by Jim Riggs
February 13, 2017
Remembering A Hockey ‘Miracle’ 37 Years Later
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Riggs, the late Post-Journal sports editor, covered the United States hockey team’s victory over the Soviets at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid. A staff member of the Daily Olympic Digest for the duration of the Games, Riggs also covered the U.S. victory over Finland in the gold medal game two days later. Following is his story describing the U.S. victory over the Soviets, which appeared in The Post-Journal 37 years ago today.
LAKE PLACID — The “experts” said it would be impossible for the Russian Olympic hockey team to be beaten. Well, Friday night the impossible happened as the United States took a giant step towards the gold medal by defeating the U.S.S.R., 4-3, before a delirious full-house crowd at the Olympic Fieldhouse.
Trailing, 3-2, heading into the final period, the U.S. squad shocked the Soviets with goals by Mark Johnson and Michael Eruzione to tie and then take the lead.
Eruzione’s goal came with 10 minutes left to play and what followed was one of the longest half-periods U.S. Coach Herb Brooks or his team has ever endured. But they endured it well.
Brooks later said that during the last 10 minutes, “I stressed we must stay with our system and tactics that got us here.” During the final two minutes the Americans’ play became a bit ragged and the coach said, “We just had to calm them down.”
The Americans calmed down alright since the Russians were unable to pull their goalie, Vladimir Myshkin, in the final minute.
They had already pulled their starting goaltender, Vladislav Tretjak, after two periods and replaced him with Myshkin.
Things weren’t calm outside the Olympic Fieldhouse after the game as jubilant American fans congregated in Main Street and resembled a miniature version of Times Square on New Year’s Eve. There was good reason to celebrate since it was the Russians’ first loss in Olympic competition since 1968 and only their sixth defeat in 46 games dating back to 1956 when they began competing in the Winter Games.
The U.S. will take on Finland Sunday at 11 a.m. followed by the Sweden-Russia game at 2:30. At the time of this writing, the Americans are leading the standings for the gold medal by one point and a repeat of the 1960 “Miracle of Squaw Valley” is a possibility.
It did not appear there would be any miracles in the early going as the Soviets dominated play and outshot the United States, 18-8, in the first period. They finished the game with a 39-16 edge.
But the U.S. used some miracle goaltending by Jim Craig to stay in the game.
Both teams had some good chances to score early, but the Soviets had twice as many. They constantly had their players in the right place at the right time and a majority of their shots were screened.
Finally, Craig, who had made a variety of saves, fell victim to the Soviet screen as Vladimir Krutov slipped a slow shot from just inside the blue line under his pads to give the Russians a 1-0 lead at the 9:12 mark.
The U.S.S.R. continued to control the play and often looked like it was on the power play by taking plenty of time to set up plays. The shots were on target and the Soviets had numerous good rebound chances.
However, Craig hung tough and soon was even as teammate Mark Pavelich hit Bill Schneider with a perfect lead pass over the blue line and Schneider blasted a slap shot over Tretjak’s left shoulder to tie the score at 14:03.
A few minutes later, while a Soviet player was holding down an American in his own zone, Sersei Makarov put a shot past Craig from four feet out to put the U.S.S.R. back on top with 2:16 left in the period.
But the Soviets were shocked when Johnson picked up a rebound to the left of the Soviet goal and slapped it in the net with only a second left in the period to tie the score and the Olympic Fieldhouse rocked as the fans chanted, “U.S.A.”
The Russians didn’t take long to recapture the lead in the second period. John Harrington of the U.S. was sent to the penalty box for holding after 58 seconds had ticked off the clock and 1:20 later, Alexandre Maltsev picked up a bouncing puck at center ice, skated past a pair of U.S. defenders and put the disc by Craig who had come out of the net to his left.
Then came the Soviets’ downfall with Myshkin in the nets in the third period. The U.S.S.R. appeared to be playing all defense to hold the lead and the strategy failed. At 8:39 and Vladimir Krutov in the penalty box for high sticking, Johnson picked up the puck in front of the net and flipped it past a shocked Myshkin to tie the score and the noise level rocked the arena.
The noise level was even higher 1:21 later when Eruzione took a pass from Pavelich at the left of the goal and in the same motion slapped it into the net to the left of Myshkin.
The team and the crowd could sense the win, but there was a long 10 minutes to go in which the Russians continued to pepper Craig with shots. He stood his ground and during the final two minutes the Americans kept the Soviets off balance. The Russians’ last hope came with 45 seconds left when Vladimir Petrov just missed scoring on a backhand. With 10 seconds left, the crowd realized the impossible was going to happen as the Russians failed to put together an attack and things went wild when the buzzer sounded.
When asked if he thought the team would suffer a letdown when it plays Sunday, Brooks said, “I don’t think there will be a dip in our play. There is a medal in sight.”
Before coming to the postgame press conference, Brooks received a congratulatory telephone call from President Jimmy Carter. He said the president invited the team to the White House Monday for a couple cases of Coke. If the U.S. wins on Sunday, there will be more than Coke flowing in the streets of Lake Placid.