Growing up in Nebraska, I never was exposed to hockey. I remember my dad taking me to a Omaha Knights game at Ak-Sar-Ben once when I was really small. But the team folded in 1975, and hockey simply didn't exist around Omaha as a spectator sport. So it was merely a curiosity that led me to tune into the Olympic semifinal on Friday night, February 22, 1980 between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Tensions between the two countries were high; in December, the Soviets had invaded Afganistan and the Carter administation was protesting to the International Olympic Committee, asking that the Summer Olympics be pulled from Moscow. The IOC refused, and eventually the United States would boycott the Summer Games. In the meantime, the Soviets came to the United States to participate in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. In hockey, the Soviet team was essentially a professional team. Many were actually members of the Soviet military assigned to the hockey team. Since 1960, the Soviet team was 27-1-1 in Olympic competition, outscoring their opposition 175-44.
The United States team was mostly college players from Minnesota and Boston University. Just two weeks earlier, the two teams met at Madison Square Garden in an exhibition game.
The Soviets won 10-3.
But the United States melded together under Brooks, and went 4-0-1 in round-robin play to advance to the medal round along with Sweden, Finland, and the Soviet Union. At that time, the medal round was a round-robin format meaning that the US would have to play the Soviets and Finland, as the US had already played Sweden in pool play. In that game, the US tied the score with a goal with :27 left after pulling goalie Jim Craig. That game ended in a draw, meaning that the US would have to win both games. Up first, the Soviets.
The Soviets scored first, and the teams alternated goals in the first period. As the first period ended, Mark Johnson fired a rebound shot past goalie Vladisav Tretiak to stun the Soviets. Tretiak stayed on the bench the rest of the game, replaced by Vladimir Myshkin the rest of the way. The Soviets scored on a power play to take a 3-2 lead into the third period. In the third period, the Americans tied the game on a power play then Mike Eruzione stunned the Soviets by scoring with just 10 minutes left in the game to take a 4-3 lead.
The Soviets tried to turn up the pressure on the Americans, but goalie Jim Craig was a fortress in the net. Late in the game, the Soviets panicked and began to shoot wildly. In the closing seconds, ABC's Al Michaels joined the crowd in counting down the seconds remaining in one of the most famous calls ever.
But that game didn't clinch the gold medal for the United States. They still had to play Finland. And the team was understandably a little hungover and trailed the Finns 2-1 after two periods. Head coach Herb Brooks reminded his team of the gravity of the situation, telling them that if they lost that game, they'd take to their graves.
Then paused, and emphasized it: "Your <effin> graves."
That was enough to spark a comeback. The United States went on to win 4-1 and clinch the gold medal.
That event stuck with me, and hockey was always something in the back of my mind. When the Omaha Lancers started to play in Omaha, I came back to the game even though I barely understood it. When Nebraska-Omaha started a division 1 hockey program, I became a ticketholder and a fan ever since.
Never played the game, never really followed the game. But that Miracle on Ice sparked a desire to follow a game that I didn't know. And that's why it's my favorite Olympics Moment.
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