Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - United States - 1980 Olympic Games
One on One Turning Point

Turning Point - United States - 1980 Olympic Games
Team USA's netminder Jim Craig was excellent in goal throughout the Olympic competition. (Mecca/Hockey Hall of Fame)
It must be remembered that in 1980, the Cold War was still in full effect, with much of the world divided between the communist lifestyle of the Soviet Union and the capitalist ways of the USA. And the fierce political stances trickled down to the hockey world as well.

The Soviet Union arrived in Lake Placid, New York for the Olympic Games as the overwhelming favourites. They had won the previous four Olympic hockey gold medals dating back to 1964. In fact, in the two decades separating the gold medal won by the USA at Squaw Valley in 1960 and the competition in 1980, the Soviets had won 27, lost just one and tied one other in Olympic play, outscoring their opposition 175 to 44. Many of the Soviet players were in the military, training twelve months a year to play hockey. Many tagged them 'sham-ateurs,' as they weren't a great deal different than professional players. They played in a very competitive league. Included in the squad that competed for the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympic Winter Games were Vladislav Tretiak in goal, defenceman Viacheslav Fetisov and forward Valeri Kharlamov, all of whom are now Honoured Members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Team USA's Mark Johnson scored late in the first period to tie the pivotal medal round match against the Soviets at one. (Mecca/Hockey Hall of Fame)
On the other side of the ice was the USA, which recruited players from the college ranks. Coach Herb Brooks had but one player, Buzz Schneider, returning from the previous Olympic Games for the United States. Brooks instilled a European style of play in the American team, emphasizing wide open play with sufficient body contact. He was confident that it would be the only way for the Americans to compete with the Soviets.

The day before the February 22, 1980 contest, the New York Times wrote, "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."

Neal Broten would graduate from the US Olympic team to play 17 seasons in the National Hockey League. (Mecca/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The rest is history. Mike Eruzione, team captain for the United States, surprisingly admitted that there was no undue pressure on his team in that particular game, as it was not the gold medal game. That would be played against Finland, and if the U.S. lost, the Soviet game was irrelevant.

Before the game, Herb Brooks read his players a motivating statement that has gone down in history. Included in the handwritten speech was the reminder that, "You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours."

The Soviet Union had won gold in the four previous Olympic hockey tournament and were heavy favourites to win again in 1980. (Mecca/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The United States fell behind when Vladimir Krutov deflected a slapshot from Aleksei Kasatonov past goaltender Jim Craig to give the Soviet Union a 1-0 lead. Buzz Schneider then replied for the United States to tie the game, but the Soviets went ahead again, this time on a goal by Sergei Makarov. In the final seconds of the first period, Dave Christian fired a shot on Vladislav Tretiak from 100 feet away that the Soviet netminder stopped, but he allowed the rebound to bounce in front of him. Mark Johnson picked up the loose puck and fired it past the diving goaltender with one second remaining in the period. Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov replaced Tretiak with Vladimir Myshkin immediately after Johnson's goal. "I don't think I should have been replaced in that game," Tretiak wrote in his autobiography. "I had made so many mistakes already, I was confident my play would only improve. (Myshkin) is an excellent goalie, but he wasn't prepared for the struggle; he wasn't 'tuned in' to the Americans." The first period ended with the game tied at two.

The Soviets dominated play in the second period, outshooting Team USA 12 to 2, but they could only put one puck past Jim Craig, who was playing superbly. Aleksandr Maltsev scored on a powerplay to give the Soviet Union a 3-2 lead.

The United States Olympic Hockey Team captured gold at the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, NY. (Mecca/Hockey Hall of Fame)
During a powerplay mid-way through the third period, Mark Johnson tied the score. Then, at exactly the ten-minute mark, Mike Eruzione was left alone in the slot, and fired the puck past a screened Myshkin, giving the United States a 4-3 lead.

The Soviets attacked like ravenous dogs on a bone. Maltsev rattled a shot off the post moments after Eruzione's goal. "It was the first time I ever saw the Soviets panic," recalled Jim Craig. "They were just throwing the puck forward, hoping somebody would be there."

With under a minute to play, the Soviets got the puck back into the American zone. One shot went wide and Craig made a fine save on another. The pressure was enormous, but the U.S. held their ground, and with seconds to play, cleared the zone. It was then that broadcaster Al Michaels uttered his famous line: "You've got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"

Goaltender Jim Craig had been in a zone and repeatedly stoned the Soviets, who would finish the game with 39 shots on goal while Team USA could muster but 16.

Even though it was not the gold medal game, which turned out to be a good if anticlimactic contest against Finland, the extraordinary game between the Soviet Union and the United States on February 22, 1980 was not only the turning point in that tournament, but one of the great games in the history of international hockey.

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