Monday, February 22, 2010

It Was Thirty Years Ago Today

Good morning Fackers. Believe or not, I was planning on running this post this morning even before last night's Team USA win over Team Canada in Vancouver. Last night's game was certainly an upset. But personally, I don't believe it's as big of an upset as many are making it out to be. Either way, it's certainly not half the upset as the one that took place in Lake Placid, NY thirty years ago today.

This is the fourth Winter Olympics featuring NHL players, and the fifth featuring professional players. Hockey wise, we're so far removed from the 1980 Miracle on Ice, that it's easy to lose sight of just how massive an upset that game was.

The Soviet team was easily the greatest assemblage of hockey talent on the face of the planet in February of 1980. With the Iron Curtain still firmly in place, the NHL was still nearly a decade away from importing its first Russian talents. The Soviet National Team featured the best players of - at worst - the second most hockey-crazed nation on the face of the planet. They trained and played with, literally, military precision. They had gone 3-4-1 against the NHL's best Canadians in the 1972 Summit Series, dominated lesser WHA talent 4-1-3 in the '74 Summit Series, and more recently had gone 2-1 with a +5 goal differential against a squad of NHL All-Stars in the 1979 Challenge Cup. For all intents and purposes, the Soviets were a professional All-Star team competing in an amateur tournament.

On the flip side, Team USA was an assemblage of American collegiate talent led by University of Minnesota head coach Herb Brooks. Brooks was the final player cut from the 1960 US squad, a team that went on to win gold in Squaw Valley. Heading into the 1980 Games, that was the final time the Soviet didn't win men's Olympic gold. Brooks' captain was former BU Terrier Mike Eruzione, the team's oldest player at 25, who was three years removed from his collegiate days and toiling in the minors at the IHL level before joining the Olympic squad. Less than two weeks prior to the Miracle on Ice, the Soviets had crushed Team USA 10-3 in the final pre-Olympic warm up.

Something similar was expected on the evening of February 22, 1980, part of the round robin medal round. Instead, on the strength of a goal from Eruzione that proved to be the game winner, the US beat the Russians 4-3. A win against Finland in their next game clinched the gold.

As I compose this post, the post game coverage on MSNBC is declaring last night's game the biggest upset since the Miracle on Ice. It's not even close. It's not even in the neighborhood. The forty skaters to take the ice last night are all high caliber NHL players. Not all are superstars, but all are professionals playing in the best league in the world. Yes, the Canadian roster is absolutely stacked. Yes, perhaps maybe just three or four of the US players could crack the Canadian line up. But in a short tournament - hell even on any given night in the NHL - anything can happen. For a pumped up Team USA to come out and beat Team Canada last night is an upset, and is impressive. But, without even considering the socio-political climate of 1980, last night's game is worlds away from the Miracle on Ice.

That said, yesterday was a great day for hockey. The Big Six all paired up in a trio of good match ups: Eastern European powers Russian and the Czech Republic in the afternoon, the Battle of North America in the evening, and Sweden and Finland in a Scandinavian Showdown for the night cap. We'll see all of them again in the medal round.

As nice as it was to see the US win last night, I was hopeful they would save their upset for the medal round. Canada and Russia are loaded, and with both teams being upset this week, I don't know how good the chances are that they both lose again before it's all said and done. As exciting as it was to see the Swiss push Canada in to the brink in a shootout loss on Thursday, part of me was relieved that Canada pulled it out, postponing their upset for another day.

Still, who knows what will happen over the remainder of the tournament. Perhaps the US can recapture a bit of the Miracle from 30 years ago. Their roster features two defensemen with ties to the 1980 team. Ryan Suter is the son of 1980's defenseman Bob Suter, and my former classmate at Boston College, Brooks Orpik, is named after the coach of the '80 team. Come this time next week we'll know if this is their time. I'm going to enjoy watching it all unfold.


  1. I was 8 years old and remember watching this game at my grandparents' house. Still get chills watching this.

  2. Nicely put, Matt. I do agree that last night's upset was huge, but not nearly as incredible as the Miracle. It just goes to show you how amazing that 1980 win really was.

    However, it can not come as any surprise whatsoever that the media would compare the two games simply because it is the easy, recognizable, sensational choice. It was an exciting game to watch start to finish and the tension was exhilarating (I can only imagine how it felt to be in the crowd). Even more sweet is being the visitor, whereas in 1980, the USA on home turf and had the crowd at its back.

    But like you said, I'm also bittersweet about the win because its not the medal round. As if the odds of the US taking down Canada IN Canada weren't slim to beginwith, how about the odds of beating this Canadian team TWICE on Canadian soil?!?! That's even assuming the US gets the chance. I don't watch much hockey at all (and I am generally not a big hockey fan), but it is so easy to get into watching this tournament unfold. I DO think that if the US finds its way to the gold medal (especially if they go through these powerhouse teams) it would be an upset closer to comparison of that Miracle Game. Nothing will match it, but this would be an extraordinary victory.

    Incidentally, my father and grandfather were at those Olympics at Lake Placid and with tickets to the Russia/USA game, but they opted to take the train home instead of watching the game (of course they assumed the Russians would just go Ivan Drago on Apollo Creed). They listened to the game on the train with the other passengers and have been shaking their heads in shame ever since. Pretty amazing, huh?!

  3. Joshua,

    I can't imagine the regret that would come with knowing you could have been at the Miracle on Ice.

    This Olympic tournament has been great, and I expect it to continue through the medal round. It's clearly getting more attention because it's the Olympics, but the truth is what we're witnessing now is really no different than what we see in the NHL playoffs each year in terms of intensity.

    The win last night was huge in that it gave the US the #1 seed. That's unbelievable considering how stacked Canada and Russia are, not to mention the Czech Republic, the Swedes, and the Finns. If nothing else they've set themselves up with an east row to hoe. Meanwhile, either Canada or Russia is getting bounced in the quarters. Most figured they wouldn't meet until the Gold Medal Game.

  4. Great post and comments, Matt and the gang. As a Sabres fan, I am extremely proud of Ryan Miller. The guy gave up three goals (that could have been eight) and was far and away the best player on the ice--not unlike Jim Craig in 1980 against the USSR, who also gave up three that could have been eight.

    I think you make a good point about the upset occurring now, Matt, in that fans of the US don't want them to peak too early. Then again, this could propel them for they surely know that Canada overwhelmed them to a good degree. They need to be a bit more physical in the corners, too, to try to slow down a Canadian team that was really excellent overall in that loss. A couple breakdowns, and not the best net-minding from Brodeur (which my 8 year-old son called before the Olympics, I might add--brilliant kid), overshadowed what was in many ways a tremendous game from Canada. They were all over the US, skating and passing very well, and they had too many odd-man rushes. If that happens again, Miller and the US would be hard-pressed to replicate their upset.

    So true about the deep hockey talent that will be in the final eight; staggering.

    Where would the US be without Rafalski? Speaking of (ex-)Sabres, I still want to kick Darcy Regier in the ass every time I watch Chris Drury, for they let him and Briere, their co-captains, go in the same off-season in a grotesque salary dump. Yet another example of the Sabres screwing their captains (including their current coach and Canada's assistant Lindy Ruff, whom the Sabres WAIVED when he was captain in the 1980s, and Pat LaFontaine, about whose severe knee injury the Sabres lied). Drury is a flat-out money player, and I bet he scores at least one more big goal the rest of the way.

    And there is no question that, terrific upset notwithstanding, 2010 doesn't compare to 1980, which was amazing in every way. That US team was undefeated and rolling, having tied a tough Swedish team 2-2 (last 30 seconds on a Mike Ramsey goal, another Sabre) and decimated the Czechs 7-3. But beating the USSR was a whole other story. The socio-political and dire economic climate also fed it, for this country was more than a little down in the mouth about itself after losing the Vietnam War, after Watergate and the fallout really showing the deep political corruption and heinous wrong-doings of Nixon, the end of detente and the rekindling of Cold War tensions at the end of the Carter administration, stagflation (in no small part stemming from the ramped-up war economy) killing the economy and especially working-class people, Three Mile Island and the body blow to not just the US but ideas of a worry-proof modern society, and the ongoing and increasingly embarrassing Iran hostage crisis. That 1980 upset, that is, came at a reeeeeally low point in the late 20th century American psyche. People needed some lift that simply wasn't just not occurring elsewhere, but needed something to help ground them as they saw the US genuinely reeling on many fronts. It's hard to over-estimate the context surrounding this game--to say nothing of the game itself and what overwhelming favorites the USSR was, having destroyed that US team in exhibition play.

    That replay embedded in the post literally brought tears to my eyes. I watched the US hockey run, all of it, on TV as a kid. I'll never see anything like it--except maybe the Bills winning the Super Bowl. One can dream...

    Sorry for the long comment, but 1980 was a starkly different time, even with the deep problems of today befalling many everyday Americans and the country.

  5. No need to apologize for the long comment Jason; you've hit on a lot of important points, particularly some more of the background on the socio-political climate at that time.

    I think there are plenty of Rangers fans who would gladly give Drury back to you, providing you're willing to take on his contract. And your son is right about Brodeur. He had a bad few weeks heading into the Olympic break and he hasn't snapped out of it in Vancouver. The Devils better hope he rights himself once this tournament is over.