1980 Olympics: ‘We Beat the Russians!
By Mark Weisenmiller

In the preliminary round of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., America’s young hockey team demonstrated a knack for coming from behind in piling up four wins and a tie in five games.

Coach Herb Brooks’ boys – all but one of them straight out of NCAA Division I hockey – rallied for a 2-2 tie in their opener against Sweden and

A screenshot from the ABC Sports broadcast of the 1980 Olympics shows Mike Eruzione as he tees up a wrister that beat backup goaltender Vladimir Myshkin. This goal gave the U.S. a 4-3 lead with exactly 10 minutes to play in the contest.

trailed in other games before heading into the medal round and a showdown
with the unbeaten Soviet Union club. In fact, at Lake Placid the Americans were outscored 9-6 in the first period but outscored their opponents 16-3 in the third.

Despite their success to that point and the excitement they had created across the country, nobody – NOBODY! – expected them to be able to keep up with the Soviets. The Russian team included some of the most famous names in the history of international ice hockey: Tretiak, Kharlamov, Mikhailov, Fetisov, Petrov. We’re talking highly skilled, experienced players – professionals really -- who scared the daylights out of the NHL and the entire nation of Canada when they came within a goal of defeating Team Canada in the eight-game 1972 Summit Series. They would go on to handily beat the NHLers in the Challenge Cup in 1979.

Starting in 1956, the USSR had won every Olympic gold medal in ice hockey except in 1960, when the U.S. prevailed in Squaw Valley, Calif.

More recently, the Russians had dispatched Team USA with ease, 10-3, in the final exhibition game prior to the Olympics for our lads.

Still, the U.S. athletes at Lake Placid and millions of Americans across the land were hoping the upstart Americans could somehow continue their magic, make a game of it and perhaps, just perhaps, upend the Russians and gain a bronze medal. The winner of the U.S.-Soviet Union game would face the winner of the Sweden-Finland semifinal for the gold medal.

Some 10,000 overwhelmingly pro -Team USA fans, including Vice President Walter Mondale, a Minnesotan, jammed the Olympic Field House that afternoon. It didn’t take long before their “U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A” chant was shaking the compact arena.

As had been the case so often before in the tournament, the Americans fell behind early when the Soviets’ Vladimir Krutov deflected a shot by Alexei Kasatonov past goalie Jim Craig to give the Soviets the lead.

Buzz Schenider, who had skated the previous season with the Milwaukee Admirals of the International Hockey League, ripped a shot past the Soviets’ Vladislav Tretiak to tie the game.

Sergei Makarov regained the lead for the Russians before former Wisconsin Badger forward Mark Johnson stunned the crowd, and the Soviets, with a second to go in the opening period. When defenseman Dave Christian fired a shot from center ice, Johnson, who had just hopped over the boards, streaked toward the Soviet goal. When Tretiak had trouble controlling the rebound, Johnson corralled the puck and fired it past the netminder for the equalizer.

While the Americans in the arena roared, the Soviets vehemently protested to the referee that time had expired and the goal should not have counted. It stood, and the fired up Americans headed for the locker room dead-even on the scoreboard with the mighty Russians.

The start of second period produced another mega-surprise when Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov benched Tretiak, the premier goaltender in international hockey, and replaced him with Vladimir Myshkin.

The USSR proceeded to limit the Americans to just two shots in the middle period, while Alexander Maltsev was scoring the lone goal to put the Soviets back in front, 3-2, with 20 minutes to play.

The Americans came out flying in the third period, but were stymied by the experienced Russian defensemen, led by Viacheslov Fetiso, who would later star for the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League.
  
Finally, the Americans broke through on a power play 8:39 into the period when Johnson got his second goal from short range. Suddenly, the impossible – an upset of the Soviets – was within the realm of possibility.

About 90 seconds later, captain Mike Eruzione etched his name in hockey history when he picked up a loose puck at the top of the circle in the Soviets’ zone and wristed the puck through traffic and past Myshkin. Euphoria on the ice and in the stands.

With 10 minutes to go in regulation play in the biggest game of their young lives, the Americans led the Russians. But 10 minutes was an eternity when you’re facing one of the most prolific scoring machines in the history of the game. After all, these guys had outscored their opponents 51-11 in the preliminary round. 51-11! Heck, they could score four or five in 10 minutes.

Brooks instructed his assistant coach, Craig Patrick, to limit all shifts to 45 seconds to keep the players fresh. The defense, led by Ken Morrow, who would go on to become the first player to win an Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup in the same year, played big as the clock wound down, repeatedly knocking the Soviets off the puck. And Craig stonewalled the storming Russians in the crease.

Finally, the clock ticked down to 12, 11, 10 seconds, and ABC-TV announcer Al Michaels asked with joy " Do you believe in miracles?" and answered in almost the same breath “Yes!" as time expired. “Unbelievable,” Michael’s broadcast partner, Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden, added. Believe it. Team USA had BEATEN the Russians, 4-3.

Two days later, they rallied in the third period – naturally – to defeat Finland and capture America’s first hockey gold medal since 1960.

 

 




 
Your No. 1 Source for Southern Hockey