February 04, 2010
1980 Olympics - Lake Placid, USA
The 1980 Olympics featured the greatest moment in not only Winter Olympic hockey history, but also arguably all of hockey history and even all of American sporting history.
Of course we refer to the "Miracle on Ice," whereby a bunch of in-over-their-heads American college kids upset the mighty Soviet Union at their absolute height of their reign as the greatest hockey team of all time. The moment inspired the American people like few other cultural events.
The Soviets had humiliated the NHL all stars in 1979. Between 1979 and 1983 the Big Red Machine was never better, seemingly down right unbeatable. Except on February 22nd, 1980.
The Americans were coached by the brilliant dictator Herb Brooks. Future NHL talent included Neal Broten, Dave Christian, Mark Johnson, Ken Morrow, Mark Pavelich, Jack O'Callahan and Mike Ramsey, some of the greatest American players of all time. But two other names really stick out from this team: flag-draped goaltender Jim Craig and Miracle on Ice goal scorer Mike Eruzione.
Something just was not quite right with the Soviets in the whole tournament. Despite having the likes Vladislav Tretiak, Valery Kharlamov, Boris Mikhailov, Alexander Maltsev and Helmut Balderis, plus newcomers Viacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov, they sputtered at the wrong times in the tournament. They had trouble with Canada and Finland as well as the Americans.
Canada's Near Miracle
Canada actually came close to their own miracle, too. They brought in their own bunch of collegiate hockey players and college coaches and were unfortunate not to have medalled.
With Father Bauer in his last Olympics as managing director and coaches Tom Watt (University of Toronto) and Clare Drake (University of Alberta), Canada was led on the ice by future NHL stars like of Glenn Anderson, Randy Gregg, Paul MacLean, Jim Nill, Tim Watters and Don Spring. Other key players were Jim Devaney (who led the team in scoring), Dave Hindmarch, Dan D'Alvise, Ken Berry, Kevin Maxwell and goaltenders Paul Pageau and Bob Dupuis. Veteran national team member Terry O'Malley was the elder statesman of the group.
The upstart Canadians nearly upset the Soviets themselves, eventually bowing 6-4. At that point in the tournament had Canada knocked off the Soviets they would have set themselves up nicely for a shot at gold. The Soviets didn't shake the Canadians until half way through the third period, and even then the go-ahead goal was scored amidst extreme controversy. The Canadians alleged Soviet goal scorer Vladimir Golikov used an illegal stick to score the goal. Canada's Stelio Zupancich even tried to enter the Soviet bench to wrestle the stick away from Golikov to show American referee Jim Neagles. A melee ensued, although no penalties were called.
Other Notable Players:
Finland debuted a youngster named Jari Kurri. Kari Eloranta, Mikko Leinonen, and Tapio Levo would also go on to the NHL. If it were not for the American victory, the Finns, one of the weaker hockey nations at the time, would have been the surprise story of the Olympics. They finished fourth. Although they opened the tournament with a lacklustre loss against Poland, they went on to knock off Canada and played very well against the Soviets.
Sweden, winners of the bronze medal, had future NHL talent in Mats Naslund, Pelle Lindbergh, and Tomas Jonsson. The Czechoslovakian team had a lot of names that would go on to the NHL, although mostly as veterans: Jiri Bubla, Miroslav Dvorak, Miroslav Frycer, Milan Novy, Jaroslav Pouzar and the three Stastny brothers - Marian, Peter and Anton.
Whenever the name Lake Placid and everyone thinks of Olympic glory and the 1980 Miracle on Ice. 1980 was the second time Lake Placid had hosted the Olympics, and they seemed to be regularly in consideration, especially when there was a lack of candidates interested in hosting the games. That's exactly what happened when the IOC convened in Vienna on October 23, 1974 to chose the 1980 Winter Olympics host city. Lake Placid was the only entry, and no one objected.
The Americans proved to be poor hosts. Transportation to Lake Placid was poorly organized, with more than 12,000 spectators stranded. Controversy erupted when ticket issuing was completely bumbled. Athlete accommodation was unbelievably bad. The athletes called the Olympic village "the jail," which proved to be very apt. The facilities were turned into a minimum security prison. Fans and tourists had few options of staying in the Olympic city, instead taking accommodation and bus and even helicopter tour packages out of Albany, New York and even Montreal.
Perhaps worst of all was ABC's mishandling of the coverage. They were vilified for ignoring these aforementioned controversies, but they were never forgiven for the biggest blunder of all. Somehow, they decided not to show the famous Miracle on Ice game live. Instead, the American people had to watch arguably the greatest moment in American sporting history on tape delay, after the fact and with the drama and impact lost forever.