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Do you believe in miracles? We were there at Lake Placid in 1980

Do you believe in miracles? We were there at Lake Placid in 1980

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The victory by the U.S. men's hockey team over the heavily favored Soviet Union on Feb. 22, 1980 is widely regarded as one of the greatest upsets in sports history. We present the Post-Dispatch's original coverage of that game.

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - At 3:53 p.m. Friday an hour and seven minutes before the U.S. hockey team was to play Russia a scalper stood in front of the Country Kitchen restaurant on the main street of this tiny town and held up two tickets. "U.S.-Russia," he cried out. "This is the one you've been waiting for. How much is it worth to you?"

Of the thousands of people that had choked the sidewalks, one stepped forward and said, "$150 apiece." The scalper shook his head. "Not good enough," he said. "You'll have to do better than that."

The prospective purchaser shrugged his shoulders and turned away. Undoubtedly today he is kicking himself for not paying whatever it took. The guy missed one of the greatest games ever played in America in any sport you want to name.

The 4-3 U.S. victory over Russia, unexpected as it was, probably wrapped up the gold medal for this amazing American team.

The U.S. plays Finland at 10 a.m. Sunday (St. Louis time) in its final game of the medal round in the Winter Olympic Games. The medals will be determined by total points and a goal differential if there is a tie. An American victory tomorrow would lock up the gold. The U.S. leads with three points (two for beating Russia and one for a tie with Sweden in the first round), Russia and the Swedes have two each and Finland has one.

The Swedes and Finns tied, 3-3, in Friday night's other medal round game. When U.S. Coach Herb Brooks assembled the players last summer, skilled but inexperienced in international hockey, little did anyone realize that they would become a family, growing to earn the respected nickname Team USA and finally Team Destiny.

When Mike Eruzione blasted a 20-foot wrist shot past a screened Soviet goalie, Vladimir Myshkin, with 10 minutes left in the third period to put the U.S. up, 4-3, it seemed that it would be only momentary pleasure for the Americans. After all, this was the same Russian team that had clobbered the U.S. in an exhibition game, 10-3, at New York on Feb. 9 and had a history of striking quickly and powerfully.

Every American fan in the Olympic ice arena held his breath each time the Soviet skaters pushed the puck up the ice. The 10 minutes were an eternity.

"Every second seemed like an hour," U.S. forward John Harrington would say later. This was the same Russian team that beat the National Hockey League all-stars last year, was considered the very best team in the world and swaggered into Lake Placid top-heavy favorites to win its fifth straight Olympic gold medal. Six of the Russians are playing in their third Olympics. There are players on the Soviet squad in their mid-30s, some of whom were being groomed for stardom in Mother Russia before all of the U.S. players were beginning to think about shaving.

Eruzione and Buzz Schneider are the graybeards among the Americans at age 26. But you can't measure desire. And these U.S. hockey players the youngest in the Olympic Games have it. The hands of fate were at work.

When America won its only gold medal in ice hockey, it was on U.S. soil and to do it the U.S. had to defeat Russia. Bill Christian knocked in the winning goal in a shocking upset in 1960 at Squaw Valley. Friday night, he was in the crowd at the ice arena to see history repeated this time with his son, Dave, on the U.S. squad.

In that triumph immortalized now as the Miracle of Squaw Valley Jack McCartan was in the nets, kicking aside shot after shot against both the Russians and Czechoslovakia. When the U.S. won the silver medal in 1972 at Sapporo, it was Lefty Curran who made 51 saves to beat the Czechs in an heroic performance. At Lake Placid, it was Jim Craig who was equally heroic and peerless as were McCartan and Curran.

Everyone and that included the entire Russian team, Brooks, and Craig himself realized that if the U.S. was to achieve the improbable Friday night, the hopes rested on the broad shoulders of a former All-America goalie at Boston University. That's Craig.

"I've seen them come back a thousand times," he said of the Russians. "If they did I wanted to make it a good goal. I didn't want anybody saying I was nervous or that I couldn't play in the big games."

No way anyone could pin that rap on Jim Craig. Not Friday night. Not ever again.

The explosive Soviets outshot the U.S., 39-16. They rushed Craig time and again and, always, he met the challenges. He was like a rock in the crease. Each team scored short-handed goals, but it was a rebound shot by Mark Johnson with one second left in the first period that turned the arena on its ear.

Dave Christian's desperation smash of 75 feet ricocheted off the pads of Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretjak. Johnson, breaking down the left side of the ice, got a stick on it and slapped it in to tie the game at 2-2.

Victor Tikhonov, the Russian coach, had seen enough. When the second period began it was Myshkin, not Tretjak, in the nets.

"We realized Tretjak was very nervous," said the coach, explaining the switch. Russia led, 3-2, at the end of the second period. And that set up the final period, which belonged to the Americans.

Vladimir Krutov, a 19-year-old forward who is the Soviet star, was off for high sticking when Johnson, the best of the 20 players on the U.S. squad, scored in a crowd in front of the Soviet net at 11 minutes 21 seconds.

There were eight seconds remaining in Krutov's penalty when Johnson connected. Eighty-one seconds after that, Eruzione put the U.S. ahead to stay, 4-3.

He had just crawled over the boards on a shift change. The puck was in the corner, being dug out by Harrington, who got a pass to teammate Mark Pavelich. The puck deflected off Pavelich's stick and Eruzione corralled it. As he did, a Russian defenseman backed in on Myshkin, blocking his vision on Eruzione's shot.

"I kept telling everyone, 'Michael will fix it up, Michael will get the goal'" said Eruzione's dad, Eugene Eruzione of Winthrop, Mass. "That kid is something. I hope he gets a break. He keeps fighting and fighting. I know he can play in the National Hockey League. I know he can."

The white-knuckle tension that built to a fever pitch in the final moments was incredible. The U.S. played keep away while the Russians frantically tried to storm Craig.

Everyone in the place was watching the clock and waiting for what surely would be an eventual Soviet breakthrough. Maybe two or three quick goals and the dream would be shattered.

Over the speakers came the announcement: "Two minutes to play.

The crowd was alternately chanting ' "USA!" and peeking at the clock.

Forty-eight seconds left. Vladimir Petrov misses the net with a drive.

Thirty-four seconds left. Petrov again. A miss.

Twenty-seven seconds left. Valari Kharlamov cranks up and fires. A chip shot that flies past Craig.

No seconds left. The game is over. The U.S. had done what was considered to be the impossible.

 

 

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