Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of occasional posts looking back 40 years to the Miracle on Ice.
Part One: A long, tiring road to Lake Placid
With a pep in their step, still on a high from a well-earned 2-2 tie with Sweden to kick off competition a night earlier, the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team marched in the opening ceremonies 40 years ago this week in Lake Placid. Notoriously straight-faced and perhaps even a little cranky, coach Herb Brooks even got in on the country-themed fun by donning a standard-issue cowboy had for the show, although he had to stuff tissue paper in the hat to get it to fit.
The moment was a rare bit of fun for Brooks and his squad, which would next hit the ice for Blue Division action in a Valentine’s Day tussle with favored Czechoslovakia, 11-0 winners over Norway in its opener.
“I haven’t yelled at them for a month,” Brooks said when asked about his changed demeanor. “Maybe longer than that. The Czechs may be an excellent team but we’re going to take a run at ‘em.”
More like: run them over.
The Americans pasted the Czechs 7-3, and suddenly were 1-0-1 with three winnable games remaining in division play.
From Minneapolis Tribune writer John Gilbert:
The game has made hockey THE story for the United States so far in the XIII Winter Olympics. People [have] started talking about the medal round, to which the top two teams in each division advance after five-game rounds within their division. People care calling last night’s triumph the biggest U.S. hockey victory since 1960, when the U.S. team beat the Soviet Union and went on to win the gold medal. Brooks stopped short of that but players’ enthusiasm knows no bounds.
“All we heard all day was how bad the U.S. athletes were doing,” John Harrington said. “About how Beth Heiden got beat so bad and how all the U.S. skiers were falling and not winning. We’re just going along and nobody may hear as much about is but we’re going to be there.”
Two nights later, the U.S. showed up in a big way again crushing Norway 5-1 in an afternoon crowd-pleaser. The victory avenged a 3-3 tie from five months earlier. It was that uninspired effort in Oslo that prompted a harsh postgame skating session from Brooks, made famous by Hollywood (AGAIN!) in the movie “Miracle.”
The U.S. finished with a 43-22 advantage in shots and a first-period scare was far behind. Brooks didn’t do any raging in the dressing room but said “We were brutal. I mean, our psychological makeup for the game – we were coming off an emotional high and we got a little selfish … I told our players we didn’t have enough talent to win on talent alone. We had to work hard to succeed, no matter who we were playing. They had to work together.”
That is a familiar psychological ploy by Brooks and he was asked if some of hie Gopher players hadn’t heard it before. “Yeah,” Brooks said. “Those guys must be sick of me by now.”
Perhaps. By this point, Team USA was on a roll and little did it know there was less than a week remaining before the ultimate sports upset.
Olympic Hockey Standings as of 2/17/80
United States: 2-0-1
West Germany: 1-2-0
Soviet Union: 3-0-0