40 years later the ‘Miracle on Ice’ hockey team continues to be a point of American pride

Going into the 1980 Winter Olympics, the Soviet Union had won the gold medal in five of the six previous Winter Olympic Games, and they were the favorites to win once more in Lake Placid. The team consisted primarily of professional players with significant experience in international play. By contrast, the United States’ team—led by head coach Herb Brooks— comprised mostly amateur players. With only four players with minimal minor-league experience, the United States was the youngest team in the tournament and in U.S. national team history.

This year, on the 40th anniversary of the U.S. victory over the Soviets, nearly the entire 1980 US Olympic hockey team reunited in Las Vegas as part of a weekend-long celebration.

In 2015, the tem reuinited in Lake Placid to commemorate the 1980 win.

The following is from a 2015 CBS News report of the 2015 celebration:

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – On Feb. 22, 1980, the United States Olympic hockey team upset the U.S.S.R. 4-3 in what is considered the greatest upset in team sports. [On that day, 20 amateur hockey players stepped foot on Olympic ice and beat the juggernaut that was the Soviet Union hockey team].

[In 2015 on the 35th anniversary], the team reunited at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y. where the 1980 Olympic hockey games took place.

The ovation wasn’t quite as deafening as it was 35 years ago. It was riveting, nonetheless, for Dave Christian and his old Olympic buddies, together again to celebrate their Miracle on Ice.

“It feels exactly the same,” Christian said Saturday night as the members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team returned to the rink they made famous with their triumph over the Soviet Union. “You could feel the electricity in the (locker) room. It’s still there.”

The “Relive the Miracle” reunion at Herb Brooks Arena attracted more than 5,000 fans for a two-hour celebration of one of the most memorable upsets in sports history. Every surviving player from the team made the trip, including Mark Pavelich, who drove from his Oregon home with two dogs. It was the first time the team had all been together since that memorable night.

Missing was Herb Brooks, the Hall of Fame coach who was killed in a car accident in 2003, and rugged defenseman Bob Suter, who died of a heart attack at age 57 in September.

“Herb had a feel for the game during the game,” goalie Jim Craig said. “He would get you off the ice before you could commit a penalty. He was ahead of his time in many ways.”

“Bobby was a great player and a great person,” said 60-year-old Mike Eruzione, who scored the game-winner against the Soviet Union in the medal round. “He did a lot for hockey. We all realize that at some point we’re going to move on, but nobody thought that Bobby would not be with us. He was a special teammate, a special person.”

Suter had dedicated much of his later life helping kids learn the game as a youth hockey coach back in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.

“Everyone felt a big loss,” Mark Johnson said. “Everyone on the team had a role. Bobby was a character in and out of the locker room. He’s dearly missed. His legacy will live on in Wisconsin.”

The U.S. took the lead on Friday, Feb. 22, 1980, against the powerful Soviets on Eruzione’s goal midway through the third period. It was the last goal of the game as Craig stood tall in net.

The Americans finished the 4-3 upset to the sound of broadcaster Al Michaels’ call of, “Do you believe in miracles?” Two days later, the U.S. rallied to beat Finland 4-2 for the gold in a game the Americans had to win just to medal.

“In sports in general, everyone roots for the underdog, which we certainly were an underdog,” Christian said Saturday afternoon at a press conference. “We were aware of the political situation in the world, but in a lot of respects for us it truly was a game, a great challenge.

“We were up against what at that time was considered one of the best teams that had been put together,” he said. “So in that respect it was just a game. I think it gave people the sense of feeling good. You can’t help but smile.”

For Eruzione, who works in alumni relations at Boston University, his winning goal and the team’s improbable gold medal changed his life. He said he deals “with it so often it’s hard to believe it’s been 35 years” because every week he’s doing something or going somewhere that’s associated with 1980.

“The real story for me was they only scored three goals,” Eruzione said. “Throughout the tournament, they were scoring seven, eight, nine goals a game. Not only was Jimmy (Craig) solid, actually, the defense and the defensemen were outstanding in that game.”

When the U.S. won the gold, it was a time of world strife. The Soviet army had just invaded Afghanistan as the Cold War simmered, a group of Americans was being held hostage in Iran, the U.S. economy was in bad shape, and President Jimmy Carter already had announced a U.S. boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow.

“I’ve played on a lot of teams, and this is the best team, the closest team I ever played on,” Neal Broten said. “As a younger guy, I looked up to all these guys. It was a privilege and honor for me to represent our country with these guys and do what we did.”

Members of the United States men’s hockey team celebrate winning the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY.

[ESPN reported: The USSR had won all 12 matchups with the U.S. between the 1960 and 1980 Olympics, outscoring the Americans 117-26. Even when the U.S. had NHL players playing for it in the 1976 Canada Cup, it lost to the Soviets twice (outscored 9-2). …That doesn’t even include the Soviets’ infamous 10-3 blowout exhibition win to close out the 1980 U.S. team’s pre-Olympic tour at Madison Square Garden, just one week before the Olympic Games began.

Wikipedia reports: In exhibition games in 1980, Soviet club teams went 5–3–1 against NHL teams and, a year earlier, the Soviet national team had routed the NHL All-Stars 6–0 to win the Challenge Cup. In 1979–80, virtually all the top North American players were Canadians, although the number of U.S.-born professional players had been on the rise throughout the 1970s.].

First published at cbsnews .com on Feb. 22, 2015.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from CBSNews.

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