The Soviet juggernaut
The Soviet Union were gunning for their sixth consecutive men’s ice hockey gold at Lake Placid 1980. Coached by the legendary Viktor Tikhonov and with the likes of Vladislav Tretiak, Boris Mikhailov, Viacheslav Fetissov, Sergei Makarov and Alexander Maltsev forming part of a truly formidable squad, the eastern Europeans were widely tipped to cruise to the title. In qualifying with ease for the four-team medal round, they brushed aside Japan 16-0 and the Netherlands 17-4.
Seizing the day
Skippered by the 25-year-old Mike Eruzione, the US team was made up of largely inexperienced amateur and college players. Inspired by the support of the home fans, however, the Americans drew with Sweden and beat Czechoslovakia, Norway, Romania and West Germany in the first round to join the Soviets in the round-robin medal group. The two sides met in the opening and what proved to be decisive game of the final phase, a match the hosts were expected to lose. USA coach Herb Brooks had other ideas, though, and sent his players out with these words ringing in their ears: “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.”
Eruzione settles it
Against all expectations, the home players proved themselves to be a match for the reigning Olympic champions. Twice the USSR took the lead in the opening period and twice the Americans pegged them back. And when the Russians went into the third and final period holding a 3-2 lead, back came the hosts again to tie the match up. With US goaltender Jim Craig working overtime to keep the Russians at bay, the Americans then stole a surprise lead, with Mark Pavelich setting up Mike Eruzione to score with ten minutes remaining. The captain’s strike proved to be the winner, and as a nation held its breath in the closing stages, TV commentator Al Michaels took his viewers through an emotional countdown: “Eleven seconds. You’ve got 10 seconds. The countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”
The greatest match of all time?
The match immediately became known as “The Miracle on Ice” and was named by Sports Illustrated as the “Top Sports Moment of the 20th Century”, while the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) rated it the match of the century. The Americans went on to beat Finland 4-2 in their final game to clinch the gold. After the national anthem had been played in an emotional medal ceremony, Eruzione called on all his team-mates to join him atop the podium.
Out on a high
After captaining his country to only their second Olympic ice hockey title and their last to date, Eruzione decided to call time on his career. “I want to be remembered as Mike Eruzione, captain of the U.S. Olympic team,” he said after opting not to turn professional. “I do not want to be remembered as a guy who played in the NHL for a few games and then got sent to the minors. What more can I do in hockey? To me, the gold medal is just the greatest thing that can happen to an individual. I’m going out on top.” Eruzione later became a colour commentator on TV, working on five Olympic tournaments, and had the honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, in the company of his Miracle on Ice team-mates.