During one of the hottest periods of time in the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union prepared for war during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. This war was not going to be fought with nuclear weapons and millions of soldiers, but with wooden sticks and ice skates. To many, this hockey game was more than just a game to determine who would compete in the finals to bring gold back to their country. It was a vicarious war between the West and Communism. The fate of human history was about to be determined by the drop of a puck.
The Soviet Union hockey team was considered to be the best in the world. Leading up to the 1980 Winter Olympics, the Soviet hockey juggernaut had brought gold back to the motherland in the last four Winter Olympics. Their hockey team had not lost a game since 1968. The team was stacked for the Soviet Union with every member of their team being an active soldier. On paper, the United States did not have any chance of even coming close to defeating the best hockey team in the world.
With an average age of just 22-years-old, the United States hockey team was made up of 20 guys that were virtual unknowns. Every member was an amateur hockey player, and they were essentially written off before they even took to the ice. Three days before the Winter Olympics was set to begin, Madison Square Garden played host to an exhibition match between Team USA and Team USSR. It looked like children attempting to play with adults. The Soviet Union destroyed the United States in a 10 to 3 route.
It was finally time for competition that counted. Surprisingly, the United States were able to use their youth to their advantage and went undefeated in the first round of competition. Based on their 4-0-1 record, Team USA advanced to the final four and would be competing for a medal in hockey. Maybe they could get bronze. They were never going to be able to compete for gold since they would have to go through the Soviet Union to do that. No one saw that happening.
The arena in Lake Placid was sold out. Even though it was expected to be a loss similar to what happened in Madison Square Garden, Team USA fans came out in full force to support their young team. The Soviet Union struck first by scoring a goal early in the first period. Team USA tied the score at one. The tie score was short-lived as the Soviet Union tacked on their second goal of the period. With one second left in the first period, the United States scored and tied the game at two.
During the second period, the Soviet hockey team outplayed the United States team, yet remarkably they struggled to score. The Soviets had 12 shots on goal while the United States was only able to muster two. By the time the second period ended, the Soviet Union regained their lead. The score was now 3 to 2. Only 20 minutes were left to play.
With 11 minutes left in the game, the United States was able to capitalize on a Soviet penalty and tied the score up at three. A little over a minute later, Team USA scored again to get their first lead of the night. The Soviet dream team began to pound the puck against the USA amateurs. The amateurs stood firm with their goalie, Jim Craig, becoming his own version of the Berlin Wall. Nothing was going to get through him. The crowd began to feel the electricity of the historic moment that was now upon them. Soon, there were no minutes left on the clock — only seconds remained. The Soviets kept pounding the puck near the goal of Team USA. Finally, the puck was cleared out and into Soviet territory. The crowd erupted to their feet as they counted down five, four, three, two, one. The final horn sounded. The impossible had happened. A miracle.
“Do you believe in miracles? YES!!!!!” – Al Michaels
Team USA went on to beat Finland in the finals to bring home the gold medal. The Soviet Union went on to beat Sweeden to win silver. Devastated by their second place finish, none of the members of the Soviet hockey team had their name inscribed on their medal. They were ashamed. Back home, the Soviet media was as shocked as the rest of the world.
For many, this hockey game was the beginning of the end to the Cold War. The mighty Soviet Union was beaten by a young group of Americans who were not going to give up, no matter how outmatched they were. Team USA proved to the world that Communism could be defeated as long as you wanted it bad enough.
[Image Via Photo by Steve Powell/Getty Images]