Grown men cried. Strangers embraced. Groups all around the country spontaneously joined to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America”. All because a group of American amateurs and college students had felled the invincible Soviet hockey machine.
Invincible they certainly seemed. After all, the Soviets had gone 5-3-1 against NHL teams in exhibitions. And in an exhibition in Madison Square Garden, they’d beaten Team USA 10-3.
But the USA squad tied a talented Sweden in its very first game, and gained invaluable confidence. It then stunned heavily favored Czechoslovakia before also beating Norway, Romania, and West Germany. The team took a 4-0-1 record, and undeniable momentum, into the match with the powerful Soviets.
Two movies detail what happened next – Miracle on Ice (1981) and Miracle (2004). Team USA got behind, 1-0 and then 2-1. But they continued to fight back. Goalie Jim Craig played the game of his life. Then, with one second remaining in the opening period, Mark Johnson scored to even the game at 2-2. There’s no underestimating what that goal did for the young Americans’ confidence. Only the Soviets scored in the second period, and the USA entered the final 20 minutes down 3-2.
But then Mark Johnson scored again, bringing the Americans even. And in the goal everyone remembers, team captain Mike Eruzione scored to give Team USA the lead with exactly ten minutes remaining. Craig kept making saves, his teammates kept the Soviets at bay, until there were eleven seconds remaining. Let’s let Al Michaels take over now:
“Eleven seconds, you’ve got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!”
Often forgotten is the fact that this game was not for the goal medal. The young Americans had to regroup after their euphoric victory and defeat Finland two days later.
Here’s what USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said about the victory: “It’s the most transcending moment in the history of our sport in this country. For people who were born between 1945 and 1955, they know where they were when John Kennedy was shot, when man walked on the moon, and when the USA beat the Soviet Union in Lake Placid.”