Editor's note: This is the second in a series of occasional posts looking back 40 years to the Miracle on Ice.
Forty years ago this weekend the U.S. Olympic hockey team marched into Manhattan for a final showdown before the Games in Lake Placid. The group of 20-somethings with unassuming names like Johnson and Suter and Harrington took the ice at Madison Square Garden – The World’s Most Famous Arena – to face the likes of Kharlamov, Mikhalov and Krutov.
The big, bad Russians.
From Minneapolis Tribune writer John Gilbert:
This is the Soviet team, considered the most awesome hockey outfit ever assembled. This is the same team that whipped the NHL All-Sars two out of three games … They are on their way to what the hockey-playing world figures is a cinch gold medal at the winter Olympics.
The U.S. at this point had amassed a 42-15-3 record against college teams, amateur teams and minor league pro teams during what coach Herb Brooks said was “spring training.”
“We’ll attack the Russians, throw everything we’ve got at ‘em,” Brooks said. “But we won’t be discouraged if we get blown out.”
By the time the final horn sounded that Saturday afternoon Russia claimed a 10-3 folly fitting for a Broadway comedy; Four goals in the first, two in the second and four more in the third.
It didn’t lend much for the 11,243 in attendance to look forward to in the upcoming two weeks upstate.
Had the U.S. team played its best, it might have been a great game. But the Americans started out uptight, and the first line fizzled, the power play flopped and the ace goaltender looked shaky. That was four strikes against the Americans in a game they weren’t even allowed three.
This Olympics was already going to be an uphill climb for the Americans. Placed in the Blue Division with the No. 2 Czechs and No. 3 Swedes, Team USA was ranked seventh out of 12 teams.
The final tune-up was certification of that ranking. But not all was lost, according to Gilbert.
The Iron Range line of Mark Pavelich, John Harrington and Buzzy Schneider functioned effectively – maybe when you’ve played in the Eveleth Hippodrome nothing can rattle you. Captain Mike Eruzione played hard, with 22 relatives in the stands and got linemates Neal Broten and Steve Christoff going.
Heck, even Russia coach Victor Tikhonov had a compliment for the Americans.
“I think this U.S. team has a very good future,” he said. “We showed what we can do this game but they were keeping something in reserve.”
After 61 warm-ups, the games began for real in just three days.