A Miracle on Ice, the day that very many dreams came true, not least for the team of 20 collegiates and amateurs who successfully defeated the team which was considered to be the best in the world. That remarkable day, 22 February 1980, at Lake Placid, New York, has gone down in the history books as one of the most memorable and greatest sporting achievements of all time, and no wonder.
Let’s look at some of the facts.
The Soviet squad were regarded by all as the best team in the world. They had dominated the sport, winning the Olympic ice hockey gold medal in 1956, and then again for every consecutive games since 1964. Only in 1960 had the American team been able to rain on their parade and beat them. One member of that squad,
Herb Brooks, was to become the driving force behind the 1980 USA Hockey Team.
The Soviet team were highly skilled and experienced, with some of their key players being in their mid 30s. Though they were technically regarded as amateurs, in reality they were given soft jobs by the USSR government which enabled them to play professionally and train in world class facilities full time. Much was expected from this squad in return.
Herb Brooks began running try out sessions for his squad in the summer of 1979. He tried out hundreds of hopefuls, and tested them psychologically as well as physically. He wanted a squad which was strong in body and also in mind. Many of the team say even now that he messed with their minds, and very often a training session would end in shouting and rowing, but he had a knack of getting the best out of the players at just the right time. Eventually he honed down to his final squad of 20 players, the 1980 USA Hockey Team but the mind games continued. He would constantly question their skill, their commitment, whether they deserved their place in the squad. His training methods made life uncomfortable many times, but ultimately they had the desired effect.
The team set out on 5 months of extensive exhibition matches, playing over 60 matches in all, but there was no let up in Brooks training program. He wanted his team to be fit, ready and hungry. In early February 1980, just before the start of the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, the team played a match against the imposing soviet squad. The reds beat them, 10 – 3. In hindsight, this was an extremely important turning point in the run up to the winter Olympics. The Soviet team became complacent and seriously under-estimated their American opponents.
Nearing the end of the first period the Soviets were leading 2 – 1, with only seconds to go the USA team took a shot at goal which was saved, but the puck bounced out in front of the goalie. The USSR team were already on their way to the dressing room, thinking that the period was over, but as the goalie moved away from his goal Mark Johnson took up the loose puck and slammed it into the goal. This really was the turning point of the whole match, as the 1980 USA Hockey Team ended the first period with a 2-2 tie. The rest, as they say, is history.