A LONG TIME AGO, WE BELIEVED IN MIRACLES
“Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in Miracles? YES!” Those words uttered on February 22nd, 1980 immortalized the greatest moment in sports history. Al Michaels captured in just 5 seconds what the entire world was thinking on that day. A bunch of kids, mostly from Boston and Minnesota were brought together to do the unthinkable. Looking back, I realize this will never happen again in our lifetime.
THE PROS HAVE TAKEN OVER
In 1998, the NHL allowed professionals to compete at the Winter Games for the first time. Since then, the magic born in 1980 could never be captured again. On the flip side, Russia also started to allow players to join NHL teams, thus ending their reign of terror on the international hockey world.
Recently, the NHL has stated they may not allow players to participate in the 2018 games in South Korea. So the playing field for countries like Norway and Austria may finally even out. Regardless, it will never be 1980 again.
THE GAME THAT HEALED A NATION
People don’t remember just how low morale was in this country. The U.S. was suffering economically and politically. Gas shortages, Russia invading Afghanistan and 66 Americans were taken hostage in Iran. America really didn’t have a lot to feel good about when the Olympics rolled around.
The U.S. would look to a man, who was the final cut of the only US Olympic team to win Gold in 1960, Herb Brooks. “Herbie” as he was affectionately known changed the way the Americans played the game. His style was suited for the larger ice surfaces and would be ready to take on the European style of hockey. Those things aside, it was his commitment and desire to win that provided the foundation for the miracle.
Round robin play showed the world what Brooks and Team USA were capable of, as they went 4-0-1. It set up a game for the ages against the Soviet Union. The Soviets had trashed the U.S. in exhibition earlier that year 10-3 at MSG. Herb Brooks locker room speech, which has forever been eternalized in the movie Miracle, stated it best when he looked at them and said “not tonight”.
The game had it’s drama as a late goal stunned the Soviets to knot the game a 2 after one period of play. The Russian Machine scored in the second period to go up 3-2 and looked to close out another Olympic victory. Mark Johnson would tie the game at 3 after a PP expired. Just a few shifts later, U.S. Captain Mike Eruzione (which means eruption in Italian) would snipe one past Myshkin for the 4-3 lead with 10 minutes left.
The time was an eternity for all present. When the final horn sounded, Herb Brooks left the bench and ran to the locker room to cry. I won’t lie, my eyes are swelling up with tears as I write this. Team USA would go on to beat Finland for the Gold and Lake Placid, NY became holy ground for U.S Hockey.
Herb Brooks would go on to coach in the NHL, Ken Morrow would win 4 Stanley Cups with the Islanders and Mike Eruzione would fade off into the sunset as the only real “Captain America.” Many others from that team had brief stints in the NHL or went on to successful careers in the professional world.
Yet, no matter what path they chose after the Games, one thing remains. All those kids on Team USA inspired a nation. When the hostages were released from Iranian captivity, they were shown a highlight film of what they missed. In it they saw the 1980 men’s hockey team defeat Russia and they cried too. Many of us Ranger fans would cry 14 years later, as Brian Leetch and Mike Richter would hoist the Stanley Cup in NY. Both players citing what that game meant to them growing up and inspiring them to play hockey. Leetch would be the first American to ever win the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is awarded to the MVP of the playoffs.
OLD RIVALRY RENEWED
On Saturday morning, Team USA and Team Russia will face off in Sochi at 7:30AM EST. On their home soil, Ovechkin and Malkin will dazzle us as they have so many times here in America. So will Patrick Kane and Jonathan Quick for the United States.
Those who follow me, already know that I have Team USA winning the Gold over Team Canada. However, this is a much bigger test than we faced against Slovakia. The U.S. has only won Gold twice, each time on American soil. Wouldn’t it be awe inspiring, if the first time they won it on foreign ice, it would happen on the land of their oldest and greatest rival? I still believe in miracles.