January 22, 2014

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.

Poor Hosts

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.

GreatestHockeyLegends.com is the home of an extensive history of Olympic hockey. You can view each Olympic hockey tournament (men's and women's) below by clicking on the year of your choice. You can also enjoy my profiles of Olympic Hockey Legends.

1920 - Antwerp, Belgium
1924 - Chamonix, France
1928 - St. Moritz, Switz.
1932 - Lake Placid, USA
1936 - G.P., Germany
1940 - No Games - WWII
1944 - No Games - WWII
1948 - St. Moritz, Switz.
1952 - Oslo, Norway
1956 - Cortina, Italy
1960 - Squaw Valley, USA
1964 - Innsbruck, Austria
1968 - Grenoble, France
1972 - Sapporo, Japan
1976 - Innsbruck, Austria
1980 - Lake Placid, USA
1984 - Sarajevo, Yugoslavia
1988 - Calgary, Canada
1992 - Albertville, France
1994 - Lillehammer, Norway
1998 - Nagano, Japan
2002 - Salt Lake City, USA
2006 - Torino, Italy

2010 - Vancouver, Canada


AH said...

I'm certainly glad that you mentioned the fact that USSR struggled already before the USA game. I'm tired of the Miracle stories where they only mention the 1979 Challenge Cup and 1981 Canada Cup and blah blah blah; the result was certainly surprising in itself, and there's no need to overdo it just for the sake of it! For those couple of weeks, the Soviets did not look that unbeatable.

I think big reason for USSR's failure was the deterioration of the big line of Mikhailov, Petrov and Kharlamov. They definitely looked tired and slowish, especially in the 3rd period of the USA game... and yet Tikhonov still trusted them to save the day - as they had done numerous times before - way too much. Young guns like Krutov, Makarov and Fetisov weren't maybe quite ready yet to take completely over.

I know how Tretiak loves to claim that if Tikhonov hadn't pulled him, USSR would have won. IMO Tikhonov made a mistake, but it is also true that Tretiak had played pretty poorly throughout the tournament.

I would also blame the defensemen a little bit; quite a few defensive blunders in the Miracle game.

But you're right; generally, the 1979-83 Soviets were as unbeatable a team as there has ever been.

Anonymous said...

I wish more U.S. Olympic Ice Hockey teams would prepare for the Olympics with the same or similiar PHYSICAL CONDITIONING and TACTICAL methods that Herb Brooks used in 1979-80 when the U.S. played well and won the Gold Medal!

Anonymous said...

I wish that amateurs were still used in the Olympics. I hate that the NHL'ers are playing. It is not fair to the college kids who would like a shot at Olympic Gold.
I dont even watch the Olympic Hockey anymore. -Joe

Jim Allison said...

In the '80 "O's" the US didn't face the Canadians because they were in the opposite (or Red Div).
We place so much emphasis on what the Americans did, and forget in my opinion, the great accomplishments of our neighbors to the north in those same games.
When the Canadians win, well they and us are the (only) two North American teams and H powers. Living in Minnesota, the top H state in America and one that borders two Canadian provences, I am extremely proud, honored, and happy for what they do in the Winter Games. Their history in them is amazing especially from 1920 to 1952, and beyond

Anonymous said...

"but also arguably all of hockey history"

Well, to an American, perhaps it is the greatest moment in hockey history. However, in reality, it doesn't even come close. A greater moment was Canada's victory over the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series (I'm refering, especially, to the Paul Henderson goal that won the series.). As a Canadian, and someone who knows a bit about hockey and its history, I can think of many moments that surpass the 1980 Olympic hockey final. Many of those moments relate to the NHL, others to great senior teams like the Trail British Columbia Smoke Eaters, who defeated the Soviets in 1962.

Joe Pelletier said...

The Smokies won in 1961, bud.

Unknown said...

It was 'John' Devaney ..not Jim.

Kevin Primeau

Anonymous said...

When Hollywood will stop showing Russians as blockheads or villains like in "Miracle". Can you believe that on another side of the earth are the usual people too. And they just want to win Olympics too. Aren't you so scared that you see us this way? I'm sure that it's not.
p.s. I'm so proud of my country if everyone's just dreaming to win "Red Machine".

Anonymous said...

I think the U.S. Victory over the Soviet's in 1980 was big but the Soviet's were showing signs they were vulnerable before their Game against the U.S. especially as far as their Goaltending was concerned.

Gerry said...

One of the anonymous comments to this article suggests that they wish amateurs would be allowed to continue to play in the Olympics. The most pathetic thing about the so-called Russian "powerhouse" team is that they were professional by all characteristics, and did not deserve any of the Olympic medals that they won. Stacking a team with a countries best players, letting them play all year round under the guise of military engineers and so on is the greatest farce in sport. Despite their stacking teams, the Red Army never beat the best Canadian teams - 72, Canada's best Canada Cup team ever in 76, 87 Canada Cup, and recent Olympics in Vancouver, Russia and Utah. Imagine had the Boston Bruins with Orr and Esposito in their prime, the Buffalo Sabres with the French Connection Line, the Stanley Cup multi-winners NY Islanders of the Eighties or Gretzky and his Oilers played together all year round and entered the Olympics or European Championships Everyone knows that Canada's best players were in the NHL and not always available for the Olympics. The fact that the "amateur" US team and the Canadian Olympic team which was much stronger than the talented US team gave this pro USSR team a handful says it all.