41 years later ‘Miracle on Ice’ game still matters

Feb 22, 2020; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Mike Eruzione participates in a ceremonial puck drop before the start of a game between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Florida Panthers at T-Mobile Arena in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice.” Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

“Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in Miracles? YES!” Those words uttered on February 22nd, 1980 immortalized the greatest moment in sports history. Al Michaels captured in just 5 seconds what the entire world was thinking on that day. A bunch of kids, mostly from Boston and Minnesota were brought together to do the unthinkable. Looking back, I realize this will never happen again in our lifetime.

In 1998, the NHL allowed professionals to compete at the Winter Games for the first time. Since then, the magic born in 1980 will never be captured again. On the flip side, Russia also started to allow players to join NHL teams, thus ending their reign of terror on the international hockey world. Still, the joy on the faces of those kids went so much further than the ice surface of Lake Placid, it spread to every American across the world.

1980 THE GAME THAT HEALED A NATION

People don’t remember just how low morale was in this country at that time. The U.S. was suffering economically and politically. Gas shortages, Russia invading Afghanistan and 66 Americans were taken hostage in Iran. America really didn’t have a lot to feel good about when the 1980 Olympics rolled around.

1980 Miracle On Ice
Feb 22, 2020; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Captain of the 1980 USA hockey team Mike Eurozine is introduced with the rest of the team as the 40th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice” is celebrated before a game between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Florida Panthers at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

For that the U.S. would look to a man, who was the final cut of the only US Olympic team to win Gold in 1960, Herb Brooks. “Herbie” as he was affectionately known changed the way the Americans played the game. His style was suited for the larger ice surfaces and would be ready to take on the European style of hockey. Those things aside, it was his commitment and desire to win that provided the foundation for the “miracle”.

THE ROAD TO A MIRACLE

Round robin play showed the world what Brooks and Team USA were capable of, as they went 4-0-1. It set up a game for the ages against the Soviet Union. The Soviets had trashed the U.S. in exhibition earlier that year 10-3 at MSG. Herb Brooks locker room speech, which has forever been eternalized in the movie Miracle, stated it best when he looked at them and said “not tonight”.

The game had its drama as a late goal stunned the Soviets to knot it up at 2 after one period of play. The Russian Machine scored in the second period to go up 3-2 and looked to close out another Olympic victory. Mark Johnson would tie the game at 3 after a PP expired. Just a few shifts later, U.S. Captain Mike Eruzione (which means eruption in Italian) would snipe one past Myshkin for the 4-3 lead with 10 minutes left.

The time remaining was an eternity for all present. It was like watching maple syrup drip down the side of the Empire State Building. When the final horn sounded, Herb Brooks left the bench and ran to the locker room to cry. I won’t lie, my eyes are swelling up with tears as I write this. Team USA would go on to beat Finland for the Gold and Lake Placid, NY became holy ground for U.S Hockey.

THE AFTERMATH

Herb Brooks would go on to coach in the NHL, Ken Morrow would win 4 Stanley Cups with the Islanders and Mike Eruzione would fade off into the sunset as the only real “Captain America.” Many others from that team had brief stints in the NHL or went on to successful careers in the professional world.

Yet, no matter what path they chose after the Games, one thing remains. All those kids on Team USA inspired a nation. When the hostages were released from Iranian captivity, they were shown a highlight film of what they missed. In it they saw the 1980 men’s hockey team defeat Russia and they cried too. Two U.S born stars Brian Leetch and Mike Richter cited what that game meant to them growing up and inspiring them to play hockey. Leetch would be the first American to ever win the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1994, which is awarded to the MVP of the playoffs.

“I’m just so proud to be part of that team, doing something nobody thought we could do,” Neal Broten told WCCO. “I think back at all the times we walked to the rink as kids, and skated six or seven hours at the rink.”

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