Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - Herb Brooks - The Pinnacle
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One on One Treasure Chest Pinnacle

Herb Brooks led the American team to an improbable gold medal win at the Olympic Winter Games in 1980.
Herb Brooks led the American team to an improbable gold medal win at the Olympic Winter Games in 1980. (Mecca/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Olympic Winter Games were staged in Lake Placid, New York in 1980. Herb Brooks was selected to coach Team USA, and chose a team comprised primarily of players from Boston University and his own alma mater, the University of Minnesota.

Team USA first faced Sweden, and earned a dramatic 2-2 tie by evening the score with just 27 seconds left in the contest. In the next game, the Americans stunned Czechoslovakia by dumping them 7-3. They then beat Norway 5-1, Romania 7-2 and West Germany 4-2.

With four wins and a tie, Team USA advanced to the medal round. Their first challenge was the Soviet Union, who had gone undefeated, spanking Japan 16-0, the Netherlands 17-4, Poland 8-1, Finland 4-2 and Canada 6-4.

Team USA faced the Soviet Union on February 22, 1980 in front of a capacity crowd at The Field House. Before the opening face-off, Herb Brooks, known for his motivational speeches, delivered a speech that ranks among the finest of all time.

"Great moments are born from great opportunity, and that's what you have here tonight, boys. That's what you've earned here tonight. One game. If we played them ten times, they might win nine, but not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them and we shut them down because we can. Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world.

You were born to be hockey players -- every one of you -- and you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It's over. I'm sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw them! This is your time!! Now go out there and take it!"

The U.S. fell behind early after a goal by the Soviets' Vladimir Krutov, but tied the score on a goal by Buzz Schneider. Sergei Makarov put the Soviets ahead but with one second left in the first, Mark Johnson fired the puck past Vladislav Tretiak to knot the game at two apiece.

Herb Brooks behind the bench of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team.
Herb Brooks behind the bench of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team. (Mecca/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Soviet coach Boris Tikhonov replaced Tretiak with Vladimir Myshkin, who didn't allow any goals in the second period while his teammate, Aleksandr Maltsev, scored on a powerplay to put their team up 3-2. Not long afterwards, U.S. captain Mike Eruzione scored from the slot to give Team USA its first lead.

The tension was thicker than Ken Morrow's beard. The Soviets pressed but were turned away repeatedly. As the clock wound down, the crowd counted down the seconds: "ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one..." Just before the final buzzer sounded, sportscaster Al Michaels uttered his famous quote: "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"

The game ended in a 4-3 victory for the United States. While the players celebrated wildly, Herb Brooks retreated to the dressing room and sobbed. It was the pinnacle of his hockey career.

The win did not earn the United States a gold medal. What it did earn was a berth in the gold medal-final against Finland. Although anticlimactic, Team USA doubled the Finns 4-2 to collect the Olympic gold and a lifetime of glory.

Sports Illustrated featured Team USA's win on its cover on March 3, 1980. The next year, Karl Malden portrayed Herb Brooks in a TV movie titled 'Miracle On Ice.' In 2004, Kurt Russell played the role in the film, 'Miracle.' Herb Brooks served as a consultant on the latter film, but died tragically just before the movie was completed. The film was dedicated to Brooks, stating, "He never saw it. He lived it."

In 1999, Sports Illustrated ranked Team USA's 'Miracle On Ice' as the top sports moment of the 20th Century. In 2008, the International Ice Hockey Federation, while commemorating its 100th anniversary, named the 'Miracle On Ice' as the century's greatest hockey story.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.