HomeSportsOn This Day: USA Hockey Team Beats Soviet Union in ‘Miracle on Ice’ in 1980

On This Day: USA Hockey Team Beats Soviet Union in ‘Miracle on Ice’ in 1980

by Kayla Zadel
(Photo by Steve Powell /Getty Images)

It’s one of the most iconic moments in sports history. “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” Al Michaels yells as the USA hockey team defeats the Soviet Union. 41 years ago today, the “miracle on ice” took place in Lake Placid, New York.

It was a major upset as the USA hockey team bested the USSR 4-3. The US hockey team were underdogs going into the XIII  Winter Olympics. There was a rule that no National Hockey League players could participate in any Olympic sport. As a result, head coach Herb Brooks put together a team consisting of college players. This youthful team beat out the Soviet squad that was touted as the finest in the world.

What’s more, two days later the US hockey team came from behind and went onto defeat Finland 4-2 to clinch the gold medal.

USA Hockey Team Displays a ‘Miracle on Ice’

Many didn’t have high hopes for the team from the United States. Brooks’ style of recruiting the players and adding them to the roster was under much scrutiny. As a matter of fact, many also blamed their age, which was an average of 22, and the team captain. Mike Eruzione didn’t come from a highly regarded hockey program. Eruzione was playing for the Toledo Blades in the International League.

The Americans played the Soviets in an exhibition game three days before the Lake Placid Games began. They won 10-3 over the US. After all, the USSR had captured the previous four Olympic hockey golds, going back to 1964, and had not lost an Olympic hockey game since 1968.

On the Friday afternoon of Feb. 22, the American amateurs suited up to take on the Soviet dream team in front of a sold-out crowd at Lake Placid. The beginning was bleak for the young American team. The Soviets scored first. However, halfway through the first period, Buzz Schneider, the only US player who had previously been an Olympian answered the Soviet goal.

US Leads for First Time During Miracle Match

The Soviets scored again, but the US tied it up as time ran out in the first. But the USSR wasn’t about to let its long-standing record be tarnished. They put a new goaltender between the pipes. As a result, the strategy worked, and they turned up the attack. Not only did they take the lead, but the USSR team outshot the United States 12-2.

The third and perhaps most dramatic period begins. The Soviets are saddled with a penalty and the United States was ready to take full advantage of this opportunity. They tied it up, 3-3. What’s more, team captain Eruzione, whose name means “eruption” in Italian, picked up the puck and put the US ahead of the Soviets for the first time in the game.

However, there were still 10 minutes left to be played in the third. But the Americans held strong, and with 5-seconds left on the game clock, the crowd started counting down the final seconds. And that’s what spawned one of the most famous lines in sportscasting history. Play-by-play announcer, Al Michaels, shouts those six words, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

When the final horn sounded, the players and coaches poured onto the ice in celebration. The Soviets were left in disbelief.

More Than a Miracle on Ice

The United States winning the game was more than just an Olympic upset. It represented so much more for Americans. It was a symbolic victory for the country.

President Jimmy Carter had just announced that the United States was going to boycott the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow. These repercussions came after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

The United States was on the brink of facing a major recession, plus the Iran hostage crisis. The American people needed something to celebrate, and this victory was just the “miracle” that they needed. The “miracle on ice” will forever be recognized in history.