This Day in History 2/22 – “The Miracle on Ice”; the US beats the USSR in the 1980 Winter Olympics

I love the Winter Olympics, much more than the summer variety. 

The sports are more dangerous, the speed more deft-defying.  Where else is the use of cowbells so encouraged?

So it is fitting that today we commemorate one of the greatest moments in our Olympic history.  In 1980, in the little hamlet of Lake Placid, New York, the Winter Games was hosted for the second time.  Ice hockey would capture the world’s attention, as the United States, a young inexperienced squad of college stars and amateur talent, faced off against the mightiest team in the world, the Soviet Union.

March 3, 1980 cover of Sports Illustrated. The only edition to run without a headline nor a caption. None was necessary.

This was more than David and Goliath.  It was more like David’s invalid brother versus Goliath and the rest of his family.  The USSR had only recently shellacked the Americans in an exhibition game.  Yet the US had a secret weapon, a tenacious coach named Herb Brooks who wouldn’t stop believing that the Soviet juggernaut could be beaten.

On February 22, 1980, the US faced the USSR.  In the post-Vietnam era, during the Iran hostage crisis and a terrible recession, it was tough to feel good about America.  Many people felt that maybe this plucky little team can pull something off.  It seemed like wishful thinking.

Two thirds of the way into the game, it sure seemed like a miracle was needed.  The team faced a deficit early in the game–3-2 at the end of the second period.  However, like it did so many times in the preliminary games, the Americans gutted it out and managed to overcome their deficit. 

By the end of the game, within the last few seconds and the score 4-3 in favor of the US, ABC commentator Al Michaels uttered a famous phrase: “Do you believe in miracles?!”  The name stuck, and the game was forever known as the “Miracle on Ice.”  It was a lone bright spot on a very dark decade, and everyone who was alive and aware knows about it.

What some people often forget about the game was that both teams spawned players that would resonate in the National Hockey League.  The Americans who made good in the NHL included Neal Broten, Mike Ramsey, Mark Pavelich, and Bob Suter–who is the brother of NHL veteran Gary Suter and father of current player Ryan Suter.

What’s even more suprising is the Soviet talent that made its way to this side of the Atlantic.  In 1986, Alexander Mogilny–who was not in the 1980 Olympic squad–was the first Soviet player to defect to the US to play in the NHL.  Since then a slew of players from the 1980 squad made careers in the NHL, including Viacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, Sergei Makarov, and perhaps the greatest goaltender of all time, Vladislav Tretiak.  Although he never played in the NHL, Tretiak was a longtime goaltenders coach, tutoring the likes of Ed Belfour, Dominick Hasek and Jocelyn Thibault.

Attached is the last few minutes of that fateful game.  Explain the context of the game with your students so they can enjoy the whole experience.

Besides, where else can you watch sports during the school day?

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