“It may just be the single most indelible moment in all of U.S. sports history,” said Sports Illustrated of Team USA’s improbable gold medal run at the 1980 Winter Olympics. “One that sent an entire nation into a frenzy.” This story is about a group of college hockey players, representing USA in Lake Placid, that made such a lasting impression that we talk about them with such praise 30+ years later.
The toughest challenge was facing a rock-hard Soviet team that was considered invincible. The USSR team was so good they beat the NHL All Stars 6-0 in 1979 (a year prior) and beat the Americans 10-3 three days before the Olympics started in an exhibition game. This matchup was intense and losing became bitter for all Americans considering it was during heavy confrontation between these two countries deep in the midst of a Cold War. The Soviets were simply the most dominant and convincing team the world has ever seen, backed by their impenetrable goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, never losing an international game together since 1960. However, there was one night that they were going to be bested due to a man who demanded ridiculously hard work out of his team in preparation for this battle: Herb Brooks. Brooks was the last man cut from the 1960 Olympic team that eventually won a Gold Medal. You think missing out on that opportunity fueled him? You’re damn right. Brooks was a disciplinarian and authoritarian, leading his University of Minnesota team to three NCAA titles, before taking on the task of coaching a group of college kids. He earned the respect of his team from his hard work and determination, practicing what he preached. He emphasized speed, conditioning, and raw discipline, which ultimately gave a bunch of college “scrubs” the tools necessary to knock off the world’s greatest team even if they would only win 1 out of every 10 times. This was more than just a hockey game; this was the respect the entire country of America earned during that one night.
Below is the famous scene in the movie Miracle that tries to reenact a pre-game speech that Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell) gave to his team just before they stepped on the ice. I’d say it would have kicked my butt into gear and gave me the confidence I needed to take on the world’s greatest team.