet goalie saved the shot but misplayed the rebound, and Mark Johnson scooped it past the goaltender to tie the score with one second left in the period. The Soviet team played the final second of the period with just three players on the ice, as the rest of the team had retired to their dressing room for the first intermission.
Tikhonov replaced Tretiak with backup goaltender Vladimir Myshkin to start the second period, a move which shocked players on both teams. Fetisov later identified this as the "turning point of the game. Myshkin allowed no goals in the second period. Aleksandr Maltsev scored on a power play to make the score 3–2 for the Soviets, but Craig made numerous saves to keep the U.S. in the game
Johnson scored again for the U.S., 8:39 into the final period, firing a loose puck past Myshkin to tie the score just as a power play was ending. Only a couple shifts later, Mark Pavelich passed to U.S. captain Mike Eruzione, who was left undefended in the high [[Slot slot. Eruzione fired a shot past Myshkin, who was screened by his own defenseman. This goal gave the U.S. a 4–3 lead with exactly 10 minutes to play in the contest.
Craig withstood another series of Soviet shots to finish the match, though the Soviets did not remove their goalkeeper for an extra attacker. As the U.S. team tried to clear the zone (move the puck over the blue line, which they did with seven seconds remaining), the crowd began to count down the seconds left. Sportscaster Al Michaels, who was calling the game on ABC along with former Montreal Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden, picked up on the countdown in his broadcast, and delivered his famous call:
|“||Eleven seconds, you've got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!||”|
The victory was voted the greatest sports moment of the twentieth century by Sports Illustrated.
Many people incorrectly recall that the U.S. won the gold medal that night. In fact, the medal round was a round-robin, not a single elimination format like it is today. Under Olympic rules at the time, the group game with Sweden was counted along with the medal round games versus the Soviet Union and Finland so it was mathematically possible for the U.S. to finish anywhere from first to third.
Needing to win to secure the gold medal, the U.S. team came back from a 2-1 third period deficit to defeat Finland (Hockey dalton Jari Kurri was a member of the Finnish team) 4–2. At the time, the players ascended a podium to receive their medals and then lined up on the ice for the playing of the national anthem, as the podium was only meant to accommodate one person. Only the team captains remained on the podium for the duration. After the completion of the anthem, Eruzione motioned for his teammates to join him on the podium. Today, the podiums are large enough to accommodate all of the players.
The victory bolstered many U.S. citizens' feelings of national pride, which had been severely strained during the turbulent 1970s. The match against the Soviets popularized the "U-S-A! U-S-A!" chant, which has been used by U.S. supporters at many international sports competitions since 1980.
Of the 20 players on the U.S. team, 13 eventually played in the NHL. Five of them would go on to play over 500 NHL games:
- Neal Broten appeared in 1,099 NHL games over 17 seasons, mostly with the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars franchise. A two-time All-Star, he tallied 923 career points (289 goals, 634 assists), became the first American player to record 100 points in a season, and won a Stanley Cup as a member of the New Jersey Devils in 1995. Broten had already won the NCAA championship in 1979 at the University of Minnesota; this, combined with the Olympic gold medal in 1980 and the 1995 Cup win (Broten scored the Cup winning goal in Game 4), made him the only player in the history of the sport to win a championship at the collegiate, professional, and Olympic levels.
- Ken Morrow won a Stanley Cup in 1980 as a member of the New York Islanders, becoming the first hockey player to win an Olympic gold medal and the Cup in the same year. He went on to play 550 NHL games and win three more Cups, all with the Islanders.
- Mike Ramsey played in 1,070 games over 18 years. Fourteen of those years were spent with the Buffalo Sabres, for whom he was a five-time All-Star and served as team captain from 1990–92. In 1995, he played in the Stanley Cup Finals while with the Detroit Red Wings, but got swept by the New Jersey Devils, whom Broten was a member of. In 2000 he became an assistant coach for the Minnesota Wild.
- Dave Christian spent 14 years in the NHL, the bulk of them for the Winnipeg Jets (for whom he served as team captain) and Washington Capitals. He ended his career with 773 points (340 goals, 443 assists) in 1,009 games and made the All-Star team in 1991.
- Mark Johnson bounced around the NHL for several years before finding a home in New Jersey, tallying 508 career points (203 goals, 305 assists) in 669 games over 11 seasons. Like Christian, Ramsey, and Broten, he became an NHL All-Star (in 1984) and served as team captain with the Hartford Whalers. In 2002 Johnson became the coach of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Women's Hockey team, leading the team to consecutive National Championships in the 2006 and 2007 seasons and a third in 2009.
Jim Craig appeared in 30 NHL games from 1980 through 1984. Team captain Mike Eruzione played his last high-level hockey game in the 1980 Olympics, as he felt that he had accomplished all of his hockey goals with the gold medal win.
One of Brooks' assistant coaches, Craig Patrick, went on to become a successful general manager in the NHL and is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Brooks himself would coach several NHL teams following the Olympics, with mixed results. Both Patrick and later Brooks would coach (and in Patrick's case, become general manager of) the Pittsburgh Penguins. Brooks returned to the Olympics as coach of the 2002 team, winning the silver medal. Brooks died in a car crash near Forest Lake, Minnesota on August 11, 2003 at the age of 66, and the ice arena in Lake Placid where the Miracle on Ice took place is now named in his honor.
Michaels was named "Sportscaster of the Year" in 1980 for his coverage of the event, and the team received Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportsmen of the Year" award, as well as being named as Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press and American Broadcasting Company's Wide World of Sports. In 2004, ESPN, as part of their 25th anniversary, declared the Miracle on Ice to be the top sports headline moment, and game of the period 1979–2004.
Despite the loss, the USSR would remain the preeminent power in international hockey until the country's 1991 break-up. Throughout the 1980s, NHL teams continued to draft Soviet players in hopes of enticing them to eventually play professionally in North America, but the first would not do so until the 1988–89 NHL season, when veteran Sergei Pryakhin joined the Calgary Flames. In the 1989–90 NHL season, other 1980 Olympians joined the NHL, including Vyacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, Vladimir Krutov, Helmut Balderis and Sergei Makarov. That same season, young star Alexander Mogilny defected to play for the Buffalo Sabres. Soon thereafter, the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a flood of ex-Soviet stars in the NHL like Igor Larionov and Sergei Fedorov; since then, many of the NHL's top players have come from the former Soviet republics.
- Shots on goal: USA — USSR 16:39 (8:18, 2:12, 6:9)
- Penalty minutes: USA — USSR 6:6 (0:2, 6:2, 0:2)
- Power play goals/attempts: USA: 1-of-2, USSR: 1-of-2
- Goalies: USA: Craig……60:00, 36 saves, 3 GA
- Goalies: USSR: Tretiak…19:59, 6 saves, 2 GA
- Goalies: USSR: Myshkin…40:01, 6 saves, 2 GA
- Note: 19:59 USSR goalie change: Myshkin replaces Tretiak
U.S. vs. U.S.S.R.
- Referee: Karl-Gustav Kaisla ( FinlandFinland)
- Linesmen: Nico Toemen ( Netherlands), Francois LaRochelle ( Canada)